TV Recap: 7 Days in Hell

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7 Days in Hell Plot Summary:

Equally desperate to win Wimbledon, professional tennis players Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harington) battle in an historical seven day match.

It’s pretty amazing what 7 Days in Hell is able to fit in within 45 minutes. In less time than your typical tv program, this HBO special runs the full gamut of a classic sports film. You have the rising star, desperate to make their mark on the world. There’s the celebrity who has a spectacular fall from grace, rebounds from the bottom, and returns for a chance at redemption. A failed romance comes back, someone gets a massive drug addiction, players are physically assaulted, and jail plays a pretty big role. If 7 Days was intended to be a serious program and not a mockumentary, it certainly had the groundwork necessary to be one. Yet fortunately for us, it’s the exact opposite. 7 Days is one hilarious special that freely dances in absurdist territory while also dabbling in some serious topics.

Photo Credit: John P. Fleenor/HBO
Photo Credit: John P. Fleenor/HBO

The big star of this brief film is unquestionably Andy Samberg. I’m glad he was able to find success following Saturday Night Live because it means we can get glorious performances like the “bad boy of tennis” Aaron Williams. This role was practically catered to his talents.. One the best parts about 7 Days was how far this character was willing to go to be the best. He hides cocaine throughout the court for a boost of energy. He engages in multiple sex acts in the middle of a set to prevent Poole from finishing the match. When he’s at his absolute lowest point, he forms a successful clothing line, gets slammed with multiple malpractice lawsuits, and then becomes a big star within a Swedish prison. The man thrives on living an absurd life which, thanks to the special’s short runtime, never actually gets old.

In comparison, Kit Harington drew the short straw. Charles Poole had plenty of funny moments for sure, and I loved seeing a babyfaced Jon Snow, but he never grew beyond his initial impressions. It’s established immediately that Poole is a massively stunted person on an intellectual level. His mother, Louise Poole (Mary Steenburgen), wanted him to be a tennis superstar at a very young age. This resulted in Poole getting fast tracked through school by becoming a truck driver and being taught to say “indubitably” to sound smart. Naturally he has no idea what that word means and just throws it around at random. This works to make him a humorous figure, but as Williams kept growing to crazy new heights, it was telling that Poole essentially stayed the same.

Poole’s biggest benefit however was giving so many other characters someone to play off of. One of my absolute favorite characters was June Squibb’s Queen Elizabeth. Despite her physically appearing for only a few minutes, her voice was prevalent throughout as she insulted Poole for failing. I never thought I’d want a Queen who would ambush someone in an elevator and call them “fuck slut,” but now that’s all I want to watch. Coming up close behind the Queen is Michael Sheen’s Capsian Wint, the host of Good Sport and an obvious pedophile with sexual interest in a young Poole. It’s actually pretty scary how deeply Sheen got into this performance. Wint responding breathlessly to Poole’s rock hard 15-year-old abs was hysterical though, solely on how it was delivered. Lastly, despite her having only a smattering of lines, Steenburgen was the perfect obsessive mother clearly forcing her son to live out her unrealized dreams. I’m glad she was able to find some time out of her incredibly packed schedule to do this.

Photo Credit: John P. Fleenor/HBO
Photo Credit: John P. Fleenor/HBO

Speaking of finding time, it’s impressive how many people were involved with this special. Tennis superstars Serena Williams and John McEnroe appear multiple times to provide their commentary on the historical seven day match. Jim Lampley and Soledad O’Brien drop by as well with the latter getting some solid material with Poole. David Copperfield, believe it or not, plays a fairly important role with the story too. Then you have all the notable actors lending their talents to created roles. Howie Mandel, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Lena Dunham, Karen Gillan, and, of course, Steenburgen, Squibb, and Sheen, get impressive mileage out of their short appearances. It’s such a packed production that actually never feels overstuffed, which is quite a feat in and of itself.

Amid all the absurdity and random tangents, such as focusing on the renaissance of courtroom sketch drawing and testicle destroying underwear, 7 Days hits on some interesting and relevant topics. For Williams and Poole, they are the personifications of the worst ways to be an athlete. Williams is what happens when someone’s ego isn’t checked enough. He adamantly believes he deserves to be the best because in his mind he is, and no one is going to stop that. Not even his own crippling insecurities. Poole on the other hand is a cautionary tale about forcing your child down a single path. He’s bright in the tennis world but literally nowhere else. It’s clearly not a life to live. Lastly, without spoiling the end, both of the characters show us the pitfalls of being competitive athletes and how it can change people from being basic humans beings.

Of course, it doesn’t actually end on that. The final line is naturally a bit of humor, which fits 7 Days perfectly. Just when it gets a little bit serious about a certain topic, it immediately swings back into very funny territory. Is Poole being forced to live his mother’s dreams? Let’s not focus on that, let’s have Wint stroke his abs. Poole clearly commits a felony later on the film, but why care about that when you can have Williams play with a broken arm. The way Williams even gets out of prison is clearly set up to just move on from the subject quickly. On any other program this wouldn’t work, but with 7 Days in Hell, that’s exactly what was necessary.

Game, set, match.

Rating: 9/10
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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.
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