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CHILLIN’ ISLAND Left Me Cold

by Jef Dinsmore
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A month ago, or so I decided to brave the latest of the non-scripted reality shows that have popped up on HBO. It is not my genre of choice so I’ve passed on HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON, PAINTING WITH JOHN, PAUSE WITH SAM JAY and such. So, I decided, based on its premise, to attempt to endure CHILLIN’ ISLAND. I was all eager for it because I’m a nature guy myself. That’s the gist of this piece, three urban hip-hop dudes decide to explore nature and hook up with different guests in their journey, all under the narration of the droning Steven Wright. I was jacked up for it. Well, as this post’s title declares – CHILLIN ISLAND left me cold.  

New York City natives and rap personalities Alec “Despot” Reinstein, Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu and Aleksey “Lakutis” Weintraub are the adventurers. Fuck, I guess anyone nowadays can get a YouTube channel, a podcast, or an HBO show. Yeah, adding HBO to that last sentence saddens me no end. Over six episodes the trio embarks into different landscapes to commune, explore and sometimes just disrespect the natural world, or at least that is how I saw it. They were more about talking with their homies, recalling great trips on ‘shrooms, and slipping into self-reflection than absorbing the nature they’re in. All this while Wright, as narrator, expounds on existential stuff. It lost me, though it was a bit cool to hear Steven W.’s monotone drone after all these years.

ChillinIsland_Trio  Here is a quick breakdown of the six installments that goes like this –  

Episode 1 sees the trio tooling in dune buggies in a southwestern U. S. desert; Young Thug descends from a helicopter and they all meet a snake wrangler. They ooh & ahh and briefly postulate what it’s like to be a snake and then sit around a Sterno can and heat up grub. It turns out “Dap” pocketed a snake and when he’s done being amused by it, he just tosses it like trash, not like a live animal. That’s strike one for me.  

ChillinIsland_Pic01Episode 2 has them out in a lush swamp in southeastern U. S. where they get to meet Lil Yachty, who isn’t little. They learn about the legend of the Skunk Ape from a local expert then park their asses on inflatable chairs in a dry spot to eat and talk about dares & bets they’ve taken. There is very little absorption of the environment around them, except the pocketing of yet another animal, a chameleon this time. They end up crashing in a hut on stilts; the chameleon, as slow-moving as it is, manages to escape. Their lack of adventure here is strike two for me. 

Episode 3 takes them off deep-sea fishing. Lil Tecca joins them and promptly gets seasick. They do actually each use a fishing pole but not for long. They mainly just sit in the bobbing boat and talk about their adventures with consuming ‘shrooms instead. I zoned out myself, on this episode. Before I knew it it was over and, once again, their lack of interest in the environment they were placed in held little interest to them. It is now that I realized that the show is all about the existential babble and I failed to be interested in what any of them had to say. They have a successful podcast that caught HBO’s attention? Sorry, I fail to get it – strike three.   

ChillinIsland_Pic04-300x154Episode 4 has them back in a scorching desert environment, the high-altitude red desert region of Wyoming to be precise. They are parched, exhausted, and lost; I think. Ski Mask the Slump God comes by to wander with them but he’s no help because he can’t even keep up with this scrawny bunch. They turn it into a supposed spirit journey complete with a Native People blessing. This episode is extra-heavy with Wright’s narration. At the very least, they were contemplative & reflective. However, they weren’t so towards the native culture and how it revers the land, but more on their own religious beliefs or the lack thereof. A missed opportunity there so, strike four.  

ChillinIsland_Pic02-300x140Episode 5 turned me off soon into the piece when the trio traipsed through Gunna’s deeply wooded property to find him putting his car through doughnut spins on an asphalt drive course in the midst of the woods. Really? They did spend some time flyfishing but spent most of their time untangling fishing lines from the trees around them. To top it off the episode ends up with them indoors watching ladies working stripper poles. Really? That’s not the kind of wildlife behavior I was thinking of – strike five  

Episode 6, finally. I had enough and yet I had to make it through this one. They were looking for fresh water in what I think was the Los Angeles River and ended up, I don’t know, the Salton Sea? Coi Leray gave them fresh water so they wouldn’t challenge each other to drink L.A. pisswater and took them to Rosalia. She offered them quarts of milk and they sat by this body of water and talked about life as she braided Dap’s hair. My mind wandered off that episode as well. They ended up floating off on a raft made of connected empty milk jugs into the sunset leaving me feeling nothing. Their final strike.  

ChillinIsland_Pic03So, I finally braved one of these unscripted reality shows and wish I hadn’t. In my opinion, it left a stain on what HBO stands for, but that’s just me. Just let Steven Wright do a comedy special and let’s call it a day and don’t just let frickin’ anybody have a show because they have a unique style of spinning their words because that isn’t enough.  

So, you agree or disagree with me regarding this show or the whole line of unscripted stuff on HBO? Let us know in the Comments below.

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