What kind of cocky, macho, walking embodiment of a bad idea auditions (and then accepts an invitation) to compete for a woman on national television? HBO Max's new reality dating show knows exactly what kind of man does that, only they can't quite say it without censoring themselves. Welcome to "FBoy Island," which, if we're all going to be adults about it for a second, is short for "Fuckboy Island."
The fact that we can't call the men at this tropical resort what they actually are makes the whole business of FBoy Island a bit silly right off the bat, but FBoy Island battles back to be a decently enjoyable show within an often dismal genre, thanks to a smartly applied sense of humor and a little bit of perspective.
The tone of the show is set right away by host Nikki Glaser, the latest in a series of comics hired to serve as a kind of knowing wink to the audience for some of TV's more inane reality competitions. It works quite well for FBoy Island, a show that needs to set its tone correctly right away.
As Glaser intones in the show's opening minutes, "Over the past 20 years, the FBoy has become more powerful and more prominent. We have been forced to tolerate the manipulative douchebaggery of the unchecked male ego for far too long."
And just like that, "FBoy" is defined for the show. What is a fuckboy, you may have been asking? A fuckboy is someone who competes on The Bachelorette, Glaser answers. For the sake of competition, the show has gathered 12 self-proclaimed "fuckboys" (who are not here to find love but are rather vying for a cash prize of up to $100,000) and 12 self proclaimed "nice guys," who are here looking for long-term commitments. Three single women will choose among the guys then each eliminate one man per episode.
The personalities of the three bachelorettes and the 24 gathered men aren't the strong suit of the show. None of them are unbearable to watch, but as Glaser intimates in the show's opening, we're 20 years into the reality television experiment. That's two decades spent training people — especially, in the case of this show, preening young men — how to be reality TV personalities. And let's be honest: if you're watching a show called "Fboy Island," you're probably going to be fuckboy-forward in your personality.
Of course, the point of the game is to try to hide your fuckboy-ness and present as a "nice guy" who's here for love and who the women presumably want to keep around. But … you've seen a reality dating show before, and you live in the world. The majority of these nice guys don't stand a chance.
But FBoy Island ends up being a bit smarter than I initially thought, considering that sounds like the kind of TV show 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy would've greenlit over Liz Lemon's principled objections. This show is smart enough to realize the tarnished halo that sits atop the term "nice guy." Those scare quotes are there for a reason, and self-described nice guys are just as apt to be manipulative, self-regarding jerks as any other guy. The fact that we don't know which tribe the guys belong to — and are thus encouraged to try and guess — only underlines this point.
Of course like any reality show, FBoy Island wants to have its cake and eat it too, and so the self-awareness of the thin line between nice guy and fuckboy exists in tandem with Glaser and the show itself sticking to the premise that the fuckboys are the villains. (And they very much are, just maybe not the only ones.) But even within that dubious structure, there's fun to be had. The episodes build up to not just the elimination of the men but also the revelation of whether the expelled men are "nice guys" or fuckboys. And then, in a welcome stroke of madness, the eliminated nice guys are sent to a swank villa to be pampered while the the fuckboys are sent to a stockade pen where they sleep on planks of wood, use hay bales as pillows, and do crunches to while away the time. Every once in a while, Glaser will show up to either mock them or try to help them figure out their shit.
The central fallacy at the center of any televised dating competition is that nobody who is looking for a true-love match would go on a show like this in good faith, so by definition any match made by the show is fraudulent at its core. All of us at home know this, and sometimes we choose to set this fact down in a drawer and close it so that we can enjoy a dumb show about hot, mostly awful people hooking up with abandon.
FBoy Island knows this and ends up investing far more on the fun side. And there's plenty of fun to be had at the expense of this group of real estate brokers, investment bankers, Bitcoin bros, and the dreaded club promoter (who earns one of the show's Red Flags for the historical fuckboy tendencies of his profession). Glaser excels in her role, firing off Friar's Club-worthy shots at the guys ("I didn't know GNC sold jewelry") while seeming credibly invested in the bachelorettes' task at hand. Her humor does not seem too terribly toned down from her usual stand-up persona, which is welcome, even if leaves you scratching your head about why we can't say "fuckboy" but Glaser can make a joke about guys "finishing on our face."
Against my better judgement, I had quite a good bit of fun with FBoy Island, and even ended up invested in some of its characters. When an episode around the middle of the season ended with a cliffhanger, I shouted to no one, "You got me, FBoy Island!" They reeled me in even though I knew better. Classic fuckboy move.
FBoy Island premieres on HBO Max Thursday July 30th.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.