As you may know (but probably don’t), Fantasy Island will be released in theaters this weekend where the general public will be given the choice of purchasing a ticket to watch it. Loosely based on the popular television show that aired from 1977 until 1984, this new theatrical version, it appears, will be a full-fledged horror film. Now, this assumption is based on the marketing materials since I haven’t seen Fantasy Island because the first critics’ screening takes place Thursday night, around the same time the movie is released in theaters (which is never really a good sign). So since I can’t write about the new Fantasy Island movie, I decided to pick an episode of the old Fantasy Island television series at random and just watch that instead. (I say “random,” but is anything in life truly random? The truth is I started scrolling through guest stars and saw an episode that featured not just Scott Baio, but also his cousin, Jimmy Baio. So, no, I couldn’t resist watching an episode that featured two Baios.)
Fantasy Island is one of those series that’s drifted into the era that grown adults either have never watch an episode, or if they have (like me) it was so long ago and were so young they barely remember any of them. (The most vivid memory I have of Fantasy Island is after Hervé Villechaize left the show, he was replaced by Christopher Hewett, who would go on to portray the title character in Mr. Belevedere. The reason I remember this is because when the plane carrying that week’s guest stars arrived, Hewett – instead of climbing a tower and ringing a bell, like Villechaize did – would just hit some sort of remote-control device to ring the bell. Even at a young age, I felt I could do that.)
The premise is eerie: strangers show up on this mysterious island, greeted by this mysterious man, Mr. Roarke (played perfectly by Ricardo Montalbán), who would make everyone’s dreams come true, but usually at some sort of price. But what made this interesting, the “price” wasn’t always some terrible thing. It was usually in some form of the fantasy seeker realizing that they never really wanted the fantasy at all and that their current lives weren’t so bad.
See, to me this sounds like a perfect vacation: one that makes me even happier after I get back home. There’s actually a good amount of online discussion surrounding Mr. Roarke and if he’s supernatural or not. (Okay, yes, there are some people who are still very familiar with the show.) I mean, he kind of has to be supernatural, right? Though, I always wondered how the island advertised itself. Maybe it’s addressed in an episode? But is it word of mouth? Is it mainstream advertising? Does Mr. Roarke just supernaturally summon people who need him?
The episode with the Baio cousins opens with two separate plotlines as they arrive by hot air balloon. (I think I may have watched such an early episode as it’s before the island even used planes for arriving guests.) As Mr. Rourke waits, the names of his special guest stars appear in bold type. Hey, do you think you’re getting just one Baio this episode? Because, one Baio would be worth the price of admission alone.
Look, you can’t go wrong with one Baio. This is free television! The fact you’re getting Jimmy Baio? That’s a great evening of entertainment all on its own. But wait. Could it be? No. There’s no way we’re getting two Baios, are we?
Well, there you go. We’re set. (Also, Jimmy Baio will forever onward be known as “the better Baio”). Something I forgot about Fantasy Island: There was always some pretty decent playful banter between Mr. Roarke and Villechaize’s Tattoo (that I’m sure they both hated in real life). In this episode, Mr. Roarke had given Tattoo a Sherlock Holmes book as a gift, so Tattoo showed up dressed like Holmes. It’s nice that while manipulating hundreds of lives, these two have time for some clowning around.
Jimmy and Scott Baio’s fantasy is to be famous rock stars, in a band they play in along with their two younger siblings, The Four Collins. You see, their parents are “lost at sea” (was being lost at sea more common in the ’70’s?) and the four siblings have been split up and placed in four separate foster homes. The plan is, if they can become rich rock stars, they can all live together again.
The other plot involves a group of kids who want to run their own amusement park. Only, the leader of this group’s ulterior motive is he needs an amusement park so that he can hire a daredevil motorcycle stunt man named Great Scott, who is also his father (played by Ted Lange, AKA Isaac from The Love Boat) in an attempt to reunite his father with his mother. You see, that’s the real fantasy.
Back to the Baios: Mr. Roarke took the liberty of remixing the album, which attracts the attention of the most famous record producer in the world.* But the problem for The Four Collins, they can’t reproduce that sound unless they lip-sync while the record is playing. The other problem is their original song was pretty terrible (I’m not sure the show realizes this or not) and the record Mr. Roarke made for them isn’t that bad! But, anyway, the rest of the episode becomes a lesson on how lip-syncing is deceiving and is this horrible thing that should never be done. (Unfortunately, society as a whole didn’t listen to Mr. Roarke over the years.)
*Is this record producer real? The Baios seem to be very familiar with him. At the end of the episode he offers The Four Collins a songwriting job, so we have to assume that offer is real? Or do we? But I guess my bigger question is, does the famous record producer have reservations about seeing a band that’s playing on Fantasy Island? He had to realize what he was seeing probably wasn’t real, right? Why else would this rock band be on Fantasy Island? Also, I love this is what Fantasy Island assumes the most famous record producer in the world would look like:
The bad news for The Four Collins is they have to admit they were lip-syncing, so it looks like it’s back to the four individual foster home for all of them. But just as things look the bleakest, Mr. Roarke shows up to tell them their parents who were “lost at sea” have just “washed ashore in a remote part of Mexico.” (I assume alive.) Again, is that part of the fantasy? This show is pretty twisted! Mr. Rourke swears it’s true and shows the Baios some sort of official-looking document (it can’t be that hard to forge a document on Fantasy Island), but I still think there’s a good chance The Four Collins will get back to the mainland and find out the whole “washed ashore” part was just part of the fantasy and it was just another punishment for their contribution to the horrors of lip-syncing.
The other plot involving Ted Lange ends with Great Scott deciding not to do a very dangerous stunt. But when his son is trapped on a Ferris Wheel, the amusement park crew look to Great Scott to attempt a rescue. (Which is kind of hilarious that instead of calling the Fantasy Island Fire Department, everyone just assumes the stuntman is trained in Ferris Wheel rescues.)
Anyway, you know what? I kind of enjoyed Fantasy Island! It’s somehow both sinister and sweet at the same time. Its tone is set by Ricardo Montalbán who is pretty wonderful as Roarke: who can be devilishly clever, stern, and foreboding all at the same time. I remember at the time thinking it was weird the guy from Fantasy Island was cast as the villain in a Star Trek movie (before I knew about “Space Seed”), but his time as Rourke, I think, made him an even better Khan. He used a lot of Roarke’s impossible charm to make Khan one of the best movie villains of all time.
So, maybe, if nothing else comes out of the movie version, someone will seek out a couple of episodes of the series, because Ricardo Montalbán is worth the price of admission to Fantasy Island all by himself. (Plus, in one episode, you don’t just get one Baio, but you get two.)
‘Fantasy Island’ opens this weekend in theaters. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.