Netflix’s new show is far from an island paradise, but its worth persevering worth for an all-expenses-paid trip into some truly gonzo territory.
This review of The I-Land Season 1 (Netflix) is spoiler-free. You can check out our in-depth recaps of reviews of each episode by clicking these words.
The I-Land Season 1 is a show that, to put things mildly, doesn’t make a good first impression. In the opening episode, ten diverse amnesiacs are assembled on an idyllic island, and then for two hours proceed to act like they haven’t realized. Conflict doesn’t emerge organically; it just appears out of nowhere, as though the characters have all met before and are still holding grudges about some petty perceived slights. One character attempts to rape another and it’s scarcely mentioned again beyond in a kind of half-arsed “you might as well learn to get along!” way. Everyone goes for a swim before bothering to find food or shelter or any answers about who they are or why they’re there. That kind of thing.
In all honesty, there are certain aspects of The I-Land Season 1 that don’t improve much, either. The writing never gets any better, for instance. It’s overloaded with inelegant exposition and the odd bafflingly bad line: When the spunky and mysterious heroine, Chase (Natalie Martinez), finds a life raft, one of the other survivors exclaims, “You’re always finding things!” Because of the deliberately enigmatic setup, which combines Lost with, eventually, a sci-fi plot that has things to say about an aspect of society that I won’t even hint at for fear of spoilers, for a while it’s difficult to tell which of The I-Land‘s peculiarities are accidental and which are red herrings or intentional homages or spoofs. As it turns out, there are no real red herrings, homages or spoofs; it’s just not a well-written show. (It’s not a particularly well-acted one either, but that becomes less of an issue as more and more characters are killed off and the impressive Martinez gets more of the material.)
The good news is that The I-Land Season 1 plays its hand in the third episode — of seven, it’s thankfully not a long series — and from then on takes a refreshingly sharp turn into gonzo territory. Almost nothing that happens in this period makes any kind of sense or builds on what came before; it’s just a series of seemingly random tech-horror ideas that are all stuffed into a back half that is well-worth persevering for if only to gawp in surprise at. None of these surprises are good surprises, you understand, but they’re certainly surprising. Plus the show has enjoyable energy and a decent pace — besides a dry late-season entry that devotes almost all of its time to backstory flashbacks for characters who mostly won’t even survive until the end of the season — that makes it easy viewing, especially if you enjoy laughing along at low-effort genre fiction. I was much kinder to The I-Land Season 1 than most will probably be, but I just found it too unintentionally hilarious to dislike. Hopefully, you will too.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.