TV Review: 7 Days in Hell
PLOT: The shocking, (un)true story of tennis champs Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harington) who – for seven days at Wimbleton in 2001 – played the longest tennis match in history.
REVIEW: As likely anyone else who’s seen this can tell you, the funniest comedy of the year (so far) will not be found in your local multiplex. Instead, you need look no further than HBO On-Demand where you can catch this gut-buster of a mockumentary. It packs more laughs into its tight fifty minute running time than most big-screen comedy hits and is a pretty brilliant little one-off most of us probably didn’t see coming. Written by Girls producer/writer Murray Miller, directed by former Saturday Night Live helmer Jake Szymanski, and co-produced by star Andy Samberg, the best way to describe this is probably as the funniest (and dirtiest) SNL Digital Short ever – only stretched out to almost an hour. And it never drags. Not ever.
Fitting the comedy pedigree of the behind-the-scenes talent, 7 DAYS IN HELL is jampacked with stars galore. Aided by the mockumentary format, many of them aren’t called on to do much more than be talking heads, but each and every one of them gives an inspired performance, ranging from Fred Armisen as tony English sports commentator Edward Pudding, Will Forte as bearded superfan Sandy Pickard to Lena Dunham as a mullet-wearing exec for eighties favorites Jordache jeans. The unlikelier guest-stars are even better, with real life tennis champ John McEnroe playing himself to perfection and David Copperfield stealing every scene as himself, including a genius bit where he’s surprised to learn that cocaine is in fact illegal.
Other contributors include a surprisingly hilarious Michael Sheen as perverted, cigarette-smoking chat show host Caspian Wint, Jon Hamm as the deadpan narrator, Karen Gillan as a cool Britannia supermodel, and best of all, NEBRASKA’s June Squibb as the foul-mouthed and violent Queen of England.
However, 7 DAYS IN HELL’s ultimate success all comes down to the two stars. Andy Samberg arguably helped revitalize SNL in the 2000’s but has never really had a strong big-screen vehicle to propel him to Will Ferrell levels of comedy stardom. 7 DAYS IN HELL feels like a strong push in the right direction. His mullet-sporting tennis champ feels like a dead-on parody of Andre Agassi at his most outrageous, only given a healthy dose of absurdity, including bits where his powerful tennis serve kills someone and an extended scene where he interrupts a match to have sex with a female streaker, followed by a male one, and then (naturally) both of them together.
His co-star, Kit Harington is an inspired bit of casting. While playing Jon Snow on Game of Thrones certainly never allowed him to even crack a smile, he shows some real comic chops playing the thick-headed Charles Poole with the same grimness he brings to Snow, which only enhances the comedy.
The mockumentary format allows the filmmakers to go off on all kinds of hilarious tangents, including staging CGI Swedish prison orgies (with commentary by a subtitled Dolph Lundgren in footage repurposed from a vintage interview) and a long, hilarious story about a Swedish courtroom illustrator with a desire to make court-reporting “fun”. It’s all totally insane, but it works so well. The tight run-time means that 7 DAYS IN HELL never has a chance to overstay its welcome, and if you walk away from this with any complaints it’ll likely only be that you’ll wish it was longer. Hopefully HBO will do more of these one-off specials as this was a real laugh-riot from start-to-finish. If somehow this has flown under your radar, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It’s a must-see.