Hidden Netflix Gems – Series 7: The Contenders

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Spoofs of reality television have become almost as ubiquitous as reality television itself these days, and fake documentary films are certainly not in short supply, but writer-director Daniel Minahan‘s 2001 dark comedic thriller Series 7: The Contenders is one of the best of both. Released before the rise of Arrested Development star Will Arnett, who provides the voice-over of the film’s fictional reality show, Series 7 benefits from its largely unknown cast in that, as unlikely as its central premise is, it often feels all too real. The film is wickedly funny, but simultaneously disturbing in its depiction of the ruthlessness of human nature, especially when a great deal of money or fame is involved.

Series 7 concerns the familiar idea of a game in which human beings hunt each other for sport. Beginning with Richard Connell’s 1924 story, The Most Dangerous Game, this concept has gone through a number of incarnations, most recently in the Japanese cult favorite Battle Royale and the immensely popular The Hunger Games. What sets Series 7 apart most of all is its relentless dark humor; for example, after blowing away a fellow competitor in a convenience store, the film’s protagonist, Dawn (Brooke Smith, best known as Buffalo Bill’s captive, Catherine Martin, in The Silence of the Lambs), calmly asks the clerk, “Hey, you got any bean dip?”

Dawn is the crowd favorite, having won the two previous seasons in a row (contestants are granted their freedom if they win three in a row) and being eight months pregnant. She is now presumably trying to win her freedom and her life in order to care for her baby once it is born, but the skills she has honed in the previous two seasons show in her apparent relish for the sport. As the film begins, she is seen stalking the other contestants and calling them on the phone in an attempt to psyche them out and make them easier prey. Other contestants include Dawn’s high school boyfriend, Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), which indicates that the supposedly random selection process is rigged; Lindsay (Merritt Wever), a perky high school student who has just turned 18, making her legal fair game for the show; and Connie (Marylouise Burke), a seemingly sweet, middle-aged nurse who proves to be the most fascinating and terrifying character in the film.

Though Series 7 frustratingly lacks a larger worldview to explain some of its more questionable conceptual leaps of faith – particularly the circumstances that led to the government’s sanctioning of the show’s selection process – its commitment to accurately recreating the look and feel of reality television pays off enormously. The undeniable entertainment value of the series makes for extremely effective satire, especially in the film’s ending, which is too viciously brilliant to spoil here.

  

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Nurse Jackie 2.3 – Don’t Even Try To Hide Behind That Stupid Lie

The unexpected return of Kaitlyn Flynn to Grace’s circle of friends was…well, not that unexpected, really, since her appearance in the “previously on” segment clearly indicated that we’d be seeing that storyline rearing its head again this week. Still, I knew the tension between Jackie and Kaitlyn’s mom would be revisited at some point, given the way it was clearly underlined that Kevin had had some sort of history with Ginny Flynn was surprised to see that “I was wrong, you were right” look appear on Jackie’s face when Kevin reminded her that Grace needs to hang out with her friends, but given that Grace’s list of friends is only one name long, I guess she had no choice but to concede the point. It sure came back to bite her in the ass, though…and, of course, the nose as well. Is any doubt that Kaitlyn will report back to her mother what she witnessed? Jackie’s judgment is obviously less than sound when dealing with Ginny, but it struck me as an astonishingly poor plan to dump the casserole into the trash right in front of the girls, especially knowing full well that Ginny doesn’t do well with things like lying and, uh, fitting in with her peers.

Oh, man: how sad is it that Coop’s buying Ramen noodles for dinner? The camera didn’t go out of its way to focus on his choice of food, but I’d know a package of those anywhere. (Hand on heart, I’m eating a bowl of them as I write this very blog…which, come to think of it, is pretty tragic in and of itself.) Between his one-man meals, his overemphasis on how many folks on Twitter are following his every move, and his repeated reminders to Eddie that he’s there for him if he needs to talk, it’s clear that Cooper’s life is pretty pitiful these days…almost, it seems, as pitiful as Eddie’s. (The way he grills Coop about who’s spreading the word about his supposed suicide attempt, you can tell that he wants to find any possible excuse to hate Jackie.) I hope making the list of the 25 Best Doctors in Manhattan pays off for Coop…and not just because he spent money on a publicist to earn his position. At this rate, the guy’s going to fall into a serious depression way sooner than later.

What is it about medical shows that they feel obliged to make their male viewers squirm for all they’re worth…or am I the only one who reacted that way at the below-the-waist issues of the dog-bite victim? Mind you, it took a little bit of the sting away when his wife’s first reaction to her husband’s injuries was to muse, “I’ll probably be banned from the kennel club for life…” Thank God we didn’t get a shot of the guy whose cell phone blew up in his face…

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Nurse Jackie 2.1 – Hey, Hobo Man! Hey, Dapper Dan!

Yep, that’s right: another Showtime series is getting the blog treatment on Premium Hollywood. It’s amazing how much more inspired you can be to write a series blog when the network provides you with all of the season’s episodes up front. I mean, I don’t know how the other TV critics who are married with children feel about it, but for my part, trying to write a blog immediately after an episode airs really screws up my time with my family (particularly if it happens to be a series that my wife doesn’t like and that I’m not comfortable watching around my 4-year-old daughter), so I’m a heck of a lot more predisposed to take the reigns of a blog where I can watch the episodes in advance.

In the case of “Nurse Jackie,” it also helps immensely that I really love the show. Although I’m guilty of missing the first season when it originally aired, I can assure you that no arm-twisting was required to dole four stars for the Season 1 DVD set, and by the time I’d finished watching the whole thing from top to bottom, I was chomping at the bit to dive into Season 2, so it’s a pleasure to finally be able to do so.

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