So I checked out the new Fantasy Island series, which I was caught a little off-guard by in terms of timing. I had heard a reboot was coming, but never saw anything about it premiering. But, apparently, it did back at the end of August, they’re already up to episode 8. WTH?
If you are too young to remember, or used to live under a rock, you may know that back in the day, Love Boat and Fantasy Island used to air back-to-back as shows with all the guest stars of the week. Each week, two or three guest stars would come on the show, live out a small storyline, go home happy at the end, and the crew for the boat or the island staff would continue. Captain Stubing ran the Love Boat, while Mr. Roarke welcomed guests to an unusual island. FI had a movie reboot not too long ago, and I’ve been seeing the clips on Netflix where it looks like some sort of horror episode. While the cruise ship provided setting for magic to happen on the Love Boat, the Island had special magic itself. Or Mr. Roarke did. It was never too clear.
Anyway, I caught a couple of recent episodes, and they have upped the game so that it is a lot like a Star Trek holodeck. For example, a young woman arrives on the island wanting to live a life of adventure rather than in books, and she doesn’t know how to say “yes” to life. She loves a series of old Victorian novels of adventure and romance, and she wants the same. Which is exactly what they give her — she walks through a door into her fantasy, which is her going back in time to meet her favourite author, have adventures, and fall in love, and like any good hero’s journey, she grows and has to make a decision of whether she wants to risk living the new life she creates or go back to her older but easier one.
On the old series, there was more exposition at the start of each episode. Each person arrived, had already told them well in advance what they wanted, research had been done, plans had been made, etc. They didn’t know HOW the fantasy would work, just that they would get to live an adventure. Here, each character arriving is more like, “I’m here, let me tell you my fantasy and deepest desire for the first time”, and 30s later, with no explanation of who/why/where/what/etc., they go through a door and start their fantasy. I admit that I was jumping in without having experienced all the previous episodes, and they are already 8 shows in, so maybe all the mystery is “done and dealt with”, but it comes off completely unrealistic. Nobody has ANY questions? Nobody is like, “You know, I don’t really know what my fantasy is” or has any reluctance in unburdening their deepest darkest secret to the woman who greets them, some 2m after they just meant? REALLY? I don’t need every EP to repeat the same things, but even the Alphabet mysteries by Sue Grafton threw you a bone every episode to tell you who the main character is and they role they play in the story. Even if most of it happens off-camera, as it did in the old series. We didn’t get the full background, but we knew there WAS background.
I know, I know, it’s called Fantasy Island, but shouldn’t there be some attempt at grounding the opening in reality so you can SEE the transformation from the real world to the fantasy one? Otherwise it just seems like it could be role-playing actors, not real true fantasy.
Mr. Roarke, played by Ricardo Montalban in the original, has been replaced by Elena Roarke (I assume a daughter of the original, perhaps?). Actress Roselyn Sanchez was okay on Grand Hotel, and I enjoyed her way back on Without A Trace. Here? I wasn’t that impressed. She seems so insecure for her personal life, and completely non-reassuring for the professional side. There is NO reason for anyone to take her seriously as the person who can deliver on their fantasies, nor warm enough for them to unburden their deepest desire in 30s.
Hervé Villechaize played Tattoo in the original, the aide to Mr. Roarke. In this one, there is a woman named Ruby played by Kiara Barnes. Apparently, Ruby was one of the first guests in Ep1, with a terminal illness. As long as she stays on the island, perhaps it’s cured. But by the time I got to Ep 8 and 9, she has almost no role other than to give Elena someone to do exposition with when the others aren’t around. Except it reveals that despite appearing somewhere between 40-60yo, she is supposedly well over 75 and tied to the magic of the island (see above). From IMDB, I can see she did 267 episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful, and so presumably she can do some acting. I don’t know, it’s like watching two completely different actresses — one where she’s interacting with Elena and has NOTHING to do in the scenes and one where she goes into the fantasy world to interact momentarily with the fantasy recipient. When she’s doing nothing, it is PAINFUL to see her struggle to have SOME role; when she’s in the other scenes, she’s fine.
The shows are relatively cheap to produce, guest stars vary from desperate actors looking for SOME roles to play to newbies, or some just looking for something different. While the sets change from week to week, some of them are rather simple (last week, Eric Winter from The Rookie stopped by for an existential crisis, and his entire set of scenes were “go stand in a forest area and talk to someone”…I was thinking it was a bit odd for him to show up, considering The Rookie is still filming, until I discovered he’s married IRL to Rosalyn Sanchez aka Elena. On the other hand, Caitlyn Stasey showed up this week, who I loved all the way back to Neighbours, as she somehow exudes both sex and cuteness in any scene, separate from her ability to establish presence quickly. Or, there was Daphne Zuniga showing up, aka Alison from The Sure Thing.) It’s Flashback City!
Anyway, cheap to do the sets, guest stars in and out, I predict renewal, even though I think they need to go a bit darker in some EPs, dig a bit deeper into the psychology (not horror, per se, but something darker like a murder). And regardless, I won’t be watching. For me, it’s like short stories. Nice to nibble on between real meals, but not filling.