We need to accept facts: Too Hot to Handle is better than Love Island

There is no debate here

I am only halfway into Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle and already I can’t picture myself enjoying Love Island ever again. You have to feel sorry for ITV2 execs, who must be looking at Too Hot to Handle’s explosive popularity and thinking “what the fuck are we even doing over here?”

You’ll doubtless hear people saying there’s a place for both Love Island and Too Hot to Handle but you know in your heart that this is the death blow. Yes, the shows are undeniably similar, but Netflix has outdone ITV in all the areas it counts. I’m not saying Too Hot to Handle is perfect. For one, it’s way too short (eight episodes is not enough time to know who these people are), and the fact you can binge watch it means you lose the daily conversation aspect of the ITV2 show that made it so great.

But in all other aspects Too Hot to Handle is funnier, sexier, and more heartfelt than Love Island ever was – and it’s only eight episodes long. And you know what? Love Island has had this reckoning coming for a long time. We’ve made the point more than once that the show has been in decline for a while, and ITV’s reluctance to shake up the formula was always going to be a big sparkly invitation for Netflix to cuck them. And boy have they done just that. The evidence, your honour: 

The cast is so much more fun

At first glance, the parade of influencers at the retreat look like your run of the mill Love Island contestants, but Netflix has obviously made an attempt to diversify the casting. The decision to include contestants from different English-speaking countries now seems like a no-brainer, and the wider age range is great too.

And maybe this is mean, but where the Love Island lot would mainly arrange sentences by picking combinations of the phrases “mugged off,” “get to know you,” “where’s your head at,” “who do you like,” and “can you see us working on the outside,” the Too Hot to Handle cast actually talk to each other like humans. They’re fucking funny as well – when Jesus called Hayley a “mindless human” I genuinely lmao’d.

Not only are they more charismatic, they’re willing to cause drama

So what if most of the cast have tragically shot for reality TV fame before? You think it matters at this point? Where the Love Islanders’ aspirations for fame manifested in a total refusal to do anything fun, the Too Hot to Handle cast play up to the horny stereotypes the show wants them to be and put themselves out there with an honesty we haven’t seen since Geordie Shore was classic.

Francesca is upfront about how much money she makes off Instagram (something you’d never hear on Love Island), and wasn’t afraid to punish the others for being mean by wilfully staging a $3000 kiss. This is the good shit, lads.

The voiceover is funnier and much less grating than Iain Stirling

Look I like Iain Stirling as much as the next guy. I imagine he’d be really fun to go for a beer with, and his personality is one of Love Island’s defining features. But honestly, Desiree Burch is funnier. Like, she just is. Whether she scripts it or not, her commentary is self-aware and fits the horny vibe of the show. I only wish she appeared in the show at some point because I was desperate to know who she was.

The format lifts all the best bits of Love Island and still feels fresh

The cast still gathers round the fire pit (or whatever the fuck a palapa is), couples are still rewarded with a private bedroom if they’ve been good, and the dates set up on the beachfront are still as gorgeous as they were in South Africa a few months ago, and yet Too Hot to Handle somehow pulls it off better. Maybe it’s because ad breaks aren’t interrupting everything all the time, or maybe it’s because the shaggers eventually start opening up about their past heartbreaks, maybe it’s how much nicer the villa is because have you seen the villa? Holy shit. 

There’s always a clever twist, too. For instance, with the hidaw-I mean… Private Suite, the couple sent in there are given a financial penalty if they shag, which is made more tempting by the fact that, in Rhonda and Sharron’s case, they had only  just given a brief green light to break the rules. In the equivalent Love Island moment, there is never any question of the couples shagging because it simply isn’t the done thing anymore. Even with no threat of a penalty, there’s no sexual tension between the couples. Abstinence was a byproduct of Love Island’s talent for turning contestants into influencers with images they’d one day need to protect, but Too Hot to Handle found a way to turn that dilemma on its head.

Also not to be a massive perv but Too Hot to Handle brings back reality TV show shagging in a big way and it’s about time

Not to spoil a show you can binge in a day, but there are two rule breaks in the first episode. No messing about here, no sir. I’m told there are more to come. But also: Bums. There are naked bums at one point. And yeah okay maybe I am now being a perv but that’s super generous of Netflix to show us bums. Male and female ones too! Truly something for everyone. 10/10 for the bums alone.

The eight episodes isn’t that bad when you really think about it

How many times have you sat down to watch an episode of Love Island and come away from it thinking “I am never getting that hour back?” I’ll answer that for you: lots.

In an ideal world Netflix would have drip-fed 16 episodes twice a week: That’s eight weeks of quarentainment sorted. Next time they will know better, but for now, can we appreciate that every episode of Too Hot to Handle is at least worth your time? Every episode feels fulfilling: You get your heartfelt moments, your raunchiness, your drama, your fun challenges. It’s like trashy TV that doesn’t feel trashy.

There is actually a point to the challenges

The challenges have always been the worst and most repetitive aspect of dating shows and are usually there to pad episodes more than anything else. In Love Island, the daily challenge normally involves them throwing food at each other or doing wheelbarrow races and it’s never actually fun to watch. Or it’s something low budget we’ve seen a dozen times before like dumb model babies or a talent show.

The Too Hot to Handle challenges are things like staring into each other’s eyes until you cry, or a vagina workshop. And you know what? It’s way better than it sounds on paper. Who’d have through bondage as a trust exercise would be possible? Not ITV, clearly. The Too Hot to Handle challenges are both entertaining to watch and (whisper it) thought-provoking. 

The new stuff Too Hot to Handle does bring to the table is amazing

The watches. Wow. The watches are inspired. Just when you think the enforced no-shagging might get boring, they start giving out green lights for couples with an emotional connection. It makes the moments where the couples get physical feel earned. Meanwhile over in the Love Island villa you’ve got Tommy Fury hiding Molly-Mae’s stupid stuffed toy and then getting everyone to make a heart shape on the grass so he can basically propose to her. In hindsight wasn’t that fucking stupid?

I’m not the biggest fan of Lana, or the way the contestants refer to it by name. I’m especially not into the way it ratted out Hayley and Francesca for kissing, but it does feel distinct enough from Love Island’s omnipresent phones, and (mostly) steers clear of the embarrassing hashtags.

The most obvious and refreshing change is the way couples work. In Love Island, everyone has to be “in a couple” or you get booted out. If you get booted out you don’t get your spon-con clout. Simple as. This leads to a lot of psychological game-playing where couples become lifeboats, and to be in a likeable couple is the ultimate goal of the show. Whether the contestants end up in genuine relationships is self evident in the number of them still together (spoiler: not a lot of them). I’ll admit, I was one of the people who wanted Amber and Ovie to win last year’s series as mates, but in retrospect what would have been the point in that? Like I said, I’m only four episodes in, and it doesn’t seem like Too Hot to Handle is a show anyone can win just yet, but I also don’t think I’ll ever care if that’s what it becomes. The best thing about Too Hot to Handle is the lack of format.

The emotional moments are genuinely emotional

Going back to Rhonda and Sharron’s kiss, what made it so powerful was the build up. For a whole episode we were told Sharron had been stabbed in the back by a friend who got with his girlfriend. Next thing we see is David (Sharron’s new friend) cracking on with Rhonda. Act two saw the two boys talking out their differences and David deciding to back off and let Sharron have another go (another moment which could never happen on Love Island). By the end of the episode Sharron had started to open up to Rhonda and had earned his green light. Okay maybe it’s not poetry, but compared to your average Love Island character arc it’s night and day.

 Too Hot to Handle is much more upfront about the kind of show it is. The Love Island audience has long since gone through the looking glass while the show itself desperately tries to tell them its goal is to set people up and not a make people Instagram famous. Too Hot to Handle, on the other hand, genuinely wants to explore how we look at sex and relationships – and it doesn’t sacrifice the trashier drama elements to do it. How exactly the format works and how much money is at stake isn’t really the point, and you end up coming away from each episode having felt something, which is more than you could ever say about watching Love Island.

Too Hot To Handle is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

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