As Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping arrives on Sky Cinema and NOW TV, you might well find yourself asking where you’ve seen Andy Samberg before. A Saturday Night Live veteran and member of The Lonely Island, he’s a well-known face on the US comedy scene, but hasn’t really become a household name in the UK, despite his starring role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has found an audience on E4 and Netflix. With the 2017 Wimbledon final taking place this afternoon, it’s the perfect time to get more acquainted with Samberg’s comedy stylings with tennis comedy 7 Days in Hell.
The HBO comedy special, which was made back in 2016, is a spoof centred around the world’s longest every tennis match: a contest that lasted a whole week. That might sound stupid, but ever since 2010’s Wimbledon match between Isner and Mahut, which ran for 11 hours and 5 minutes (including a final set of 8 hours alone), the notion of an epic, never-ending racquet-off is no longer ridiculous – and 7 Days in Hell jumps on the chance to mine the scenario for all its worth.
Samberg plays Aaron Williams, America’s bad boy of tennis, who was born on the streets – literally. He was found in the streets by Richard Williams, father of Serena and Venus, and was raised as part of their family. Fast forward 15 years and he’s one of the best in the world, with the ego to prove it. But he’s far from popular, after he killed an umpire during one disastrous 1996 Wimbledon final, and then attacked Prince Edward during the prize-giving ceremony. (“The Duke of Kent,” says one newsreader solemnly, “has been pushed.”)
While the Duke of Kent doesn’t make an appearance, a wealth of other notable names do – even including the Williams family, with Serena all too happy to joke about Aaron’s reputation. John McEnroe, naturally, is all over this, and his commentary brings a wonderful plausibility to the nonsense, while his well-honed comic timing serves up enough laughs in its own right. Other cameos include Lena Dunham, David Copperfield as himself, and Michael Sheen as a lascivious TV interviewer.
The best surprise turn, though, comes from the opposite side of the net to Samberg: Kit Harrington, he of Game of Thrones fame, plays Aaron’s enemy, Charles Poole. A child prodigy raised by a stern parent, he skipped eduction to focus on tennis, but did go to etiquette school, which leaves him with a posh voice and a habit of saying “indubitably”, because it makes him seem smart. Harrington is something of a revelation, unveiling a comic side that he’s never had much of a chance to display. Deadpan, playing dumb and looking about 15, you could argue it’s just another day for Jon “You Know Nothing” Snow, but he volleys back every daft thing Samberg lobs at him, while finding the time to nod to everything from Andy Murray’s mother to Tim Henman’s charismatically polite presence.
Murray Miller, a write on King of the Hill and American Dad, keeps the balls coming, literally in the case of a subplot involving Swedish swimwear design – and it’s that willingness to leave the court for brief tangents that keeps 7 Days in Hell from burning up in its own silliness. This should be a short Saturday Night Live sketch, but Miller finds enough material to stop it running out of steam. It helps that the film is a smart 45 minutes, avoiding the risk faced by most Will Ferrell sporting comedies of outstaying is welcome.
Samberg, meanwhile, is relishing the chance to send-up tennis, Britain and everything in between, able to sell orgies and other lowbrow humour as much as the verbal wit. Director Jake Szymanski, meanwhile, throws it all up in the air with a precise recreation of typical sports documentaries, right down to a narration from Jon Hamm (who also does Amazon’s NHL docuseries All or Nothing). By the time that sees both men scrabbling on the floor on Centre Court barely able to stand, non-tennis fans will be amused enough to wish that all tennis were like this, while lovers of the sport will be relieved it isn’t. Either way, this is ace entertainment.
7 Days in Hell is available on Sky Atlantic On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £6.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – until 14th August 2017, when it will increase to £7.99 a month. The pass also includes live and on-demand access to other Sky Atlantic shows, such as Game of Thrones, Sky Living, Sky 1 and FOX UK. A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.