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copyright ©1999-2002

flick pick | Series 7: The Contenders 2001
Directed + written by: Daniel Minahan
Starring: Brooke Smith, Marylouise Burke, Glenn Fitzgerald
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for
something: action-packed, darkly comic true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5

Plot synopsis In a popular reality TV show entitled The Contenders, a group of contestants are selected at random from the general population each season. The "lucky" chosen ones are given a gun and a cameraman, and promptly instructed to eliminate all of the other contestants by killing them off. The show follows each contestant as they stalk, terrorize, and brutalize one other, pausing from time to time to let each pontificate on their "feelings" in camera confessional monologues. The last contestant alive, naturally, is the winner, and goes on to defend his/her title in the next series of the television show. The series 7 marathon brings two-time champion Dawn Lagarto back to her hometown in Connecticut. Eight months pregnant and absolutely determined to win – for the sake of her unborn child, she declares repeatedly and with passion – Dawn’s smart, strong, and no-nonsense about what she has to do. Her competitors, frankly, don’t seem like much of a match for her at first. There’s Tony, a drug-addicted, unemployed loser with family troubles, and Connie, a deeply religious ER nurse. Plus Lindsay, an eighteen year old whose overzealous parents are pushing her to win, Franklin, a crotchety old nutter who lives alone in a ramshackle trailer, and Jeffrey, who’s dying of testicular cancer and looking forward to ending his days. Naturally, the show wouldn’t be much entertainment if the unlikely contestants didn’t prove themselves to be worthier competitors than anyone could have guessed, and things get complicated when it turns out that Jeffrey and Dawn share a complicated history.

Review You can’t turn on the television set these days without finding some sort of "reality"-based TV show on at least one of the channels at all times. There’s something about these shows that brings out the very, very worst in human nature … and hence, their grotesque appeal. People who presumably function just fine in their boring old normal lives turn into monsters when they’re tossed into a random house, a deserted island, a Winnebago, all for the sake of a prize … and the rapt attention of a national audience. In a world where viewers faithfully tune in each week to watch Survivor, Temptation Island, and The Bachelor, The Contenders is sort of the next logical step in network television’s bid to out-outrageous the competition – it’s only thismuch over-the-top to imagine that this sort of a show could actually happen. Director Daniel Minahan does a rather clever job of making Series 7: The Contenders read almost exactly like a real reality television show, complete with cheesy music, confessionals, obviously manipulated "plotlines" that create relationship dramas to draw in viewers, dramatizations of "actual" events, and all the other hallmarks of the genre ( the one improvement would have been to intersperse commercials periodically throughout the marathon, to give it a more authentic TV feel). It’s so perfect a mimic that I can imagine fans of reality TV enjoying the fake show for all the reasons that they probably enjoy the "real" versions. As a non-fan, however, I couldn’t help wishing that Minahan had been a little less concerned about executing a brilliant imitation and actually upped the outrageousness quotient -- made the violence more extreme, made the jokes funnier and more plentiful and much, much darker. In short, pushed the satire further, so that in the end, it might have left me with a much more bitter aftertaste for having allowed myself to be suckered into the sort of TV tripe that Minahan’s mocking -- and left me with just a bit more to think about regarding why people watch these shows in the first place. —reviewed by Y. Sun

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