‘The Love Boat’ (Season 2): Where A-to-Z listers flock to undock

Oh, it’s the same alright. Nothing’s changed on The Love Boat this sophomore season except the guest passenger list and the ever-morphing rationalizations for the rampant sexual harassment plaguing the Pacific Princess. And ain’t you glad they left it alone?

By Paul Mavis

Continuing on with Drunk TV’s obsession with all things Love Boat-y—leading up to the new Season Three release—let’s look at season two’s 1978-1979 episodes (released on DVD by Paramount some time back).

Cripes, seemingly everybody in old and new late ’70s Hollywood answered the ship-to-shore call to appear on creators Aaron Spelling’s and Douglas Cramer’s The Love Boat, so those who love to play the “Who’s That Legend/Up-and-Comer/Flash-in-the-Pan/Has-Been/Never-Was?” game (using Google is cheating…) will no doubt respond to the bright, chipper romantic comedy machinations of this classic 70s and 80s Saturday night staple. So dock your dinghies—sure I wrote that!—and come aboard!

Having already written a lengthy review of Love Boat’s first season for Drunk TV, I’m not going to delve again too deeply into the show’s aesthetics or structure. Besides…if any TV series from the late 1970s stayed resolutely the same from season to season, it was The Love Boat. Sure, tweaks to the format were coming; ominously, Captain Stubing’s daughter Vicki, played by Jill Whelan, shows up here (and lets not even mention The Love Boat Mermaids in the final season). However, by and large, Cramer’s and Spelling’s formula wasn’t tampered with over the nine-year run.

Fashioned like an episode from Love, American Style set at sea (ABC’s earlier romantic comedy anthology hit), the premise for The Love Boat was quite simple and therefore, comfortably predictable, week after week. The crew of the Pacific Princess, docked in Los Angeles, welcomed aboard six hundred passengers every week for a three-day cruise down to Mexico (usually Puerto Vallarta). And among those six hundred passengers, the TV audience would get to know about half a dozen or so, featured (usually) in three subplots during the hour-long episode, which were linked by the crew members’ sequences. The ship’s crew oftentimes were featured prominently within these subplots—particularly romantic subplots—where they interacted with the passengers as well as having stories centered around their jobs and lives aboard the Pacific Princess.

Cruise Director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes) was the incredibly perky, corn-fed, blue-eyed beauty who was responsible for making sure everyone on board had a good time—and if that included hooking up two lonely passengers, Julie didn’t seem to mind the implications of that particular job duty. She was aided frequently in her efforts by good-natured goof Yeoman Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith (Fred Grandy). Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), the head bartender on the Pacific Princess, always had a ready smile and a drink for the passengers, while Ship’s Doctor (and resident Lothario) Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell), always had a ready bed for any gorgeous girl who happened to cross his path (and there were plenty of them). Overseeing this energetic, happy crew was the stern, fatherly Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), who often had to warn his eager, rambunctious crew to stay in line and maintain the dignity expected of them on board the ship. But often, Captain Stubing would let down his guard and show the crew that he was human, and capable of sharing in their fun.

On second thought…after reconsidering the “spectacular” two-hour season opener here, Marooned/The Search/Isaac’s Holiday, perhaps I was a bit hasty in writing that The Love Boat’s formula was rarely tweaked—because this episode includes a rather bizarre little side trip to a deserted island for the crew (all except Isaac) and some select passengers. Deserted, that is, save for crazed hermit John Astin (I’m not making this up) who holds everyone hostage until they throw him…a surprise birthday party. Reading that back, I’m not surprised that The Love Boat suffered a bit of a ratings’ drop this second season. Poor even by Love Boat standards, this ridiculous retread of a Gilligan’s Island episode, for chrissakes—and I love Gilligan—is about as far afield of the show’s formula as you can get.

RELATED: ‘The Love Boat’ (Season 1): TV for the true TV lover

Granted, seeing Barbie Benton in her prime without a bra is a small but notable pleasure for this opener, but watching Avery Schreiber and Edie Adams have the most bizarre fight in The Minnow’s the Pacific Princess’ community hut while a hurricane rages outside (!) seems to miss the point of the series entirely. It doesn’t help that the mood of Marooned/The Search/Isaac’s Holiday is all over the place, too, going from slapstick to angry drama to tense medical drama (?) as Gopher is in critical condition after a palm tree falls on his head (so why did the Captain tell Gopher to go outside in the hurricane to check on the roof…when the roof inside the hut was fine? Because he wanted to kill Gopher. That’s why). Nobody ever pays any attention to season opener episodes, or how important they can be in setting the expectation mood for loyal fans of a series…as well as in efforts to snag new viewers. So anyone tuning into this waterlogged mishmash might have wondered if The Love Boat formula had run aground.

Fortunately, no other major deviations to the show’s format occur, although the introduction of Captain Stubing’s illegitimate daughter into the mix will certainly, in the future, test the patience of those who found her Vicky character just a tad…icky. No doubt brought on board when the network suits recognized that families were watching The Love Boat together on Saturday nights (even more so this second season, when it was moved from its 10:00pm spot to 9:00pm), Vicky was designed to appeal to the small fry out there while offering lead star MacLeod’s character room to grow. More story options for Captain Stubing naturally occurred when he discovered that “parenting” a crew was quite a different thing than being an actual parent.

As I wrote before, ratings took a bit of a dip this sophomore season, as The Love Boat went from 14th to 17th in the 1978-1979 Nielsen ratings. Not having a good, solid lead-in hour didn’t exactly help matters. ABC ran no less than seven series in various combinations for their pre-Love Boat 8pm block—Carter Country, Welcome Back, Kotter, What’s Happening!, Battlestar Galactica and two new series, official Animal House series, Delta House (which I loved), and Norman Lear’s disastrous Rue McClanahan sitcom, Apple Pie (which no one saw since it was canceled after only two episodes)—all to no avail against NBC’s winner, “CHiPs”. Despite this handicap and CBS’s 9-11pm movie block eating into its family demo—and an even more perilous ratings’ dip next season (down to 24th place), The Love Boat managed to come back spectacularly in the ratings, enjoying a healthy nine-year run.

Here are the 25 episodes of The Love Boat’s second season.

Marooned / The Search / Isaac’s Holiday (September 16th, 1978)
Donna Mills discovers her long-lost mother Laraine Day is also David Birney’s mom…after she’s slept with him! Barbie Benton looks good in a red one-piece, and Lola Falana makes a date with Isaac. Audra Lindley is dying…and yet still has enough sense to fall in love with deranged hermit John Astin, while Edie Adams can’t get along with Avery Schreiber (who can?). Norm Crosby serves up some drinks and strangely, no malapropisms (thank god).

Rocky / Julie’s Dilemma / Who’s Who? (September 23rd, 1978)
Jimmy Baio and Melissa Gilbert manage to mention every hit currently running on ABC; James Coco falls in love with prudish TV censor Dody Goodman, while Julie’s parents, Norman Fell and Betty Garrett, take one last cruise together before they divorce (thanks, Mom and Dad, for coming to my place of work so I can watch you fight for three days!).

The Man Who Loved Women / A Different Girl / Oh, My Aching Brother (September 30th, 1978)
Charlie’s Angels‘ Bosley (David Doyle) manages to make Soap‘s Cathryn Damon, Brett Somers (book that motel room in Encino) and Jo Ann Pflug fall in love with him simultaneously…and not get mad at him when they find out the truth. Sonny Bono and Marty Ingels—possibly the worst-looking duo to ever hit the Pacific Princess—work up a slip-and-fall scam…until Judy Landers catches Sonny’s eye, while Grant Goodeve and Bess Armstrong ignite zero sparks as a boring couple with a boring problem. Or something.

Julie’s Aunt / Where is it Written? / The Big Deal (October 14th, 1978)
The parade of the crews’ relatives coming onboard continues unabated with Captain Stubing’s uncle, Red Buttons, actively, systematically, and rather uncomfortably harassing Julie for sex…until Gopher dresses up in drag as her “Aunt Phoebe” (fixed it). Publisher Gene Barry is more interested in getting Richard Mulligan’s final book chapter than seeing the danger signs popping up between the lothario author and Gene’s neglected wife, Hope Lange. And Alan Ludden, desperate for a corporate merger, almost pimps out his daughter Mackenzie Phillips to businessman Sam Groom for a very different kind of merger—one that Mackenzie already had with Erik Estrada.

Mike and Ike / The Witness / The Kissing Bandit (October 21st, 1978)
Billy Crystal…puts a mask on and a white tuxedo and goes around kissing women…women who seem to enjoy it (even hotties Nancy Kulp and Pat Carroll). Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. have moved up in the world, and they don’t want Isaac teaching doo-wop to their son, Todd Bridges, while Robert Reed (in a typically good performance) is quite effective as a reluctant witness to the murder of Toni Tennille’s brother.

Ship of Ghouls (October 28th, 1978)
Vincent Price (that’s right!), along with his wife Joan Blondell, is onboard, hypnotizing everyone into thinking they’re seeing the strangest things, including Julie’s friend Barbara Anderson’s scarred face, while Mary Ann Mobley and Gary Collins can’t figure out why their kid keeps lying to people. Oh, and it’s Halloween.

A Time for Everything / The Song is Ended / Accidental Cruise / Anoushka (November 4th, 1978)
Truly one of the most bizarre episodes in the series’ history: Loretta Swit is a Russian Commie in charge of her country’s cruise ships (?). She’s onboard the Pacific Princess to learn how those Yankee capitalist pigs run a successful cruise line, while extolling the virtues of the gender-blind Soviet Union, where jobs—and plenty of them, comrades!—are given to people based on their skills. And she falls in love with Doc. Meanwhile, Jo Anne Worley (yes…) is chasing a reluctant Soupy Sales, while Richard Dawson is wooing Juliet Mills away from his former songwriting partner, Robert Goulet (!). And get this: the producers give Dawson, coincidentally the host of ABC’s hit game show, Family Feud, the solo number, while Broadway star Goulet sits there with a sickly grin pasted onto this face and smoke coming out of the top of his head, listening to Dawson murder that song. Hilariously sick. Oh, and Captain Stubing had an illegitimate daughter, Vicky. She’ll be back.

Till Death Do Us Part – Maybe / Locked Away / Chubs (November 11th, 1978)
Jimmie “J.J.” Walker is a ghost (yep), guiding his wife Vernee Watson towards smoothie Greg Morris (“Dy-no-mite!”), while Conrad Bain and Janet Leigh (now there’s a hideous couple!) are locked up together in a cabin while their daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, has absolutely nothing to do. More crew relatives: Gopher’s formerly fat sister, Chubs (I kid you not), returns as the svelte Melissa Sue Anderson…and sets her sights on Doc.

The Minister and The Stripper / Her Own Two Feet / Tony’s Family (November 18th, 1978)
Van Johnson leads around his blind wife June Allyson (the safe confines of Metro are back that way, kids…30 years ago), while cruise line employee Larry Storch has his family stow away with him for Thanksgiving. Oh, yeah; Peter Graves is a minister with the hots for stripper Roz “Pinky Tuscadaro” Kelly (jesus what a combination)…which doesn’t suit parishioner Vivian Blaine at all (despite her husband Allan Young’s entreaties to shut the hell up).

Heads or Tails / Mona of the Movies / The Little People (November 25th, 1978)
Bad seed Patricia McCormack is terrified that any child she has with just-met Edward Albert will be a little person, like his father Billy Barty and his mother, Patty Maloney. Adam Arkin and Richard Gilliland pursue Julie (on a pizza bet), while Orson Bean tries to overcome his feelings of inadequacy when screen legend Rhonda Fleming (still looking great) takes a shine to him (she could snap him like a twig).

The Captain’s Cup / The Folks From Home / Legal Eagle (December 2nd, 1978)
Bert Convy’s ex-wife’s divorce lawyer, Leigh Taylor-Young, is open to some additional billings hours with him, while Florence Henderson makes over crew member Pat Harrington to fool Captain Stubing. Oh, and Doc performs an emergency spleenectomy on John McIntire’s wife, Jeanette Nolan.

El Kid / The Last Hundred Bucks / Isosceles Triangle (December 9th, 1978)
Jobless Dabney Coleman may be trying to snag Rue McClanahan for her dough (hey…aren’t they those funny performers from Norman Lear’s terrific new comedy, Apple Pie, that airs right before The Love Boat at 8:30 Eastern, 9:30 Central? What? It was already canceled? Oh. Well…to hell with them). Heather Menzies and Robert Urich make a big mistake in adopting thieving Gabriel Melgar, and Connie Stevens has Doc and the Captain chasing after her (god help her).

Julie Falls Hard / Double Wedding / The Dummies (December 16th, 1978)
David Nelson and Fred Travelena are friends (borrrrrriiiiinnng!), while Julie falls hard for…Tony Roberts??? (I’d be doing lines, too, if I had to go to work everyday and make love to actors like these). And Sid Caesar is ventriloquist partners with…Ruth Buzzi (in all seriousness: Mr. Ruth Buzzi has written me before, warning me not to say anything negative about his wonderful wife, lest I get punched in the nose. Roger Wilco, Mr. Buzzi!).

My Sister, Irene / The “Now” Marriage / Second Time Around (January 13th, 1979)
Ray Bolger returns from the dead to decide he must have Martha Raye (!), who’s too frightened at the prospect (smart lady) to admit she’s his old college sweetheart. Tina Louise hires Lyle Waggoner to make ex-husband Doc jealous (Waggoner, as usual, is quite skilled at parodying his own perfectness). And a subdued sex expert Peter Marshall, no doubt dazed from being married to the simpering, sniveling Barbara Rush (my single least favorite actress of all time…and that includes Pia Zadora), wants to test his theory of an “open” marriage with pneumatic Phyllis Sweet Sugar Davis (what, no bikini???). The Love Boat at its most conservative: Peter gets burned.

Gopher’s Opportunity / The Switch / Home Sweet Home (January 20th, 1979)
In this episode, largely shot on the actual Pacific Princess, Nancy Walker moves onto the ship (but thankfully not into a permanent supporting role) when she puts the moves on walking corpse, Abe Vagoda. Gopher gets a chance to manage friend Bobby Van’s hotel…as well as his neglected wife, Elaine Joyce (those white short shorts…I feel faint). And built-like-a-brick-sh*thouse Melinda Naud tries not to crush magician Horshack with her, ahem, ample charms.

Second Chance / Don’t Push Me / Like Father, Like Son (January 27th, 1979)
Soap’s wonderfully smooth Robert Mandan isn’t allowed to be funny here, but he does effortlessly steal Cathy Lee Crosby away from his thoroughly unpleasant son Randy Mantooth (how hard could that be?). Roddy McDowall (and the rest of the planet…) is allergic to Tammy Grimes, and we all dodged a bullet when the producers ditched the notion of having thief Debbi Morgan, on probation and vouched for by Isaac, remain on Love Boat as our delightfully earthy (“Jive turkey!”) ghetto gift shop employee (uh, yeah—I don’t watch The Love Boat for a lesson in race relations…but I’m with you, Debbi, in hating all those “guilty white liberals”).

Alas, Poor Dwyer / After the War / Itsy Bitsy / Ticket to Ride / Disco Baby (February 3rd, 1979)
Hey! It’s Julie’s 10-year high school reunion! Even though, in a later episode, she states she’s only 25! So that means lots of fun when former classmates drop by the Pacific Princess! Julie feels funny in her bathing suit area when disco dance instructor Michael Lembeck gyrates against sweetheart Lisa Hartman (who, if my math is correct, was 12 when she graduated from this high school). English teacher Raymond Burr is hiding a secret (not that one…): he’s a pathetic booze hound (and a rotten ham). Classmate Christopher George (38 years old when he got that diploma, apparently) is a sell-out TV star (a sell-out star on The Love Boat? Never!). Coward/draft dodger John Rubenstein can’t face wounded Vietnam War hero Michael Cole (you know this is liberal scumbag Hollywood when Cole emphatically states that Rubenstein was the true hero for deserting his country). Lots of tacky disco-ing in this one—Gilligan makes Tabitha throw up with his moves—before there’s a dance off, bitch! between Julie and Hartman. Oh, and everyone makes fat jokes at Conchata Ferrell (before Doc discovers she’s El-Kabong-worthy).

Best of Friends / Aftermath / Dream Boat (February 10th, 1979)
Dull as dishwater, except for Richard Anderson’s plastic Dr. No arm (he was a surgeon), and formerly red-hot actress-turned-lunch lady-because-of-that-hairdo Diana Muldaur transforming into a pill freak. Otherwise, strictly from hunger as Carol Lynley (just a one-piece suit) and that girl from Saturday Night Fever fight over that TV guy who kinda looked like Paul Newman when his head was turned just right.

A Good and Faithful Servant / The Secret Life of Burl Smith / Tug of War / Designated Lover (February 17th, 1979)
Very cool to see the legendary Mills family of actors—John, Hayley, and Juliet—together. Too bad their segments stink (watch Hayley stare with unmistakable disdain at Fred Grandy in their hideously unfunny dream sequence fantasies). Give The Love Boat producers credit, though: you’d never see older performers like John Mills and Celeste Holm passionately kissing on today’s screens. ‘Cause they’re both dead.

A Good and Faithful Servant / The Secret Life of Burl Smith / Tug of War / Designated Lover (February 17th, 1979)
Fannie Flagg’s dog Cricket (the bitch gets its own porthole “Introducing” credit, fercrissakes) is a stowaway (I don’t understand: Fannie seems curiously uninterested in horndog Gene Rayburn’s attentions…). Michael Cole takes time out from his busy schedule of carrying Jaclyn Smith’s bags and doing all the big and little things around the house that keep his “Angel” happy, to play a mechanic in love with suddenly rich girl Maren Jensen. Oh, and Isaac’s in love.

A Funny Valentine / The Wallflower / Home is Not a Home (March 3rd, 1979)
Evil leprechaun Arthur Godfrey is back from career oblivion, romancing Minnie Pearl (who looks too terrified to utter so much as a, “Howwwww-dee!”), while their respective kids, Elinor Donahue and Warren Berlinger (always amusing), try to keep them apart. Former Kenley Players alum Patty Dworkin has a very nice role as a shy girl looking for love (her new lover, Zane Lasky? Serial killer…). And personal favorite and forever crush Samantha Eggar is nicely alive and spunky as a quirky palm reader who warms Captain Stubing’s heart, even for just a moment (that’s what was always so great about The Love Boat: the surprisingly well-tuned little turns that would pop up amid the nightmares).

Ages of Man / Bo ‘n Sam / Families (March 10th, 1979)
Dreariness as newspaper owner Leslie Nielsen sexlessly banters with union supporter Arlene Dahl (their kids—Ellen Bry and Mark Shera—are even worse). Philip Charles MacKenzie and Michael Tucci must have pleased the producers; they get their own special end credits porthole pictures—a first, I believe—for their comedy here. Oh, and Julie gets dumped by Paul Burke for being too young (Gopher describes Julie’s vaguely, hmmm…whorish pursuit of passenger Burke thusly: “I’ve seen daintier muggings.” Exactly, Gopher. Exactly.).

Murder on the High Seas / Sounds of Silence / Cyrano de Bricker (March 17th, 1979)
Sonny Bono commits his yearly career suicide on The Love Boat for the second time this season when he first parodies Alice Cooper and KISS (that’s “Knights in Satan’s Service,” for the uninitiated) as rocker “Deacon Dark,” and then when he tries to sing like Sinatra (it’s just…it’s just awful. Really.). Faded Peter Lawford and arch Dana Wynter are onboard as mystery writers (don’t care), while Jill St. John and jesus jumping christ Charlie Callas are in the running for the single most unlikely coupling in Love Boat history (perversely, the producers don’t let Callas do his verbal shtick—that might have made St. John laugh).

April’s Return / Super Mom / I’ll See You Again (May 5th, 1979)
Charo’s back (thank god!) as April: she doan liek zee moosik bizness, see? Choochee choochee! Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara are a hapless couple weighed down by too many kids (including future little drug addict Corey Feldman!), while too-straight Craig Stevens romances WWII USO chanteuse Cyd Charisse to snores from the cheap seats (she doesn’t dance, so what’s the point?).

Third Wheel / Grandmother’s Day / Second String Mom (May 12th, 1979)
It’s Mother’s Day on the Pacific Princess! Gopher’s mom Ethel Merman shows up (at some point years back she must have been separated from the herd, tranquilized, and then mated with frail, zonked-out Bob Cummings). Mother and son proceed to promptly push pill-popper Cummings right out of the picture. Barry Nelson has impregnated 59-year-old Nanette Fabray (Ohh-kay, Mr. Nelson!), while Ken Berry can’t catch a break from his bratty daughters, who hate new mom Vera from Alice (another nice Love Boat surprise: Broadway pro Beth Howland is touchingly real in her few scenes). Bob Cummings crying, and Fred Grandy bawling, are, quite simply, nauseating. And for that, Captain Stubing is right: “That’s what I call a happy ending!”

There are some very odd pairings in this second go-around for The Love Boat (Jill St. John and Charlie Callas…surely a mating of eagles). However, the formula, with the exception of the wildly inconsistent season opener, is left intact. So for those looking to check their brains at the dock, and paddle along for a few hours with the Pacific Princess crew as they facilitate 30 some-odd hook-ups, you can’t go wrong with The Love Boat’s second season.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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