What I love (and hate) about Fantasy Island
April 28, 2023
I started watching Fantasy Island in 2020 not because I was particularly interested in the show, but because it happened to be playing on TV during my lunch hour. At first, I thought the show was dumb; I usually watch shows with ensemble casts, and I didn’t see the appeal of a show with only two characters — especially when those two characters weren’t even present for most of the episode.
But something clicked, and I got hooked on the show. Since then, I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time thinking about Fantasy Island. I’ve decided to share these thoughts, because there’s not any significant analysis about Fantasy Island online, and that’s something that I think should exist.
For my first essay, I’m going to try to explain why I care so much about a show that is — let’s be honest — pretty silly. As much as I’ve come to enjoy this series, there’s still a part of me that thinks this show is dumb, because it turns out all the reasons I love this show are the same reasons I hate this show.
5. The special effects and acting
While you won’t find Fantasy Island on any list of the best shows of all time, you’re probably not going to find it on anyone’s worst of all time lists either… but it did occasionally feature some over-the-top acting:
The show also had its share of special effects that (by today’s standards at least) were not so special:
Sometimes, the acting and effects were just plain bad. Other times, they veered into “so bad it’s good” territory, and I enjoy when that happens.
4. The political incorrectness
There are many things on Fantasy Island that you could never get away with on TV today. Almost every episode is offensive in some way to somebody — which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the show’s original concept was about an “island where a man can have all the booze and broads he wants”. [The Making of Fantasy Island]
While I hate it when the moral of an episode turns out to be “a woman’s place is in the home”, it can actually be kind of reassuring to watch old shows that are blatantly sexist, racist, and everything else -ist. It sucks that this behaviour was accepted back then, but I’m comforted by the fact that treating people this way is no longer considered okay by most people today. We still have a long way to go, but at least we can look back at Fantasy Island as proof that our society is improving.
3. The formula
Even though Fantasy Island featured brand new characters and stories each week, the structure of every episode was the same. While this sometimes made the show boring and predictable, it also gave the series opportunities to subvert our expectations.
Sometimes, the show would deviate from the formula in big ways, with segments involving Tattoo falling in love or Roarke battling the devil, and these were often the best episodes in the series. If these events happened every week though, I don’t think it would have had the same impact, so I think the balance of ordinary and extraordinary fantasies was just right. But it also means there are some fantasies that I don’t really pay any attention to.
On a smaller scale, the writers also changed things up by playing with the show’s catch phrases. Casual fans of the show may not have noticed that Roarke was quite fond of using the word “indeed”, so when Tattoo would say it, it was like a little reward for the hardcore fans (all, well… both of us).
2. Ricardo Montalban
While he isn’t the main focus of most episodes, Ricardo Montalban did a great job bringing the mysterious and charming Mr. Roarke to life. I already knew him as Khan in Star Trek, and Wrath of Khan is one of my favourite movies, so apparently, that movie and this series were all the encouragement I needed to end up watching half of his filmography.
I watched many movies I had never heard of, like Battleground, which was basically the originator of the war movie genre, and Neptune’s Daughter, which gives context to the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. I never would have seen those movies otherwise, so it’s nice to branch out and watch something different than I normally would.
Of course, I also ended up spending 90 minutes of my life watching Spy Kids 3, so I’m kind of reconsidering watching every Ricardo Montalban movie now.
1. The unexplained
Fantasy Island gave us very little information about the true nature of Roarke and the island, and I think that lack of information kept people coming back each week. After all, who doesn’t like a good mystery?
As will become apparent once I start adding more content to this website, I enjoy over-analyzing trivial things. Most episodes of Fantasy Island only give a small glimpse into the lives of Roarke and Tattoo, so I like to take these bits of information and try to piece them together into something coherent.
Of course, the lack of answers and conflicting information also drive me crazy. One of the most annoying things about this show might be that the layout of main house is seemingly impossible. They want us to believe that the window at the front of the house looks into Roarke’s office… and yet, we see a wall that doesn’t exist in his office a few feet away from this window in the opening credits sequence in every episode! And if that window was Roarke’s office window, that would mean the lanai is at the side of the house — but that’s where the stairs to the second floor are! Look, just don’t get me started on the main house, okay…