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Are Americans Ready For Mugging People Off on 'Love Island'?
July 8, 2019  | By Kim Akass  | 1 comment
 


So, CBS has snapped up ITV2's reality extravaganza, Love Island (beginning Tuesday, July 9 at 8 p.m. ET).

Currently in Season 5, Love Island has become the UK show to watch over the long summer months and counts such British luminaries as Jeremy CorbynAdele, and Stormzy among its fans.

The premise is this: impossibly gorgeous twenty-somethings are dumped in a villa in Mallorca, Spain, where they hang out with each other and try to find "love."  A bit like Big Brother except with scanty swimwear and the promise of true love – the most popular couple (voted by the public) winning £50,000, fleeting fame, and lots more money from personal appearances, meet and greets and sponsored posts on Instagram.  With the occasional couple such as famous 'bromance' pair Chris and Kem (left), Love Island 2017, going onto host their own show You Vs. Chris and Kem and releasing a not-so-hit single.

To say that Love Island was a surprise hit for ITV2 is an understatement.  Aimed at a generation notoriously adverse to watching scheduled TV – 16-34-year-olds – and appearing on a minor TV channel, the show became 2016's breakout hit.

Love Island is now in its 5thyear in the UK and gave ITV2 record viewing figures of 2.5 million people for its last series. According to commentators, "It was the most talked-about show of the summer," prompting 5 billion Twitter impressions and merchandise shipped by the truckload.  And this year, ITV2's unlikely watercooler hit looks set to be even more popular.

Much like the World Cup, U.S. viewers can expect CBS' version to take over their summer viewing. In the UK, it runs over two months, screened every night, with viewers glued to the antics of loved-up couples and bitter fall-outs. As I write this, Maura and Tom have had a huge row over him calling her "cringey" and "attention-seeking," Arabella and Tom have been "dumped" from the villa, and the next episode promises to stir things up even more with the existing contestants being separated into two villas, and new fit and sexy "boys" and "girls" being injected into the mix.

On paper, it doesn't look like much does it?  Reality TV with barely any clothes.  What do the British find so compelling about this series and will American viewers be hooked in quite the same way?

The trick to watching Love Island is to watch with your teenage children (although your children may not want to watch it with you).  For Caitlin Moran, writing in The Times last year, watching Love Island is "good for you" particularly if you are a parent.  Claiming that "These may be 'scripted reality shows,' but they are, essentially, amateur documentary recreations of what happens to you, over and over, in your teens and twenties. That's why they’re so popular. That's why you need to watch them with your children."

So far so revealing (much like the contestants' clothes) but there is a darker side to the series with, to date, two ex-contestants committing suicide after struggling with mental health issues after their brief fling with fame. Sophie Gradon (Love Island 2016) and, more recently, Mike Thalassitis (Love Island 2017), prompted a debate in the UK over the ethics or reality television. Coupled with the suicide of a guest a week after his appearance on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and the subsequent cancellation of the series on May 10, 2019, there was some controversy over whether this year's offering should even be aired.

But, audiences mean sponsorship and, in an effort to prevent future deaths, ITV released new guidelines in May to promote contestants' well-being.  ITV has assured its viewers that "producers would maintain regular contact with contestants for 14 months after broadcast. The contestants will also be offered 'training on dealing with social media' and 'advice on finance and adjusting to life back home.' "

Let's hope that CBS has read those guidelines and will offer the same kind of support to the contestants on its US version.

For me, I will continue to watch Love Island, if only to keep up with an ever-evolving lexicon of "mugging people off," "cracking on" and the inevitable antics of loved up contestants.  I look forward to seeing how the American version pans out.  And, as I prepare to leave for a new job Stateside, will hopefully be able to keep up with the series on both sides of the Atlantic – America, prepare for a summer of 'lurve.'

Kim Akass is currently a Senior Lecturer in TV Studies at the University of Hertfordshire – soon to be Professor of Radio, Television & Film at Rowan University.  With thanks to my daughter Caitlin for letting me watch the show with her and advising on this column.

 
 
 
 
 
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Leila L'Abate
Wow! A female reviewer on this site! It's a miracle!
Jul 11, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
 
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