With full admission that I'm a sports fanatic, one of the most hilarious things about organized sports is how seriously it takes itself. The way we consume it has evolved into a narrative of carefully rehearsed sound bites, rising music and ramped-up drama, making it an arena ripe for easy mockery.
I know I've been guilty of being far too invested in something that is relatively meaningless – we've all got bigger things to get worked up about than blown calls, on-field beefs and heartbreaking losses, right? Yet with every Powerade-drenched victory, every walk-off home run and every three-pointer at the buzzer, I can't help but give myself over to The Game.
Earlier this year, comedian Amy Schumer set the bar pretty high for intelligent sports parody on Inside Amy Schumer, crafting an ingenious revamping of Friday Night Lights, where a coach in a small town does the outlandish thing of asking his teen players for "no raping." Schumer was not only searing in her condemnation of the aggressive, machismo entitlement of football culture, but also in the surreal seriousness of small-town sports worship, making us all sad-laugh in the process.
Now HBO has also decided to take the ridiculously self-serious world of sports to task with 7 Days in Hell, a one-off mockumentary centred on a fictional week-long tennis match. They've wisely chosen one of the best of all possible sports to pick on – tennis is mired in privilege, tradition and upper-crusty-ness, flourishing in a country known best for being more than a little uptight. Written by Murray Miller (Girls, King of the Hill), the film takes its audience right to the hallowed English courts of 2001 Wimbledon, and then, for close to an hour, totally (and enjoyably) mocks the entire institution.
The star of this send-up is Andy Samberg, the Lonely Island alum and the man who popularized the much-loved Saturday Night Live Digital Short interstitials. The small-screen format is a good fit for this former experimental film major, better known for his one-off skits and episodic television talent – Brooklyn Nine-Nine, for example – than any major film breakthroughs.
Beyond that, Samberg could be called the unofficial king of awkward, inappropriately confident white male sexuality, with a special talent for the one-note penis joke (think Dick in a Box or Jizz In My Pants). Given that 7 Days in Hell depends a lot on, well, penises, it's a great forum for his unique skill set.
Cast as sports bad-boy archetype Aaron Williams, Samberg looks a lot like a 1990 Andre Agassi, complete with drug problems, a dyed blond mullet and exposed chest hair. As an orphaned child he's adopted into the Williams family (of Serena and Venus fame) and in a "reverse Blind Side" (Serena's words) he's a white kid trained by a black family to be a tennis star.
His opponent in this epic on-court battle is complete idiot Charles Poole (Game of Thrones' Kit Harington), a tennis prodigy with an overbearing mother and the support of the Queen. The stage is set for the grand tradition of American versus British antagonism, and the film takes full advantage.
The mock-doc plays out like your typical ESPN behind-the-scenes special, with appearances from tennis greats Serena Williams, John McEnroe and Chris Evert. The pro players add some self-effacing levity to the overall ridicule, and there are also some fun moments from Lena Dunham, as a former Jordache jeans president, and Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, as the standard supermodel girlfriend.
This gloriously mixed cast is the mini-movie's greatest strength, as there's something undeniably hilarious about watching magician David Copperfield deadpan sex and cocaine jokes. Every sports and athlete trope you can think of is given a good kick around – from drugs, to women, to pressure, to "respecting the game," to how boring so many think tennis actually is.
Yet beyond the innovative setup, there's more of the same old thing happening here – typical teen-boy dirty jokes grasping at low-hanging comedic fruit, with lots of exposed male genitals and a prison orgy thrown in for easy, base laughs. 7 Days in Hell has its funny moments, but not in the intelligent, scathing way Schumer proved was possible. Its guffaws rely more on "British people are silly" and "here are some testicles" than any real insight into why sports culture deserves to be poked at and unpacked.
Drawn-out on-court fornication, and one awkward joke that veers into pedophilia humour, also threaten the whole comedic effort, meaning that the viewer has to pick and choose their amusement rather than being entertained by the whole package.
Funny thing is, even with its flaws, the comedy actually did do something remarkable – it made me want to sit down and watch a game of tennis.