The I-Land, a new survival-mystery series streaming on Netflix, is what it would be like if a four-year-old was in charge of the Lost writers room.
It’s like if you were forced to watch The Prisoner underwater—you’re vaguely aware of a sci-fi conceit, but everything is blurry and you can’t understand what anyone is saying because you’re underwater.
It’s like if you had to watch The Blue Lagoon—which already has a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes—completely out of order, while someone whispers non-sequiturs in your ear.
It’s like if the cast of Love Island were told on day one of filming that they had 24 hours to make a TV show using only the props they had on them.
It’s like if you ran the script of Robinson Crusoe through Google Translate into every language on Earth, converted it back to English, and then asked a high-school drama club to perform whatever was left without a single rehearsal.
It is the worst TV series I have ever seen. And it’s a uniquely Netflixian disaster, made possible by the streaming era’s glutton for content.
Created by someone named Anthony Salter, who has no other IMDb credits to his name and no discernible online footprint (it may very well be a pseudonym), The I-Land is about 10 strangers who wake up on a deserted island with no memory of how they got there. It is a painful, pathetic attempt to re-do the premise of the Emmy-winning series Lost, except worse in every way.
Within the first two minutes of the first episode, a woman is blowing into a conch. A few minutes later, two of the survivors meet for the first time in perhaps the most cringe-inducing conversation in TV history. One of them is actress Kate Bosworth, who looks disgusted to have to deliver the lines the writers are giving her. Each word is dripping with contempt.
After about five minutes I thought this had to be a parody. It was that awful. But, no, friends, The I-Land is very much for real.
Nothing in The I-Land makes sense. For one, none of the castaways seem scared or angry or upset, and everything they say and do is stupid. The island of The I-Land—a title that gets worse every time you say it—is a place where people earnestly say things like “Time for the gun show” and “I have a bad feeling about this.”
The guns in said “gun show,” by the way, belong to a character named Brody, who we soon learn is a serial rapist. Brody is what I imagine the stock “bad boy” character would be like if he were written by Alex Jones. He rapes two women in the first two episodes—a pace of one rape per episode. Ironically, Brody is also obsessed with having group meetings to take votes on things. All Brody does is rape and suggest pow-wows. He’s the worst character ever conceived.
(Thankfully, Brody is stabbed to death by the end of the second episode.)
The I-Land is about on par with The Room in its terribleness, except it doesn’t have the excuse of being the machination of a single narcissist forcing others to fulfill his fantasy and stroke his ego. This is a legitimate production with veteran producers and professional actors involved, distributed on the world’s leading streaming service. It has no right to be as transcendentally terrible as it is. The series has no redeemable qualities—it is utterly without merit. And it’s often offensive.
Just how this debacle came into this world is the only mystery of The I-Land that’s worth investigating. It’s not a surprise that it wound up on Netflix, which has never felt much shame pushing undercooked concepts onto its many subscribers. Netflix’s deep pockets, “something for everyone” ethos, and hands-off approach with creators has resulted in some very good television over the years, and that can’t be taken away. But those things also mean absolute stinkers like The I-Land can fall through the cracks.
As TV critic Dan Fienberg explains in the Hollywood Reporter, the Netflix model of ordering most shows straight to series (instead of filming only a pilot and then deciding whether or not it should move forward) created the conditions for The I-Land to exist:
Netflix gives straight-to-series orders and you need look no further than this show for an illustration of why that’s not always a great idea. No network or service that makes decisions based on pilots ever would have picked up The I-Land off of this prototype. Even with this cast, a broadcast network or a Showtime or a Hulu would have looked at the pilot and said, “OK, this isn’t working, you’ve made a porn parody of Lost without the sex,” and that would have been that. As flawed as it is, the money-wasting American TV model is designed so that head-scratchers like this one disappear.
No human being who has ever seen a TV show could ever think that this show was any good. No TV producer who has any knowledge of TV production could ever think this was ready for other people to see. Netflix executives probably realized this the moment they watched the footage, but at that point, they had already paid for it all and committed to releasing it.
And now that Netflix is just one of many major streaming services making original content, it’s reasonable to expect more disasters like The I-Land as companies spend billions to fill their libraries, looking for the next hit. Consider it collateral damage of the age of streaming.