Multiple new TV series beckon visitors (and viewers) to some idyllic locale, only to complicate their getaways within moments of their arrival. HBO Max’s FBOY Island isn’t nearly as heady as The White Lotus or the upcoming Nine Perfect Strangers—nor, as a reality dating series, does it intend to be—but trouble is still brewing in paradise, along with hookups, bromances, and, by the end, some necessary self-reflection.
FBOY Island is the creation of Elan Gale, who’s worked on both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, and Sam Dean, an executive producer for Love Is Blind and Married At First Sight. Their new dating show is less marriage-minded than some of their previous efforts, but the stakes are still high for the three beautiful women at the center: Nakia Renee, CJ Franco, and Sarah Emig. Having all dated men who require two phones to keep up with all of their “prospects,” they traveled to FBOY Island (really, somewhere in the Cayman Islands) to cavort with 24 strapping dudes, half of whom purport to be nice guys, and the other half who admit they’re fuckboys. (Now you know what the F stands for!) Why would they waste time with fuckboys, who, as the term has been warped to mean by non-Black people, are just the latest iteration of womanizers? There’s the rub: The three female daters don’t know which hard bodies fall into which group. Neither, it seems, do all of the men, though some guys can’t help but give themselves away.
That twist comes early on in the series, but its effects reverberate throughout the 10-episode first season. Despite the help of a production team and host Nikki Glaser, who revels in skewering the sentient Axe body spray commercials bunking in the cabanas, it’s hard for CJ, Sarah, and Nakia to determine who’s looking for something meaningful and who’s just looking to get some. As the guys themselves note, potential can be very seductive, which is why the ability to make someone believe you have a future together is one of the marks of a fuckboy—or, in the Island’s preferred parlance, an fboy. (This bowdlerized phrase is one of the few instances of restraint on the show.) More importantly, since anyone can say they’re a nice guy or insist they’re not an fboy, what does that self-affixed label really mean?
That’s the big question that these three women (and, to a lesser degree, their suitors) wrestle with, when they’re not having pool parties, yacht parties, water balloon fights, and dance contests. Along with possibly finding love, having a good time is paramount on FBOY Island. Tension quickly dissipates after every confrontation, as the fboys and nice guys befriend each other. Some of those bromances are stronger than others; one guy seems ready to blow his chance with one of the women just to stand by his bud. Is that fboy shit, or a nice guy move? If you ask the woman in question, it’s just bad strategy—because, while it’s not made abundantly clear, there is a $100,000 cash prize at stake.
As many people noted in the lead up to the premiere, FBOY Island sounds like a show that someone on 30 Rock would have pitched and/or watched. The series certainly acts more like a comedy than the more straightforward matchmaking shows like The Bachelor, but the emphasis is on silly fun. Aside from a few dust-ups, FBOY Island is downright pleasant—fans of the genre might actually find themselves wanting more drama. Even “Limbro,” which is where fboys are exiled after being eliminated, is right on the beach. The camaraderie among the women is also refreshing: Sarah, Nakia, and CJ quickly bond, helping each other suss out the fboys and coming to each other’s aid during dates. It probably helps that they’re never really in competition with each other; to each their own fboy. But they’re all likable and clear-eyed about the choices they’re making, even when those of us watching at home might want to yell at the screen.
That kind of reaction can’t be avoided in this kind of show, but unlike its namesake, FBOY Island isn’t trying to have fun at the women’s expense. Nakia, Sarah, and CJ aren’t kept in the dark for long: The rules shift, and the men’s backgrounds are gradually revealed. Doing away with most of the intrigue only heightens the tension; just because the women know which of their suitors to stay away from doesn’t mean they’ll run straight to the nice guys. Some decisions are still kind of baffling, but then, who among of us hasn’t occasionally ignored their own better judgment? It’s to the women’s credit—and to the show’s, for choosing to focus as much on their dynamic as their chemistry with the guys—that their missteps feel relatable.
FBOY Island’s stumbles mostly involve the gameplay. The rules often seem arbitrary, goals shift, and the notion of an fboy remains nebulous. At least there are some recognizable traits to them; the concept of the nice guy is much more loosely defined. (“Boyfriend dick,” on the other hand, is so last year’s horny-people-at-a-resort series.) Over time, the lack of a clear definition for either term starts to feel more intentional, as the women observe that a lot of “nice guy” behavior is basic human decency, and fboys, like everyone else, can change. This points to the conflict at the show’s core: a desire to be more than a guilty pleasure, while dressing itself in all the trappings of one. Like its inhabitants, FBOY Island is a work in progress, but still worth checking out.