Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986. The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!
This week, Mr. Roarke falls in love!
Episode 2.9 “Return/The Toughest Man Alive”
(Dir by Earl Bellamy, originally aired on November 11th, 1978)
As usual, this episode of Fantasy Island starts out with a little Tattoo drama. After announcing the arrival of the plane, Tattoo informs Mr. Roarke that someone has stolen Tattoo’s car. Mr. Roarke has his doubts that anyone would steal a car on Fantasy Island but Tattoo points out that his designated parking space is empty.
Mr. Roarke informs Tattoo that he must be mistaken and that his car will eventually show up. And yes, the car does eventually show up. About halfway through the episode, two chimpanzees drive by in it. It’s a bizarre little scene, one that is neither explained nor really resolved at the end of the episode. I guess the chimpanzees just decided that they liked Tattoo’s car. To be honest, this entire plotline made me feel bad for Herve Villechaize as the joke’s punch line seemed to be that Herve was so small that even a chimpanzee could drive his car. From what I’ve read. Villechaize was often times not happy on the set of Fantasy Island and I imagine that jokes like that undoubtedly had something to do with it.
But enough about Tattoo’s car! It’s time to learn who is having a fantasy this week!
Usually, the show’s fantasies are thematically connected but that’s not the case this week. Indeed, neither one of the fantasies seems to go with the other and I actually found myself wondering if maybe the two fantasies had been meant for different episodes but, for whatever reason, were instead edited into this episode.
The first fantasy involves Samantha Eggar as a fashion designer who returns to Fantasy Island after having previously visited four years ago. During her first visit, Eggar’s fantasy was to become a designer and to fall in love. While she became a designer, she did not end up with the man of her dreams so Roarke is giving her a second chance. The twist is that she’s in love with Mr. Roarke! And Roarke is in love with her! To Tattoo’s shock, the two of them plan to get married on the Island. But then, the designer realizes that she has responsibilities in the real world and apparently, marrying Mr. Roarke means staying on the Island. So, the marriage is called off. Mr. Roarke’s heart is broken …. or is it? As I watched the episode, I found myself wondering if Mr. Roarke really loved her or if he was just giving her a chance to have her fantasy. Ricardo Montalban’s enigmatic performance kept things ambiguous.
One thing that bothered me about this fantasy is that Mr. Roarke potentially getting married felt like a pretty big plotline to be confined to just half of a one-hour show. It seemed like this should have been a special episode with just one fantasy. Instead, because there’s a second fantasy, there’s several odd scenes of Roarke taking a break from planning his wedding so that he can encourage Red Buttons to defeat a bunch of pirates. Buttons is cast as an engineer who wants to be a hero in the style of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. Roarke gives him super-strength, which is not something that Eastwood or Bronson ever had. But whatever! Buttons is recruited to protect a bunch of islanders from some pirates. But Roarke abruptly takes away Buttons’s super strength and, instead, Buttons has to use his engineering knowledge to defeat the pirates. It’s kind of silly, to be honest.
This episode raised a lot of questions about the nature of the Island and Roarke himself. Mr. Roarke rules over the island and apparently, he has to remain on the Island. But, at the same time, he apparently can’t be bothered to stop a bunch of pirates from harassing the native’s inhabitants and instead, he gives temporary super strength to an otherwise meek engineer. Maybe the engineer could have gotten Tattoo’s car away from those chimpanzees. While all of this is going on, Roarke also ends up falling in love with a mortal who never stops to ask, “Hey, are you an angel or something?” It’s an odd episode and a vaguely disappointing one, as neither one of the stories is that deeply explored.
Oh well! There’s always next week!