Kids today can't understand how horrible we had it in the 1980s. I was born in 1969, which means the thing to do as an eight-through-thirteen-year-old - five years, but a lifetime - the thing to do was plop down on the couch with mom every Saturday night to watch the likes of Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. The scariest thing is how much we enjoyed it. Mr. Roarke and Tattoo, your gentle hosts on Fantasy Island were gods to us. (OK, maybe not Tattoo, R.I.P.) Their variety show wish fulfillment gig was an endless balm for the abrasions of life. Does that wholly satisfactory formula work now, in the cruel Teens of the 21st Century? Does it even matter?
It matters to Generation X folks, who inherited, or were at least subjected to their parents' addiction to the stars of Yesteryear. Maybe it's not all that strange, considering the success of Dancing With The Stars, but in those days anthology shows featuring washed-up performers from 20-years-prior were all the rage. You'd think there'd be a threshold for exposure to Charo, though in her numerous stints cruising with Captain Stubing, she was never once thrown overboard.
Though we thought it was a modern, radical idea at the time, Fantasy Island now more clearly resembles the throwback to the Vaudeville Era that it really is. In a sentence, this show builds a foundation on aging stars giving their all to ridiculous situations. Scenarios, bolstered by their origins in a mysterious type of magic, were free, indeed demanded, to adopt genre conventions. (Mr. Roarke was a master at establishing plausible deniability, however, fobbing off his super powers and magical creations as mere coincidence, or legitimate manifestations of his guest's desires.) To that end monsters, ghosts, aliens, premonitions, spies, crimes, rampant sexuality, and romance - lots and lots of romance - were the order of the day. Fantasy Island was pure escapism.
Certain aspects of the formula haven't aged as well, further cementing the realization that Fantasy Island comes from a flat-out more innocent time. Roarke and Tattoo's banter at the start of each episode, for instance, smacks of lazy writing for those easily led. Tattoo will say something silly and Roarke will patronize him for a while, before becoming exasperated. That little guy sure was silly! Roarke, as assayed by Ricardo Montalban, rules the roost in all other accounts. He knows what everyone wants, even if they don't. He's solicitous, but he doesn't suffer fools lightly. It's a role created by and for Montalban, and though he probably felt it was below him, (rightly so) he works it like a butterfly knife.
Other than Montalban, Villechaize, and the afro-ed islanders playing ukuleles to welcome guests, there are no other recurring characters. It's a good blend for a non-serial show. Viewers had the established entry points of Roarke and Tattoo as a figurative and literal bridge to each week's new characters. It's very easy to generate and maintain interest from week to week when your heroes take the trouble to actually explain to you the stories of each new guest. It's a virtual ticket to sit back and enjoy the brainlessness. Combine that with recognizable and enjoyable stars like the following, and you've got gold. Guest stars in season two include: Sid Haig, Arte Johnson, and Cassandra Peterson - and that's just the first episode! You also get Sonny Bono, John Astin, Jonathan Frakes, Danny Bonaduce, Red Buttons, Connie Stevens, Phil Silvers, Eva Gabor, Robert Reed, Larry Storch, Roddy McDowall, Cesar Romero, Don Knotts, Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Mamie Van Doren, John Saxon, Billy Barty - pretty much something for everyone - and the list goes on. If you enjoy character actors, you're in heaven on Fantasy Island.
My all-time favorite story from this or any season is Nightmare, with the evil clown marionette and skull in a recurring dream. Ray Milland's in that one. Each member of the target market for this Shout! Factory release will have his or her favorite as well, and it will be almost as good as they remember. With two 90-minute episodes (75 without commercials) and 23 hour-long episodes, this is an effective overdose of nostalgia, even without any extras.