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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Oxygen Media Announces New Reality Competition Series Featuring Naomi Campbell

Photo Credit: Laspata DeCaro

Oxygen Media, most recently awarded a 2012 Gracie Award for Outstanding Reality Show for its series The Glee Project, today announced its latest foray into unscripted programming: The Face, a new reality competition series along the lines of America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, will showcase the efforts of three teams of up-and-coming models competing for the chance to become the spokesperson for a nationally recognized brand. World-renowned supermodel and businesswoman Naomi Campbell will be one of three supermodel coaches, who will each scout and choose their teams from the ranks of young models striving all over the world, then mentor and guide them through a series of trials representing the steep ladder to success in the fashion industry.

The Face will be produced by Shine America, a producer and distributor of many well-known hit series such as The Biggest Loser, The Office and Ugly Betty. Oxygen has formerly been home to cycles of America’s Next Top Model and, in its stated purpose as “a leading force in engaging modern young women,” is undoubtedly a good home for this new series. As Eden Gaha, President of Shine America says, “We are pleased to bring The Face to Oxygen, which we believe is the perfect fit for this new competition series that will take viewers behind the scenes of the glamorous and fast-paced world of modeling. It’s an incredible opportunity for these young models to work with and learn from an industry icon such as Naomi Campbell and the chance to become ‘the face’ of a national brand will be an exciting and meaningful start to their career.”

The Face is reportedly part of a fifty percent increase in Oxygen’s original programming, and the presence of a star like Campbell should attract plenty of viewers. Fans of scandal and drama would do well to hope for some onscreen displays of her legendary temper, though it is doubtful she will actually assault anyone, as has so often been alleged in the past. At any rate, even without the possibility of such histrionics (and only time will tell), the series should provide plenty of entertainment for fashion junkies everywhere. As Campbell says, “With The Face the audience will get a real insider’s look at this exciting industry that has been so good to me. One lucky girl will become the face of a major brand.”

 

  

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Reality stars as bona fide “stars”

New York

Since the advent of reality television took place in the mid-90s, I’ve been fascinated with what it’s done to the entertainment industry. I remember watching “The Real World: Seattle” as a young teenager and was transfixed by this fledgling genre blooming before my eyes. Looking back, I think I was most captivated by watching people older than myself placed in situations without a script. I probably thought this is what college was like. Granted, the early days of reality TV were much more true to life than the orchestrated trash America eats up these days. Nevertheless, regardless of what you’re doing, if you’re on TV long enough, you’re going to become recognized. But we’ve always treated this recognition differently. What defines “celebrity?” Are news anchors celebrities? Are food network hosts? Funny enough, I ended going to college at the same time as an individual from the cast of “Real World: Seattle.” A friend pointed this person out on campus and I was mildly interested. This was a reality star from a different era. The reality stars of today aren’t people from everyday life — we’ve turned them into celebrities.

But they are indeed now “stars” of the bustling media universe, with all the benefits — and baggage — that entails. And their celebrity viability has consequences for traditional performers, inasmuch as “The Bachelor’s” betrayals and Jon and Kate Gosselin’s marital woes regularly grace tabloids and magazine covers, with no line of demarcation between them and what we used to think of as “stars.”

Only now, because of the unquenchable demand for programming and recognizable “talent,” they aren’t being disposed of. Instead, they’re recycled, creating a permanent reality-TV class accustomed to living their lives on camera — the ever-ready-for-primetime players (and on a budget!).

Their ascension within celebrity circles can be easily chronicled simply by flipping through the pages of US Weekly and People. And while interest in these newly minted stars hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for actor gossip, the migration into spheres once reserved for performers should send shudders up the spine of anyone holding a SAG card.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant cleverly mocked the genre in season two of “Extras” and to me, that’s the most biting commentary I’ve seen on the topic. Still though, who are the people watching “Extras”? They’re an audience with taste — certainly a taste that is disintegrating in our society as reality programming increases each year. I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t watch any of the shows. That would be a bogus claim. Fact is, most of us do watch them. I get a kick out of “I Love New York” and “Rock of Love,” only it stops at the humor. The individuals on these shows are society’s most entertaining fools. Are they celebrities? Of course they are. But they are fools because they wanted to be.

  

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