Smiles everyone, smiles.
My dear guests, welcome to Fantasy Island.
No, I don’t mean the classic series that ran from 1978-1984. I’m talking about the 1998’s re-imagined “Fantasy Island.” You see kids, back In 98, ABC decided the time was right to launch some new Saturday night programming. Hmm, maybe that should have been the first clue that a revived “Fantasy Island” was doomed from the start.
Anywho, in the new “Fantasy Island,” the role of Mr. Roarke was played by Malcolm McDowell. All right, so he’s not as charming as Ricardo Montalbán was in the original series, but McDowell. was supposed to be a very different Mr. Roarke. This new Mr. Roarke was capable of working miracles and performing the impossible, and he would do so by fulfilling his guest’s deepest fantasies.
In this series he possessed a dark sense of humor and a dry wit. He also has an adopted daughter named Miranda. She was the only survivor of a shipwreck near the island, but left the island to live in the outside world after she turned eighteen. We learn she eventually became a doctor and married, but retained no memories of Fantasy Island or of Mr. Roarke while off-island.
In contrast to the first series, the supernatural aspect of his character and of the Island itself was emphasized right from the start. The changes didn’t stop there. Unlike the original, the new Mr. Roarke usually wore black. In the first episode, he picks out the single black suit out of a closet of white ones and says “Have those white ones burned,” he even tells an assistant. “I think they’re a little dated.”
Also during the first episode, an assistant cames running into Mr. Roarke’s office, shouting “The planes! The planes!” A startled Mr. Roarke orders the assistant to never do that again.
The supporting cast was also expanded for the new series. The show runners made the right call by not attempting to recast Tattoo, played famously by Hervé Villechaize in the first series. Instead Roarke has a team of assistants , including a beautiful female shape shifter named Ariel (Madchen Amick). At first I thought she was a computer, and responsible for the fantasies.
There was also Cal (Louise Lombardi) the island’s bellhop, bartender, waiter, cook, and sometimes helicopter pilot. And Harry (Edward Hibbert) was the island hotel’s concierge.
From what I can remember, the assistants are imprisoned on the island in order to pay off some debt, or possible earn a second chance at life. The show hinted that they were in some sort of Limbo, but I don’t recall that subplot going anywhere. It was also implied that the island itself was the source of Roarke’s mysterious powers, and his assistants were shown using powers as well.
The remake followed the fantasies of at least two of Roarke’s guests with an additional subplot involving members of his staff.Episodes usually opened and ended with a sequence set in the travel agency that books the fantasies.
The agency is operated by two elderly travel agents played by Fyvush Finkel and Sylvia Sidney. Roarke gives them their assignments by stuffing contracts into a pneumatic tube that is somehow connects the island with the travel agency and the outside world.
The man behind the series was famed Director Barry Sonnenfeld, but even his name wasn’t enough to save “Fantasy island.” The series was canceled about halfway through the first season, but the remaining episodes eventually aired on the Sci Fi Channel. I think the main reason for the failure was ABC launching the series in a Saturday time slot. By doing so, ABc slashed any potential viewers right from the start.