The ‘I’ stands for Idiotic. If you put a group of teenagers in a room and showed them a few episodes of “LOST” and “Westworld” before asking them to write their own program, they might come up with “The I-Land,” a new Netflix series written and produced by Neil LaBute. It is a bafflingly horrible sci-fi show, the kind of project that leaves your jaw on the floor, not unlike the first time you saw Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.” It’s only enjoyable at all in that transcendent way that truly horrible things can be enjoyable. The dialogue is stilted to the point that one wonders if it wasn’t run through Google Translate, the characters are as shallow as a parking lot puddle, and even the production values are shocking in their ineptitude. Some talented people got caught up in this flaming disaster of a program, and it’s downright sad to watch a couple of them struggle, but the whole thing starts to feel like the product of a lost bet. That’s the only way you should watch it.
The premise is enticing: Ten people wake up on a remote island with no idea who they are or how they got there. They are all dressed in non-descript ways, don’t know their own names, and have few supplies. They have no injuries or pain to indicate a plane or boat crash. They even have name tags on their shirts. Maybe they’re dead and this is heaven? Maybe this is some sort of alien experiment? Natalie Martinez, Alex Pettyfer, and Kate Bosworth are the only three really recognizable faces at least at first, and they quickly fall victim to something much worse than isolation: horrible dialogue. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from the premiere:
“It’s a whole survival of the fittest kind of thing?”
“I mean you are pretty fit.”
“Thank you. So are you.”
And then those two characters make out. The whole thing has a jawdropping awkwardness to its dialogue that’s reminiscent of Wiseau or something written in another language and then translated poorly. It’s not just that people don’t say things like this in real life – they can’t even replicate the normal flow of speech between actual human beings. It’s like watching robots pretending to be real.
That might be enjoyable enough on a B-movie level, but “The I-Land” quickly gets much grosser. The gender politics here are nauseating, and then it becomes particularly vile in later episodes when it uses mass shootings, stalking and domestic abuse in grotesque, exploitative ways that the show doesn’t at all earn. That’s when it goes from a morbid, poorly-written curiosity to something much worse and downright offensive, losing even the B-show sheen it has at the start.
The writing on “The I-Land” would be legendary enough but the show is also hideous on a production level. Some character aren’t lit at all, others are over-lit; the sound design echoes when it shouldn’t; the sets are flat and generic; there’s not a single element that works outside of a few choices by a cast who looks increasingly like they lost a bet. I’m not big on conspiracy theories but someone needs to get to the bottom of how talented people made this show. I started to take notes like “tax scheme” (maybe the ‘I’ stands for IRS) and “Springtime for Hitler Shenanigans.” I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there was an amazing oral history or behind-the-scenes doc about what exactly happened here. It will certainly be more interesting than the “The I-Land.”
Whole season screened for review.