HBO’s sports documentary parody “7 Days in Hell” is one of the funniest things I have seen this year. It is perfectly paced, hilarious and more than a bit ridiculous. It is, to quote the film “Bronson,” “absolute madness at its very best.”
“7 Days in Hell” is the story of a fictitious tennis match at Wimbledon in 2001 that lasts seven days. It pits the uninhibited Aaron Williams against the dense Charles Poole. Their increasingly preposterous and intense rivalry ultimately results in tragedy and one of the greatest matches in tennis history.
One of the best things about “7 Days in Hell” is the straight-faced way it presents its outlandish tale. Real tennis players such as Serena Williams (Aaron, played by Andy Samberg, is her adopted brother) and John McEnroe add a level of reality that puts the absurd events of the film into a clearer light.
“7 Days in Hell” also finds a perfect narrator in Jon Hamm. He’s known for playing Don Draper in the Emmy-winning drama “Mad Men,” but he’s also an incredible comic actor in ridiculous sitcoms like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” His straight-faced delivery of lines describing weird comic situations makes them funnier.
The other amazing vocal performance comes from June Squibb as Queen Elizabeth II. She has some great appearances in the flesh, but her best moment comes in a drunken, foul-mouthed voicemail she leaves for Poole.
It might be wrong to say her whole life, including her Oscar-nominated performance in “Nebraska,” was simply preparation for this wonderful performance, but it could ?be true.
The supporting performances are uniformly excellent — including Fred Armisen as an Englishman named “Edward Pudding” — but the leads carry everything. Samberg is wonderfully up for anything as the unrepressed Williams, and it pays off well. Kit Harington gives an enjoyably dim performance as Poole that generates a good amount of sympathy for his character.
There is a high density of jokes in “7 Days in Hell.” They never detract from the narrative but rather feel built in. They range from topics such as the Swedish penal system to Williams’s wig, and I would say over 90 percent of the jokes succeed.
There’s a brilliant digression about the fictional Jan Erik Eckland, whose Disney-influenced courtroom sketches inspired a whole generation of courtroom sketch artists. It is only tangentially connected to the main narrative, but it boasts some of the funniest moments in the whole TV movie.
“7 Days in Hell” is not for everyone. It is probably too weird for a lot of people. But for a true comedy lover, there is more than enough in this ludicrous miracle to enjoy.