Netflix releases a miniseries about a bunch of strangers waking up on a beach with no memory. It was pretty forgettable.
A group of people awaken on a beach with items nearby, such as a knife, a shell, or a compass. The only information they have is a sign that states “FIND YOUR WAY BACK.” The people are Gabriela (Natalie Martinez), KC (Kate Bosworth), Cooper (Ronald Peet), Moses (Kyle Schmid), Blair (Sibylla Deen), Mason (Gilles Geary), Donovan (Anthony Lee Medina), Taylor (Kota Eberhardt), Hayden (Michelle Veintimilla), and Brody (Alex Pettyfer). As everyone quickly realizes that their situation is not natural, lines begin to be drawn among the group members as they try to figure out what is happening and who they were.
I don’t consider the following a spoiler, but if you truly want to go into this show totally blind, stop reading now. Okay, now that those people are gone, we’ll begin. In case the title of the series (I-Land, like where Steve Jobs is buried) doesn’t hint at it strongly enough, the title card and the title sequence make it extremely obvious that this show takes place in a simulation. The show also makes it explicit in the second episode, so I don’t think that was ever supposed to be a surprise. I’d also argue that since the Matrix movies and all of the films that have followed in their wake, the reveal that “this was all in a computer” is no longer a viable twist, because now people are firmly aware that they could all be in a simulation. Hell, there are people who argue that it’s extremely likely that we are, like that guy who used to run Tesla. In any case, this show’s cast are in a simulation.
One episode into this show, I thought that the mediocre dialogue and Lifetime-movie-esque delivery of the lines were part of the nature of it being in a simulation and that these people would be revealed to be robots or some kind of sentient AI program. If so, then that would make the unnatural way some of the scenes are filmed a commentary on their unnatural nature. But, no, they’re people who are just given weird stuff to say. Fortunately, like with Hallmark movies, you get used to it fast and it just becomes the new norm. From there, it’s pretty easy to actually appreciate the kind of show the creators were going for and the performances actually work within that dynamic, particularly Kate Bosworth and Natalie Martinez. It also allows for the viewer to more easily distinguish between who the characters are on the island, without their memories, and who they are with their memories back. Unfortunately, both versions of the characters are mostly pretty bland and underdeveloped.
The world that the show takes place in is pretty bleak, though we mostly only find out about it through dialogue. However, we do get flashbacks when the people in the simulation start to remember their pasts and they do not portray the future as happy. Or the past. Or the present, actually. Pretty much everything sucks. It doesn’t help that most of the flashbacks are not only unsettling, but downright disturbing. Still, they are extremely exciting when they happen, because the characters react to them at the same time that we do. Going through something revelatory with a character is a cheap way to make us care for them, but it’s one that works.
The themes that the show are exploring are pretty broad (nature vs. nurture; are we defined by our memories or something deeper like a soul; are we us if we don’t know we’re us?) but rather than trying to take a position on any of them, the show ultimately undercuts all of them and says nothing, because the experiment was broken from before it started. It’s supposed to be more about the journey of the characters, but… honestly, they were just so damned boring I didn’t care about it.
If you like cheesy-ish sci-fi, this will be pretty good for you. Since it’s only 7 episodes, it’s not a ton of investment even if you don’t end up loving it. Personally, I didn’t end up liking it much, but I can see why people would.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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