Fantasies rarely play out as you would expect. — Mr. Roarke
Blumhouse introduced a new twist on the 1977-1984 series Fantasy Island in 2020 with a feature film version starring Michael Peña (Ant-Man), leaning into a darker, horror take on its story. ABC tried a reboot in 1998, starring Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations, Heroes). This week a new series emerges on Fox, entirely separate (or is it?) from the 2020 movie, but landing a perfect opener that is perfectly faithful to Ricardo Montalban’s classic weekly anthology showcase, an episode that would qualify among the top of the original series’ best stories. This time it’s the talented Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace, Kojak, Dragnet, Telenovela, Rush Hour 2), whose beauty, charisma, and talent are more than worthy of her iconic, suave, Latin predecessor. Miss Elena Roarke is not a descendant of Mr. Roarke, but a great niece of the former ambassador of the island. The update is as much homage as sequel, a fine balance that miraculously gets it all right, with an updated feel that is modern and even fun, like the long-running BBC series Death in Paradise (which follows a fish-out-of-water detective and his staff on another island paradise also encountering newcomers aka guest stars in each new episode). As with Montalban’s Fantasy Island, character actors from television’s past, present, and maybe even future, should all be scrabbling to get a part on this new incarnation of the series.
Although it was impossible to know for sure whether the 2020 movie was a reboot or sequel or something else, this story is true sequel. Even Hervé Villechaize’s sidekick Tattoo gets a worthy tribute in the pilot, which presents crucial character development that will set the course for the 10 episodes of the first season. The writers don’t let you know until the final scenes, meaning audiences will always be guessing what is really going on. Parisa Fitz-Henley (Luke Cage) played an associate to the Roarke in the 2020 movie, but here at least at first it looks like John Gabriel Rodriquez (in his first recurring role after 14 years in guest roles) will provide some camaraderie for Elena. Clearly this series will investigate what it is to be the ambassador of the island for Elena, a concept hidden from viewers in the Montalban series.
As with the original show, the first episode featured two guest packages, continuing the split titles, too, here with “Hungry Christine/Mel Loves Ruby.” The always surprising, always interesting Bellamy Young (Prodigal Son, Law & Order, Mission: Impossible III) stars in a story that strangely mimics the main story in the 2020 movie–a character coming to the island for one thing, which the island understands as an actual desire for revenge. Young is perfect here, completely chewing the scenery at every chance. The other story ties into the ongoing series path, featuring a couple having one last vacation before one’s terminal illness finally arrives. Kiara Barnes, Stephanie Berry, Adain Bradley, and David Moses are guest stars through that sequence.
Elena mentions in the episode that she has a large family, hinting at the possibility, however unlikely, that Michael Peña’s character from the 2020 film could splice into the series at some point. Fans of the original will also notice Easter eggs and parallels to the original show, the most obvious of which is the Roarke family penchant for a white wardrobe.
Although this is a much cleaner, crisper, smarter, and more interesting effort than the 2020 movie, the series telegraphs a better attempt at trying what movies like 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie did before it, but something more on par with the current Magnum, p.i. series reboot. In future episodes, keep an eye out for guest stars Odette Annable (House, MD) and Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs), and lots of former residents of Melrose Place.
Fans of the original, or anyone wanting to see some good storytelling on primetime television should check out the new Fantasy Island, airing at 8 p.m. Central, Tuesdays on Fox.