The new Channel 4 show that combines reality TV with a murder mystery landed on our screens on 6 October. Here’s what you need to know about the series that had some viewers reaching for their notebooks, and others for their remotes…
Murder Island was always destined to cause a stir. The Channel 4 reality TV show sees four pairs of contestants travel to the fictional island of Hirsa (the real location is actually the Scottish Isle of Gigha) to solve a fictional murder after a “body is found.”
The contestants are eight ordinary members of the public, and their task is to unpick the murder mystery for their chance to win £50,000. The fictional story was written by famed Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, best known for his hard-boiled Inspector Rebus novels.
It’s certainly an interesting premise and recalls 2003’s popular The Murder Game from the BBC. With Murder Island, Channel 4 has taken the British public’s love for true crime and a juicy murder mystery and combined it with our insatiable appetite for reality TV – not to mention we all fancy ourselves as armchair detectives after a few episodes of Line Of Duty.
So we all sat down together, notepads in hand like Jenny from Gogglebox, and started to try and piece together what led to the murder of “Charly Hendricks” while our eight plucky contestants endeavoured to do the same – with a bit of guidance from real-life former Met chief superintendent Parm Sandhu.
One of the major issues with airing this show (and a criticism that has been levelled at many true crime shows and documentaries before Murder Island) is the timing, in light of the high profile and senseless killings of young women including Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard and Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.
Then there’s the combination of a light-hearted reality TV format with the fictionalised murder of a young woman – and fictional though it may be, it feels like a somewhat insensitive choice.
As contestants like Dot and Rox laughed and joked about being curtain-twitchers, and were reprimanded for trampling in the “blood” in the crime scene and taking too many photos, viewers couldn’t help but feel that the tone was slightly off…
“Started to watch #murderisland and thought, d’you know what? Not now, people,” tweeted one viewer. “Murder (pretend or not) of a young woman as a kind of party game? Just no.”
“@Channel4, I am so TIRED of seeing a murdered young woman as the basis for TV programmes,” another wrote. “Especially now. It’s a weak programme, and right now it’s in poor taste and really inappropriate #MurderIsland.”
In terms of the programme itself, the addition of dramatic flashbacks, where actors portrayed the events leading up to Charly’s murder, also contributed to awkward viewing for audiences.
“Trying to watch this Murder Island thing, but the drama side of it feels off… so false. Hate it,” tweeted one viewer.
“I think this had potential but it can’t make up its mind what kind of show it is,” said another.
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As the series continues and the case continues to unfurl, both the amateur detectives and viewers at home will sift through clues to try and figure out who killed Charly and why. The episode revealed that the victim was pregnant and there’s already speculation that she may have been involved in a love triangle.
If this turns out to be the narrative, it’s likely the show is in for more criticism from viewers. Using a woman’s sex life as a breadcrumb trail to her murder – or any other detail that might seek to “justify” it – is not only an overused device, but an unhelpful one.
Hopefully our guess will be wrong.
The next episode of Murder Island airs on Tuesday 12 October at 9.30pm on Channel 4 and All 4.
Images: Channel 4