There aren’t many things in this world that are perfect, but last year’s series of Love Island was definitely one of them.
In the summer of 2017, the ITV2 reality show became nothing short of a phenomenon. The media was hooked on the latest goings-on in the villa, WhatsApp groups were dedicated solely to discussing which couples were making and faking it and a water bottle with your name in neon pink emblazoned on the side became the must-have accessory.
The show captured the nation’s zeitgeist like never before. Series one and two had proved to be relatively popular for a second-tier channel, averaging 0.57 and 1.47 million viewers respectively throughout their runs, but series three was in a different league.
Ratings soared, with the show outperforming its terrestrial rivals in the 9pm slot and over 2.4 million people eventually tuning in to see Kem Cetinay and Amber Davies crowned the winners. The whole seven weeks had made for unmissable TV.
But this wasn’t just because of the stunning Spanish villa location or Iain Stirling’s top drawer narration. It wasn’t even that bombshell postcard delivery or Stormzy’s (now Bafta-nominated) guest appearance that made the show so brilliant.
No, Love Island 2017 was so fabulously perfect because of the casting.
Sure, last year’s show wasn’t completely virgin territory – islanders had applied (or been scouted for the show) having a knowledge of what the programme was and its mild popularity. But they certainly didn’t go into it expecting to land ITV2 spin-offs, gather millions of Instagram followers, be contestants on subsequent reality TV shows or launch their own clothing lines or chart singles.
It meant there was a naturalness to how they all lived and interacted in the villa. Whilst in that Mallorcan bubble it was impossible to comprehend the huge impact the show was having back in the UK. This enabled the emergence of bromances and the coining of catchphrases and monikers (‘Muggy Mike’, ‘100% my type on paper’, ‘tuna melt’) without too much self-awareness. It all felt very organic; very Big Brother circa 2002.
There was also someone for everyone. Aside from the odd numpty (“do you know what I mean?” Craig Lawson springs to mind) the islanders signed up were a magic mix who delivered stories that kept us hooked.
Whether that was watching sweeter-than-pie Camilla Thurlow get dumped by Jonny Mitchell before coupling up with her perfect match Jamie Jewitt (they’re still together now – aww) or watching emotive Olivia get caught in a tear-stained, argument-fuelled love triangle between Chris and Mike, or simply wondering if Montana would ever find a bloke, the islanders just gelled and each brought something different to the table. Everyone had a favourite islander and a favourite couple.
If TV producers could bottle the magic of Love Island 2017, they would. The problem facing them ahead of series four this summer is how to make the show even bigger, better and more must-watch – without getting away from the core of what made it so popular in the first place. And without viewers sighing in unison “this isn’t as good as last year…”
What we do know is that this series is set to be the longest yet, at eight weeks, and the islanders will also be returning to that same, now-infamous, villa. But there have also been rumours of double villas and of kicking off the series with twice the number of islanders.
The temptation when a show becomes such a hit is to amp it up, to engorge the scale and the scope – inadvertently producing something that ends up looking and feeling quite far removed from its predecessor. But if everything inside and outside the villa stays exactly the same, it will be all too easy to draw direct comparisons to 2017; to say they’re just trying to replicate the magic of last year.
And that’s the other problem: owing to just how huge the show was, the programme-makers are going to have to be extra careful with the show’s casting. There will no doubt be a tidal wave of super-eager single young things who know that if they can put in a good performance on the show, form a good bromance and make good drama, they too could be walking away with that Boohoo clothing contract. The result? A raft of stilted, hyper-aware and unnatural islanders – which do not a good TV show make.
Make no mistake – I want nothing more than to sacrifice my summer to ITV2 and be as glued as I was last year to the highs and lows of the villa. But it just seems as though the odds of series four being as good – let alone better – than series three are slim. It might sound muggy, but this year Love Island could become a victim of its own success.
Love Island returns to ITV2 this summer