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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Fox: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

Lone Star (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” (CBS), “The Event” (NBC), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, Bryce Johnson, Mark Deklin, Jon Voight, David Keith

Producers: Christopher Keyser (“Party of Five”), Amy Lippman (“In Treatment”), Kerry Kohansky and Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz,” “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist”)

Network’s Description: a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, about a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free. He’s caught between two very different lives and two very different women.

The Buzz: Critically, I feel like it’s tracking higher than anything else out there, but it’s a thinking man’s show and it’s on Fox. This is traditionally not a combination that equals ratings success…or a second season.

Pilot Highlight: Ostensibly, the money shot is supposed to be when we realize that Bob has two families, but since there’s no way Fox won’t give away the premise of the show in the commercials, then it’s his reaction during a backyard barbeque when he has an abrupt attack of guilt over the hurt his actions are going to cause.

Bottom Line: It’s an intriguing premise for a drama that takes a lot of interesting turns in its first hour, which is probably why it feels way more like an FX series than a Fox series. As such, it hhasn’t much hope to make it to the end of the season, let alone beyond…and that’s a real shame, because – drum roll, please – “Lone Star” is the best drama of the season.

TUESDAY

Raising Hope (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman. Shannon Woodward, Skyler Stone

Producers: Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl”), Kim Hamberg (“The Middle”

Network’s Description: a sweet, offbeat comedy which follows Jimmy Chance, a well-meaning screw-up trying his best to raise his infant daughter with the help of the eccentric family who did a less-than-stellar job of raising him.

The Buzz: Not that the competition is all that strong, but most critics have pegged this as the best comedy of the season. Plus, while having Cloris Leachman in the cast isn’t quite as impressive as, say, Betty White, it ain’t half bad, either.

Pilot Highlight: The moment when Jimmy learns a very valuable lesson about his daughter’s car seat. Hand on heart, it has probably been two years since I laughed so hard at a moment in a sitcom.

Bottom Line: The ghost of “My Name Is Earl” seriously haunts the show, but the pilot has several laugh-out-loud moments, and a baby allows for a new spin on the sweet-natured white-trash comedy in which Garcia specializes.

Running Wilde (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:30 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Will Arnett, Keri Russell, Stefania Owen, Peter Serafinowicz, Robert Michael Morris, Mel Rodriguez, David Cross

Producers: Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, (“Arrested Development”), Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum (“Two and a Half Men”), Peter Principato and Paul Young (“Reno 911”), Will Arnett

Network’s Description: a romantic comedy series in which a spoiled filthy rich playboy desperately tries to win the heart of his humanitarian childhood sweetheart by helping raise her 12-year-old daughter.

The Buzz: Pretty crappy the first time around, actually, and it didn’t take long for word to get back to the show’s producers. As I recall, there was some serious squirming going on when Arnett turned up to welcome critics to the Fox day of the TCA tour and asked us what we thought of it. For my part, I didn’t have to fake appreciation, as I kind of liked it…but, then, I even laughed at Arnett in “Let’s Go to Prison,” so take that opinion with a grain of salt. Still, they’ve switched things up a bit since then, adding David Cross to the mix as a recurring character, which certainly increases the show’s value for “Arrested Development” fans.

Pilot Highlight: Peter Serafinowicz successfully steals every scene he’s in (though we should probably give his horse part of the credit of that), but the moment when Arnett’s and Russell’s characters are reunited – pay attention to the music playing behind them, as it’s a payoff to an earlier joke – is both sweet and silly at the same time.

Bottom Line: Don’t get too excited about Cross’s contribution to the pilot (it plays exactly like the last-second addition that it was), but casting Arnett as a spoiled man-child of a character certainly finds him playing to his comedic strengths. “Running Wilde” isn’t going to a rash of “The ‘Arrested Development’ magic is back!” headlines, but if Hurwitz and Vallely can quickly find the balance between the sweet / silly vibe that pops up in the scenes when the Arnett / Russell relationship is the focus and the poor-little-rich-boy aspect of Arnett’s character, things could start looking up.

  

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 7

Day 7 of the TCA Press Tour technically began on Day 6: just as the ABC all-star party wrapped up, Fox hosted a cocktail party which doubled as an early check-in for their day of the tour…and, better yet, it was hosted by Will Arnett and Keri Russell, the stars of one of Fox’s upcoming new sitcoms, “Running Wilde.”

You’ll get more details about the show in due time, since there was a “Running Wilde” panel as well, but for now, I’ll just mention that two other individuals affiliated with the show made unexpected appearances at the early check-in: executive producer / co-creator Jim Vallely and co-star Peter Serafinowicz.

I didn’t really get a chance to chat with Russell (she was pretty well surrounded from the moment she arrived), but I did talk to Arnett for a few minutes. Thanks to my wife, though, I ended up having a relatively lengthy conversation with Serafinowicz and Vallely. I knew I’d recognized Serafinowicz, and he quickly reminded me why: he had his own series in the UK, one which many YouTube clips reveal to be extremely hilarious. Indeed, he’s the one who told me I should check them out, particularly his Beatles-related parodies, of which he’s quite proud. No wonder he was cast to play Paul in Robert Zemeckis’s “Yellow Submarine” remake.

In a strange “small world” moment, I also learned that Jim Vallely is the father of Tannis Vallely, the actress who played Janice, the glasses-wearing, cello-playing prodigy on “Head of the Class.” She’s now on the casting side of the business, having worked on such films as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Oceans’ Thirteen,” and “It’s Complicated.” Eventually, my wife and I grew tired and retreated for the evening, but it would only be a few hours until we were back in the thick of it again, this time for the real beginning of Day 7.

Breakfast was brought to us by the casts of “Human Target” and “The Good Guys,” shows which, back in the days when the networks weren’t too cheap to spread their series across a two-day period, would’ve earned their own panels. Instead, we had to settle for chatting with them over bacon and eggs, bagels or donuts, and that sort of thing. In truth, the only person I really had the chance to speak with was Jackie Earle Haley on “Human Target,” and that was mostly because I feel like I kinda sorta know him (he’s friends with Bullz-Eye’s own Ross Ruediger and, as a result, has come to recognize me on sight as “Ross’s friend”), but as you can see, everyone was in the house from both series.

Soon enough, the actors headed out to start their own days, and having finished our breakfast, we took our seats and prepared for the first panel of the morning to begin.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Well, it’s about freaking time…

After months of pissing everyone off by telling reporters that he either wasn’t interested in reprising his role of George Michael Bluth or couldn’t be bothered to sign onto an “Arrested Development” movie until he’d read the script, it looks like Michael Cera has finally caved in.

According to Kristin Dos Santos over at E! Online

Inside sources close to the negotiations of the upcoming Arrested Development movie tell me that Superbad and Juno star (and before that, hello, George-Michael Bluth!) Michael Cera has finally agreed to do the feature film project. Cera had been the lone holdout among the show’s stars for several weeks. All other Bluths, including Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross, are already game, according to sources.

I think we all knew this was only inevitable. Either Cera was going to sign, or Mitchell Hurwitz – who’s reportedly in the midst of writing the script – would made George Michael the brunt of more jokes than…well, George Michael.

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Sit Down, Shut Up”

Need a good reason to watch Fox’s upcoming new animated series, “Sit Down, Shut Up”? Hell, I’ll give you ten good reasons…with resumes that include “Pushing Daisies,” “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “Arrested Development,” “Two and a Half Men,” and, uh, “Cavemen”…and they’re all labeled by name in the photograph below.

(L-R) Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Kenney, Nick Kroll, Will Arnett (who is standing in front of Cheri Oteri), Jason Bateman, and executive producers Josh Weinstein, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum and Mitch Hurwitz

Now, I ask you: how can you not want to watch “Sit Down, Shut Up”?

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the show, it’s based on a live-action Australian sitcom about a bunch of cranky, obnoxious, irresponsible teachers but has, over the course of several years of evolution, found its way into an animated adaptation instead, albeit one with live-action backgrounds.

“It’s changed so much, I guess we’re really wondering why we are still paying royalties to Australia,” admitted Hurwitz. “But we’re in over our heads at this point. There is no getting out of it.”

But why did they decide to switch it from live-action to animated in the first place?

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