The overwrought and underwritten I-Land, dropped today and is yet one more example of how Netflix has lost its way.
When thought-provoking, beautiful shows like The OA get the ax but I-Land gets green-lit you know something is very wrong. Gambling on what must have been a high concept premise Netflix threw enough money at this limited series to cast a few big names who do everything they can to salvage this less than great show. Natalie Martinez and Kate Bosworth are great. The writing and effects not so much.
Heavy Spoilers Ahead…….
It’s hard to decide if I-land so obviously ridiculous because it’s not real or were the writers and crew that bad? The setting is a deserted island. In real life, it is the Dominican Republic. On this fictional island, there are man-eating sharks, buzzards, rando crabs, a cannibal, and a handful of lost souls. Sadly we never get to meet the cannibal.
Fairly early on it becomes apparent this is not real for both apparent reasons like everything that happens after episode two and less obvious the absurd Hunger Games-seque dropped in items for use. The island in question is gorgeous. There is no denying that, but everything else seems to be painted from a primary school color pallet. Borrowing heavily from The Sixth Sense the color red is used to all but scream when something is bad or not real. The creepy prison/hospital where our castaways are really hanging out was designed by a Decepticon who is big into ’80s sci-fi. It reminds me vaguely of the set from Battlestar Galactica Season Two, Episode Five “The Farm” where Starbuck was held and tricked by the Cyclons.
The nurses and doctors running the experiment frequently say dumb things like you couldn’t have felt that if you were paralyzed and “fuck a dead armadillo”. I guess the fact that numbness and paralysis are two different things and the patients (?) were given paralytics mean nothing. Most of the characters are drawn as archetypes with all the main players represented. A icy Nurse Ratchet(Caroline Ratchett) jams needles in with unexplained aggression and a couple of rogue guards are sadistic dicks for no reason. There is even a mustache-twirling, cowboy hat-wearing, corporate fat cat played enthusiastically by Bruce McGill.
The cast is attractively diverse, dedicated, and adept at making the very most of a sophomoric script. That’s the best thing Netflix has going for it. The questionable dialogue is delivered well by characters who emote with all their furrowed brows and earnest hearts. If it wasn’t for Kate Bosworth’s ability to act, lines like “I hate women. I always have.” would be a deal breaker. Even the lesser known actors perform miracles with the clunky script. Alex Pettyfer(Brody) from Beastly is a perfectly entitled rapist. Kyle Schmind(Moses) from Syfy’s Being Human is the standard hot white guy who also is a potential terrorist. Ronald Peet(Cooper) is sympathetic and sensitive in his masculinity. Kota Eberhardt(Taylor) is stereotypically tough but vulnerable. Anthony Lee Medina(Duncan) is the fast food version of an obsessive stalker-he goes full creeper in sixty seconds or less. Sibylla Dean is a stunning angel of death. Michelle Veintimilla(Hayden) bites it early on. Gilles Geary(Mason) is incredible as a disturbed mass shooter, and Natalie Martinez(Chase) and Kate Bosworth(K.C.) are two sides of the same damaged coin. In addition, Maria Conchita Alonso delivers a hatefully entertaining performance as the overbearing mother.
As good as the cast is, there are just too many holes and obtuse angles to make this a recommended series. One example, as Chase is given a bizarre exit interview she is told everyone uses their last names in the simulation however K.C. is not a last name. Inmates who have been exonerated are still treated like dangerous criminals and protagonists let doctors inject them with unknown substances after knowing they are up to know good. Even the ending is manipulative. All this time I’d been calling it I(EYE)-Land and it is really 1(ONE)-Land, I guess implying there could be multiple lands as in Westworld’s Sho-gun World. For the love of all things holy, get this cast a better show and do not make a season 2. Even the guys over at BH90210 who love reboots are rolling their eyes at that possibility.
As bad as it is, there are a few good sequences and deliciously nasty bits(pun intended) in episode five when Taylor finds menu options on the island suck, and a gritty fight scene in episode six between Bonnie and Clyde and Chase and Cooper. Taylor is a pretty obnoxious character and it was pretty fun to see what she does to herself. That was by far the most unexpected scene. There is a lot of machete and spear wielding and puncture wounds which almost made episode 6 worthwhile. Aside from those fleeting moments I-Land is devoid of anything but superficial personality. A cardboard cutout of a more interesting film The Belko Experiment.
The I-Land is a bland Cube that had potential but squandered it. It’s as if a fledgling writer came up with a good idea and wanted to make everyone think serious thoughts about morality, rehabilitation, and nature versus nurture but lacked all the maturity and experience to fully explore those themes. Too many borrowed ideas and exploited concepts try to hide a plot that is thinner than my comfy underwear. At one point there is even a heavy expository scene where Chase gets mansplained to about the simulation, comparing it to a Choose Your Own Adventure”. Sounds like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch right? This cheap sci-fi wannabe will not get a second season as all the secrets have been boringly revealed. I guess that makes one more good thing about this limited series.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.