Is the sun setting on the world’s biggest reality show?
It's not cool for the summer.
Kia ora and welcome back to Rec Room, The Spinoff’s pop culture and entertainment newsletter. If you’re in an area affected by flooding, I hope you’re safe and hanging in there - consider today’s edition a form of distraction. Catherine McGregor is away so the responsibility is on me, Alex Casey, to bring you some fresh recommendations. Unfortunately for you, I recently returned to the good old video shop (shout out Alice in Videoland), so the most recent movie I’ve watched is the early 2000s Scrabble documentary Word Wars, the best thing that Christopher Guest never made. Other than that it’s Love Island all the way down for me (more on that soon), so I’ve also roped in Tara Ward to froth over soaps and Stewart Sowman-Lund to review one of the most anticipated films of awards season.
– Alex Casey
But first: Have audiences got the ick for Love Island UK?
Lana is a simple girl with simple needs. “I like the simple things in life,” she tells her crush Ron as they laze about the Love Island villa. “I like chilling… movies… Harry Potter.” Ron throws his head back in ecstasy. “Yes. Harry Potter – I’m so glad you said it.” I glance out the window and see the sun shining, before turning the volume up to drown out the cicadas. “I am such a big Potter fan,” continues Ron, visibly stunned by the fact that two people could have an affinity with the biggest selling book series of all time.
For the first time since the pandemic, Love Island UK has returned to airing two times a year and fans, including me, are beginning to wonder if we’ve got the ick. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s jarring to suddenly see our dreary lockdown winter comfort show drop just as our own summer is heating up. “The only thing that gives me excitement in winter is Love Island,” said one local fan who isn’t keen on the latest season. “I’m too busy chasing the sun right now.”
It’s not just us folks in the Southern Hemisphere either. The 2023 season debut of Love Island debuted to an audience in the UK of just 1.2 million, which is nearly half the audience of last year’s premiere and much closer to the season three audience numbers way back to the pre-pandemic and pre Molly-Mae era of 2015. ITV’s campy murder-mystery deception series The Traitors appears to be the new bombshell in the reality television villa, raking in over 3.2 million viewers for the dramatic finale.
For a sense check, I decided to watch a few episodes of the new season with my own dear mother, to whom I have turned in the past for answers about nudey shows and weird beauty books. “Why are they being so rude?” was her first question, followed by “do they always have to wear that much makeup?” and then finally “what are they saying?” After a while, she went quiet and glazed over – the islanders had gathered around the fire pit for an elimination – before breathlessly uttering “I get it now.”
But just as quickly as she fell for Love Island, she fell out again. “Oh for god’s sake” was spat out multiple times in the next episode, and then we abandoned the show entirely to play Scrabble. My other friends who watch it are hanging on by a thread, as am I. Maybe it’s the slow death march of reality romance, maybe it’s because we are sick of the batty social media pressures or maybe we all are subconsciously saving our energy to watch The Spinoff’s own Jane Yee debut on Treasure Island: Fans v Faves tonight!!!
Side note: head to this website to show your support for Jane (and The Spinoff) by becoming a Spinoff member – first 50 to sign up get a limited edition Toby Morris tote!!!
Drama rec: Shortland Street
If it’s been a while since you last admitted yourself to Shortland Street, the news is that things in our favourite soap have changed. Last year’s dramatic cliffhanger saw Shortland Street hospital burn to the ground after being caught in a wildfire (accidentally started by 90s show icon Waverley Wilson, but that’s a whole other can of worms). This week, the show returned after its summer hiatus as a slick and glossy drama, with much darker storylines than usual. Unusually for a soap, the drama began five weeks after the fire, an unexpected time jump that left viewers with plenty of unanswered questions after the cliffhanger, and we also saw prison scenes that gave off a Wentworth vibe and frazzled medical scenes that felt more like This is Going to Hurt.
While viewer responses to the changes seem mixed, the return of several past Shorty Street characters should please longtime fans of the show, and seeing Brooke, Pania, Sass, Kate and Guy again made this first week back feel like an extended Shortland Street: Fans v Faves special. Now the question is, will Chris Warner really have to use his trust fund millions to reopen Shortland Street, or will he simply storm back into his still-smouldering office and carry on like nothing happened? The results are back, and they indicate it could go either way. / Tara Ward
Movie rec: Tár
Now this is cinema. Tár is an epic, two-and-a-half hour portrait of a fictional, but entirely realistic, conductor. Lydia Tár, played with a new found intensity by Cate Blanchett, is an overachiever, or so we’re led to believe. She’s won just about every award there is. She’s flawed, too, stuck in her own head and struggling to write her next masterpiece. And, as we learn over the course of the film, she’s a predator.
There’s a lot to be said about Tár and the discourse around it has been murky ever since its premiere last year. Is it a cancel culture film? Does the fact the predator is a woman detract from its message? Whatever your views, it’s worth going along for the ride. Blanchett’s a frontrunner to win her third Oscar next month and based on this performance it seems entirely likely she’ll score. I was entranced from start to finish. / Stewart Sowman-Lund
On The Spinoff Podcast Network: The calm before the reality TV storm
It’s going to be a huge year in reality TV. With many of our favourite shows just around the corner, The Real Pod took the time to catch up on all things Real News.
Our morning shows returned last week with some new faces and Tara Ward watched both channels to bring you this stirring recap.
Speaking of Breakfast, TVNZ apologised last week after the hosts used a Bug A Salt gun to shoot a Trump dolly live on air.
Make sure you watch the Treasure Island: Fans v Faves supertease ahead of the premiere tonight! Melting Matty? Crying King? We’re amped.
Jason Momoa is filming a new series here and was spotted out for dinner with Tana Umanga, who he reckons is “the f...ing man”.
Somebody call Richard Gere and check on Glenn Close, because the erotic thriller genre is apparently about to take over our screens again.
The Academy has joined Letterboxd, the New Zealand based movie review site, ahead of the 95th annual awards in March.
Succession is back on March 26, and the trailer features the phrase “tightrope walking on a straight razor” more than once.
An enjoyable chat between Gawker and Perfume Genius about binge-watching early-aughts teen drama Gilmore Girls for the first time.
The reality TV version of Squid Game is going about as well as you’d imagine, with several contestants needing medical attention during ‘Red Light, Green Light’.
Also really loved this math boffin analysis on how saying “100%” became the go-to catchphrase for contestants on everything from Love Island to The Traitors.
That’s it for Rec Room for this week. If you liked what you read, why not share Rec Room with your friends and whānau.