Love Island reviews: ‘stomach-churningly fascinating’ or just all at sea?

Reality show lands zero star rating - but others argue it’s just what the doctor ordered for Covid-wearing nation

Love Island contestants
The first 2021 female Love Island contestants
(Image credit: ITV)

Love Island is back after an 18-month hiatus, with 2.5 million people tuning in to watch last night’s season seven premiere.

While the premise is unchanged - singletons couple up in a bid to become the most popular pair and win £50,000 - the world outside the Mallorca villa has been upended by Covid-19 since the previous season.

After “a year and a half of chaos purgatory”, viewers are happy to lose themselves in Love Island’s “warm embrace”, suggests Elise Bell at The Independent. And “it was an embrace filled with nostalgia, reminding us of everything we have missed during our stint in government-mandated isolation”, Bell writes in a five-star review of the opening episode.

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Indeed, as “the camera panned over breakers as blue as the Colgate mouthwash that the contestants’ teeth seem to have been industrially submerged in, it did feel a little bit like summer was finally starting”, says Susannah Goldsbrough in The Telegraph.

After quarantining in order to “form their very own ‘sanitised sex bubble’”, the five couples who will “obsess the nation over the next few months” spent the first night getting to know each other, Goldsbrough continues. “Enlightened it is not but addictive it remains: there’s something stomach-churningly fascinating about watching human beings who know absolutely nothing about each other beyond their swimsuit colour preference having to publicly declare their romantic preferences.”

Maybe, says The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan, but surely there are more reasons than ever to “question yourself for viewing” the latest series of “sexual humiliation games”. Awarding the opener zero stars, Mangan points out that previous contestants have become victims of revenge porn, death threats and poor mental health, with charities warning of gaslighting on the show, while two contestants and former host Caroline Flack committed suicide.

ITV has introduced new welfare protocols this year but this “bleak history” should give us “pause for thought”, Mangan continues. Yet “I hate myself but I can’t stop” watching. And “that’s the show’s secret, of course. It works on you like a drug. However uninterested you are at the beginning, before the first hour is up you are hooked.”

Not everyone has formed an instant addiction this time round though. Gemma Peplow at Sky News wonders if the show has “lost its chemistry”, amid criticism over the lack of diversity and LGBTQ+ representation among the contestants, and the promotion of unrealistic body image standards.

ITV has said that including different sexualities presented a “logistical difficulty” but that all the 2021 participants have “a healthy BMI”. This year’s singletons also include a male contestant born with a clubfoot, although some viewers have posted tweets questioning whether this first inclusion of someone with a physical disability is just tokenism.

Long-term viewers may also have noticed a “marked difference in contestants’ behaviour as the seasons evolve”, Peplow writes. “While those first Love Islanders may well have been sniffing the possibility of fame, they were still individual, a little rough round the edges; contestants now are ready-made influencers.”

Carol Midgley in The Times says that, “for the past few years”, watching these “pouty creatures with bodies so skinny it seems impossible that they can accommodate two kidneys and a liver saying things like, ‘what’s an earlobe?’, you can almost feel your brain shrinking”.

But if you’re bored, she continues, “you know what this means, don’t you? You’re old. Congratulations.”

So yes, the new series is as “tediously formulaic” and “shallow” as ever, akin to “a selective breeding programme for the beautiful and the dim”. The young female contestants seem to go out of their way to say how they “like it rough”, which is “their business, obviously, but if this is the influence of man-pleasing porn culture I’m depressed”.

“I suspect that identifies me as a fogey too,” Midgley concludes. “Ah, well, off for a cocoa.”

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