7 DAYS IN HELL Review: Nothing But Laughs in HBO Sports Mockumentary

     July 9, 2015


Beyond poking fun at the nationalistic stereotypes and hang-ups of England, Sweden, and the U.S.A., there’s not much of substance to 7 Days in Hell, HBO Sports’ lean, often uproarious mockumentary, based on a fictional tennis rivalry that ended in a seven-round face-off at Wimbledon in 2001. And frankly, it’s all the better for not trying to feign anything like political meaningfulness, opting rather to focus on the detail of the HBO Sports house-style for documentaries, and a variety of physical and verbal guffaws. The fleet, lean 45-minute parody film, helmed by SNL segment director Jake Szymanski, follows the personal and professional histories of Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Lloyd Poole (Kit Harrington), two immensely different tennis players from opposing sides of the pond, and does so with a consistently inventive sense of imagery, and jokes upon jokes.


Image via HBO

One of the simpler joys of this minor delight is the hash of footage types that Szymanski utilizes, varying from photos, both real and photoshopped, to low-res sports footage from the 1990s, to the digital, high-res talking-head interviews that litter the film. The assemblage beautifully mimics the editing rhythm and the story structure that has become commonplace in television sports documentaries, especially those produced by HBO Sports and ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series. This allows the film to keep a steady visual tempo in the editing, and gives the filmmakers plenty of room to fit in cameos from a myriad of sports and comedy stars, ranging from Serena Williams, playing Aaron’s fictional adoptive sister, to Will Forte‘s brilliantly crass sports historian. Through these types of subjects, including Samberg and Harrington’s characters, not to mention Jon Hamm‘s narration, Szymanski paints a ludicrous, gut-busting portrait of absurd competition, which admittedly barely grazes the inherent moral contradictions and indulgent, capitalistic bent that rules all sports essentially.

What the special primarily focuses on is the faultiness of ego and the eccentricity that wealth can often afford, which are as popular comedic subjects as machismo these days. Samberg’s character is an especially multi-faceted invention, sporting a wig, a drug addiction, and a love for indiscreet sexual affairs that would make most hair-metal bands go white with horror. Harrington’s character is less developed and purposefully weaker in general, but the Game of Thrones thespian proves very funny in spurts, and the writers make plenty of sharp gags about English culture (Michael Sheen’s hilarious turn as a pedophilic sports-show host would be worth the watch alone). It’s easy to get held-up thinking about a longer, more resonant study of the hubris that the sports industry indulges and depends on that 7 Days in Hell could have been, but the fact that the film is an unmitigated romp is not something that should be apologized for or excused away. Indeed, such gleeful and lively slices of conviviality that embrace frivolity should be celebrated.

★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television


Image via HBO