Love Island 2021: Episode 1 has all the fervour of an auld fella’s pub on a wet Tuesday

The biggest issue is that the ‘love hungry’ singletons aren’t attracted to each other

The class of 2021 aren’t  so much ravenous as mildly peckish

The class of 2021 aren’t so much ravenous as mildly peckish

 

Cheeky escapism? Exploitative reality tat? Harbinger of civilisation’s imminent downfall? There are many opinions on Love Island (Virgin Media One, Sunday-Friday 9pm), returning for the first time since January 2020, when it was overshadowed by the tragic death of Caroline Flack.

The new season brings with it the promise of sunshine, flirtation and light relief after 18 months of Covid. So it’s a letdown that the opening episode proves to be 50 shades of dreary, radiating all the hormonal fervour of last orders at an auld fella’s pub on a wet Tuesday in February.

The cliche around Love Island is that it’s brimming with “love hungry” singletons. Yet the class of 2021 aren’t ravenous so much as mildly peckish. The biggest issue is that they aren’t particularly attracted to each other. We are introduced to Sharon, Shannon, Faye, Kaz and Liberty on the girls’ side and, on the boys’, Toby, Jake, Brad, Aaron and Hugo.

Spare a thought, especially, for Faye, a lettings manager who appears to undergo an out-of-body experience as Brad, a builder, embarks on the chat-up equivalent of a Terrence Malick movie, going on and on with no clear purpose in mind

The girls arrive cavorting in slow motion atop massive jeeps while the fellas must troop in on foot. This is an unforgivable gender imbalance and also a missed opportunity to have the guys show up via tractor, golf cart or, all pedalling together, one huge tandem bicycle.

They’re pretty much identikit Love Island hopefuls: all tats, tans and fake eyelashes. The exception is Hugo, an introverted PE teacher with borderline nerd tendencies who appears to have parachuted in from the wrong universe. Did he think he was signing up for Lovecraft Island and end up in Majorca by accident?

Laura Whitmore has inherited Flack’s role of official ITV matchmaker. The Bray presenter brings plenty of vim and irreverence, though her job largely boils down to quizzing islanders about their “type” and commiserating with anyone who fails to be chosen first time round and ends up on the subs’ bench.

Sarcastic narration is courtesy of Whitmore’s husband, Iain Stirling (back in a shed in London). His zingers are less cruel than is traditional for the show – a response perhaps to criticism of Love Island’s impact on the mental health of contestants. (This year ITV has promised extensive aftercare for participants.)

With the 10 volunteers having coupled up, there’s some excruciating “banter” as they attempt to strike up chemistry. The sparks, alas, are few and far between. Spare a thought, especially, for Faye, a lettings manager who appears to undergo an out-of-body experience as Brad, a builder, embarks on the chat-up equivalent of a Terrence Malick movie, going on and on with no clear purpose in mind.

There’s an attempt at injecting drama before the credits with the announcement that a new girl is about to enter the villa and potentially lure away one of the guys. But it’s too little too late, in a 95-minute slog that commits the ultimately reality-show sin of just not being exciting enough.