Can FBoys Be Reformed? A New HBO Show Asks (And Doesn’t Answer)
The conceit suggests a promising shamelessness, but this new dating show falls flat. (Spoilers ahead.)
Relationship and dating shows have mushroomed at such a rate that it’s hard to keep track of them. Just take the ones with “island” in the title: There’s Temptation Island for troubled couples, Love Island for singles, Bachelor Island for rejects from the Bachelor franchise. (I’m kidding — that one’s called Bachelor in Paradise.)
Now comes HBO Max’s FBoy Island, with an intriguing premise: Three women are placed on an island with 24 hot guys. Half are self-described fuckboys, half claim to be nice guys, and the women have to figure out who’s who. In other words, welcome to the world of dating for straight women.
Plenty of reality shows are already about detecting (and exposing) players and cheaters. But it's something of a novelty to have this identity explicitly called out, and to have men compete as so-called fuckboys, as if it's something to be proud of. The conceit suggests a promising shamelessness, as if the show might examine this old pattern of male behavior in a funny, new light.
But FBoy Island isn’t remotely up to the task. The show is like an anemic Bachelorette (one of the creators is a Bachelor producer), with three women trying to date 24 guys, except it stuffs that longer format into just 10 episodes. There’s not enough time to get to know anyone or for any organically compelling drama to emerge. We barely get to know the women, and the guys all play even bigger caricatures of the types favored by the typical reality show.
The show tries to compensate by having host Nikki Glaser throw in some jokes, and there’s also the expected competition element (apparently any couple that ends up together gets $100,000). But anyone excited about the title and hoping the show might speak to the moment and go beyond the usual dating reality tropes — like women wondering whether men are there “for the right reasons” — will be disappointed. In the six episodes made available to critics before the full 10 drop, the setup never coheres. Just like a fuckboy, the show doesn’t ultimately deliver.
The women on FBoy Island are all looking for a nice guy to date (and probably a platform to increase their Instagram followings). Apart from that, we don’t learn much about stylist and songwriter Nakia Renee, social media manager Sarah Emig, and content creator and model CJ Franco.
Sarah, an earnest blonde, says she’s ready for love and an ambitious guy who will travel with her. Nakia says she’s paid her dues with previous relationships and wants something serious. Of the three, CJ is the most compelling to watch, probably because she’s the most sound bite–friendly. She has two dads, was in a Weeknd video once, and says she likes “dumb and fun” guys because “if you’re too smart, you’re not gonna love me pranking you and pretending I’ve been arrested.”
Otherwise, as the women go on dates and participate in activities with the guys, their conversations sound almost scripted to fit the show’s theme. “I think you're very attractive. I think you take care of your image — l can tell you’re charismatic, have great energy,” Nakia tells one guy. “For me, those have all been signs of an F-boy in the past.” OK, what is anyone supposed to say to that? Can’t they just get to know each other?
The guys, though, are even more one-dimensional than the women. Even before the dates, we see some of them declaring their fuckboyness in confessionals, without much variation or verve. “I’m a certified F-boy,” says one. “I’m the king of the F-boys,” says another. The gap between self-presentation and perception is what makes reality TV entertaining, especially on dating shows. This is particularly true with straight men, who often have no clue how they’re coming off. It would be much more effective to just let the men show us what kind of guys they are with their inevitable bad behavior. It feels like FBoy Island wants us — and the cast — to play along with its gimmicky dichotomy at any cost, including even the smallest taste of character development.
Other dating shows, like Love Island or Ready to Love, better capture the tensions of app-driven hookup culture because they allow for a push and pull between the men and women. (Not incidentally, they are outside the Bachelor universe.) There is a more equal playing field in terms of who gets to express interest and flirt as the castmates get to know each other. On paper, the idea of women getting to forensically inspect men and find them morally wanting is appealing. But here the women are relegated to speculating endlessly about the guys’ intentions, and without deeper context for any of the men in question, the quest is boring.
The only true drama comes occasionally from CJ, a self-described fuckboy tamer, who shoots down guys with practiced ease (“you look like you have two phones”). She also actually seems to build a real rapport with one suitor. When the women get to spend the night with someone, she picks him. But she’s annoyed he keeps befriending one of the fuckboys, and he pushes back on her demands that he drop him. The argument finally leads to some actual dramatic stakes, which I won’t spoil.
That kind of tension is rare, though. Even the eliminations are insipid. After a series of activities and dates, each woman picks two men to get rid of, and once eliminated, the departing guys reveal if they were a fuckboy or a nice guy. There are unintentionally funny moments, like when the women are shocked by the revelation that one guy is a fuckboy: “How are you an F-boy?” one says. “You're, like, an artist.” But we’re so unfamiliar with him that we can’t be shocked along with her. When another guy is eliminated, he says he came on as a nice guy, but Glaser confronts him with the fact that he was actually cast as a fuckboy. He suddenly backtracks to explain that he only became a fuckboy because...he was mourning his mom’s death.
Ostensibly, the show builds up to a big moment: The remaining guys all reveal to the women whether they’re fuckboys or nice guys. But as FBoy Island progresses, it becomes more like a traditional dating show, and the exchanges between the women and the newly categorized guys get even more tepid. (One guy professes he’s falling in love, apparently too early, and finds all the men have turned against him. “It’s different for every person,” he tells a suspicious Nakia. “Do you think you’re making progress on your F-boy ways?” she wonders.) Given this is a reality show, twists may be in store. But even if there are, the uneven journey doesn’t promise much of a payoff.
This series feels both overproduced — to the point that there's no room for actual interaction between the cast — and yet haphazard, as if the producers made up the format as they filmed the show.
The best reality television manages to find a surreal angle on a subculture that ends up telling us something about it (even if it’s just how desperate people are for a platform). On FBoy Island, having the castmates come in as nice guys or reformable fuckboys, while keeping the women cast members temporarily in the dark, is too much like real life, but not in a fresh way that reveals anything about the women, the nice guys, or the fuckboys.
FBoy Island's creators are men, and the show seems too couched in a man's perspective to truly satirize masculinity. The show earnestly assumes that the question of whether a fuckboy can be reformed is interesting, but who has the time? Even The Bachelorette is a better study of the male specimen: Sticking a bunch of hotheaded bros into a mansion to compete for one woman brings out every manner of petty, vindictive behavior as they attempt to expose each other.
Another show that actually captures the comedy and tragedy of the fuckboy is Bravo’s Summer House. Last season’s designated fuckboy was Luke, a jewelry designer and model who was juggling multiple women on and off the show. His antagonist was former fuckboy Kyle, who kept critiquing Luke’s behavior toward women, eventually exploding into a judgmental screed when it came out that Luke might have lied to one of the women he was dating. “Just admit! You like! Controlling! Females!!” Kyle screamed drunkenly, while his fiancé tried to hold him back by pulling on his bathing suit until it started coming off. The buildup and blowup was a sociological study in heterosexual white bros, in part because it revealed how much of being a fuckboy is about peacocking for other men.
Despite the tropical setting, there was nothing half that compelling on FBoy Island. In the opening scenes, Glaser poses the show’s guiding question of, “Do good guys always have to finish last and do F-boys always have to finish on our face?” This muddled show never even climaxes. ●