Every time there is a pool, an opaque white cup, a villa, sunny skies and a format that encourages young British people with inexplicable rib tattoos to be competitively horny, I must invoke Love Island. So, Love Island: it was such a clean, neat format – put the hottest people from every mid-size town in Britain in a villa for a month and a half, take away their concept of time, make them half-naked and bored, and watch how they fill the hours with drama. Despite it peaking from 2017 to 2022, there have been three series since the Davide and Ekin-Su summer (Maya Jama hosts it now, if you even care!) – but the fizz has faded from the prosecco. Will that stop other TV channels and streamers trying to copy its rare magic, by giving their crews a free holiday to a mainstream European beachside destination? No. Mainly because they probably started the production process when Love Island was still watched and good, and now it isn’t, but it’s too late to unattend all those meetings and decommission all those shows.
And so to Hot Mess Summer (Prime Video, from 7 February), which probably seemed like a good idea in 2022. The idea is this: eight young British people with inexplicable rib tattoos are sent to Zante. They are promised a summer of mess, chaos, partying and boozing – a Geordie Shore reboot, essentially – but then Rylan stalks into frame like a big cat. “You’re not here to do a Geordie Shore reboot,” he solemnly tells them, more or less. “You’re here to work in the biggest bar in Zante for a summer, and all your mates nominated you to do this, for some reason. They’re sick of you. They’re all sick of you, mate. You’re all too big a sesh-head back home and you must be punished. Clean that toilet and don’t drink on the job.” He turns on the spot and leaves. The eight young British people with rib tattoos are left in the charge of their iron-fist boss, Lee. He tells them they can’t drink and they can’t fraternise with customers. They all laugh in his face.
What is Hot Mess Summer? It’s a lot of everything: the promise of Geordie Shore British drunk chaos, the paradise servitude of Ibiza Weekender, the spiritual “the youth must pay for the sin of joy with hard work” energy of Lads Army or Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. There is something indelibly British about a show like this – the idea that young people must be punished for living a life too happy or free, and the only way through that is low and humiliating work. Hot Mess Summer is a logical extension of the argument that we should bring back national service. They don’t know they’re born, these days, young people, do they? They all … go to the gym, or get haircuts. Nah, let’s sort them out. Make them miserable, like us.
I think misery is the problem in a format like this: I do not, personally, like watching people be miserable, or having to adhere blindly to rules, or being punished for silly misdemeanours. But that’s all Hot Mess Summer really is. Episode one sees Lee – whose talking heads involve him telling us how good service is actually really important, and holding a tray just so is really important, and how drinking on the job is the greatest crime a person working at a bar in Zante in the red heat of the sun could possibly commit – try to teach them all how to make a vodka-coke, put a napkin down, and serve it to a customer. The eight young British people with inexplicable rib tattoos sneak drinks when his back is turned. He curtly goes “No!” and snatches the glass away from them. That’s it for 10 minutes. Why am I watching a grown man stopping other adults from drinking? Is this fun? Am I having fun? Because they are not having fun. And I am, also, not having fun. So: no. No one’s having fun.
Rylan tries, bless him – his voiceover is the only bright spot in this mess, as he keeps announcing his own entrances by going: “Cor, don’t I look good!” But it’s a waste of his dazzling charisma to occasionally pop into a villa and ask some hungover lads in vests if they had a good night (they all smirk and go: “Yeah.” That’s it, that’s the show). Listen, they can’t all be winners. But perhaps we do need to leave the grass to grow over the Love Island field for a couple of summers and see how we feel about it when we get back.