In the year that is 2021, it’d be shocking not to see a handful of reboots and revivals in the season lineup of a network or streaming platform. From Gossip Girl to The Wonder Years, some of our favorites have been making their returns. And while it seems that the success of originals or their established audiences can help secure positive reception, that’s not always the case given the critical comparison lens it falls under. This reality adds an undeniable pressure — one that Roselyn Sanchez admits to having as the star of FOX’s latest iteration of the iconic Fantasy Island.
“It is a big responsibility,” she told Remezcla during a set visit in Puerto Rico. “It was such a beloved show, and the characters were beloved as well. It was my turn to use [the original series] as a model and inspiration [but] I need to do me. I want to be able to do it similar but different enough, so there’s no comparisons. But of course, people are going to always compare.”
Created by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, Fantasy Island returns after a seven season run that first aired in 1978 and spanned six years. There was also a 1990s reboot and a horror movie adaptation last year. This newest revival fast-forwards to center on the grandniece (Sanchez) of Mr. Roarke, who was originally played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán. The grandniece, Elena Roarke, takes on the reigns of stewardship on Fantasy Island. This whimsical beach resort fulfills its guests’ biggest desires with the obscure premise of teaching them the difference between what you want vs. what you need.
When the original series premiered in the late 1970s, representation was nonexistent on network television. Born in Mexico City, Montalbán was one of the first Mexicans to transcend borders and become a Hollywood star. He would champion creating more opportunities for Latin American talent throughout his career and founded the non-profit organization, “Nosotros,” in 1970 “to help fulfill the goals of persons of Spanish-speaking origin in the motion picture and television industry.” There’s no denying his privileges as a white man and how that helped him enter Hollywood. But his accent on-screen and name within the credits — along with his accompanying advocacy off-screen — served as a stepping stone for stars to come, including Sanchez.
Given Montalbán’s pioneering work off- and on-screen, the creators of the newest adaptation had big shoes to fill — and Sanchez is honored to be stepping into the legendary white suit. “They went with a female that is Latina and has an accent,” she says. “I don’t sound like a lot of people, and they’re embracing that.”
While the representation is evident in the casting of Sanchez, John Gabriel Rodriguez, Kiara Barnes, and Adain Bradley, viewers will feel that diversity isn’t being force-fed to them: a performative play that experts have been calling out with revivals. As Hollywood uses rebooting to past wrongs of underrepresentation but at times revert by feeding into harmful stereotypes of race, sexuality, and more, Fantasy Island has diversity organically embedded into the plot with different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. That’s not to say there isn’t always room for improvement (i.e., lack of darker-skinned Black and also Asian cast), but it’s refreshing to see that there’s no explaining of why Sanchez has an accent or a system working against Barnes’ character.
“It is the most amazing feeling to be able to play a human first,” says Barnes, who plays Ruby, a character that explores her identity and sexuality. “Roarke and Ruby, all of us are just women who happen to have these parts to ourselves.”
On that note, viewers will be able to focus more on the relatable experiences of these characters and each of their life lessons. “Everything happens for a reason: Viewers will take that message away and learn to love life, accept life as it is,” Rodriguez (who plays Javier) says. “There are many unanswered questions about the things that we all struggle with that the show will present to the fans with the characters. There is going to be a lot of relatability.”
Check out the trailer below. Fantasy Island airs every Tuesday at 9/8c on FOX.