Anchors aweigh and get another bottle of bleach: they don’t call it “The Love Boat” for nothing!
By Paul Mavis
Drunk TV is obsessed with The Love Boat. Obsessed. Why? Because it embodies everything that was great and terrible (which is even better) about true escapist television’s final years, before “messaging” and political correctness ruined even the most innocuous TV fare. I don’t want “reality” or a “lesson” when I flip on my beloved boob tube. I want Charo and Don Knots and Donnie Osmond among others this third season, doing what they do best: entertaining me.
So yank on your fog horn (sure I wrote that!) because finally, finally…Paramount and CBS DVD have pulled that late 70s/early 80s Saturday night favorite The Love Boat out of dry dock and rebooted its DVD season releases after 8 long years. Season three came out just a few months ago, so let’s hope we have season four before the end of the year, and so on and so on until we hit the final season Love Boat Mermaids (…preferably with the ship’s bow at full steam).
If you didn’t read our other Love Boat reviews (so…you have a life. Good for you), here’s a brief rundown of the players and the show’s formula. Fashioned like an episode from Love, American Style set at sea (ABC’s earlier romantic comedy anthology hit—ask Grammy about it), 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 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.
You could never do The Love Boat today. What passes for TV and movie stars now are far too self-important, too obsessed with their own phony images to ever let themselves look silly or foolish on this kind of light, frothy anthology series (nor would humorless, painfully ironic audiences let them, either). Of course these “stars” aren’t what stars used to be, anyway. The D-listers essential for The Love Boat formula are no problem; you could scrounge up plenty of those (they’ll do anything for a buck). But what about stars? Real stars, no matter how dimmed their halos? No former A-list movie star today would appear on a TV anthology comedy/drama just to roll around with a babe in a bikini, no matter how much they were hurting for cash. And if you wanted to raid the tube for heavyweight talent on your pretend Love Boat reboot, let’s not forget that two of the biggest senior leads of series TV today—actors whose wizened “gravitas” are frequently mentioned in hushed, awed tones by clueless millennial reviewers and critics—were punk wannabes during The Love Boat’s heyday: Mark Harmon and Tom Selleck. The absolute biggest stars on television today…can’t even begin to match up with the genuine legends that appeared on the decks of the Pacific Princess. No, when icons such as this season’s Ginger Rogers, Alice Faye, John Mills, Don Knots, and Lorne Greene are long, long gone, while today’s audiences consider a laughably limited performer like “The Rock” or some douchebag on The Bachelorette to be gen-u-wine “celebrities,” the bilge pumps on your new and improved Love Boat are gonna fail.
Nielsen ratings were down for The Love Boat this third season…but it was still only one of two shows in the Nielsen Top Thirty on Saturday nights for that 1979-1980 season (NBC’s “CHiPs” being the other). Considering the many intangibles, it’s always guesswork as to why a show falls and rises in the ratings, but since there was no strong competition on the other two channels (Big Shamus, Little Shamus and Sanford hardly posed any threat), The Love Boat’s dip to 23rd for the year might simply have been a bit of viewer fatigue.
As I wrote in my second season Love Boat review, season opening episodes can be critical to the ratings for the rest of that year’s run, particularly when it comes to satisfying loyal fans, as well as in snagging new eyes. Producers Aaron Spelling and Douglas Cramer, however, did themselves no favors by opening this third season with Buddy and Portia’s Story / Julie’s Story / Carol and Doug’s Story / Peter and Alicia’s Story, a special two hour cruise not to some sunny clime, but rather chilly, dark, rainy Alaska. I grew up in the Midwest, and I can assure you, when I tuned into The Love Boat, I didn’t want glaciers and gloomy, overcast skies. I wanted the sun and colorful mixed drinks and plenty of bikini-clad babes frolicking on the fake Lido Deck. And while the cast here is okay (old war horses Lorne Greene, Ray Milland, and Eleanor Parker deliver, as usual), nothing spells excitement more than Julie chasing Tony Roberts again, only to find heartache. Tony Roberts? Either get bigger stars, or go the opposite route and get some hilariously miscast D-listers (can a young Mark Harmon and Lisa Hartman be any more callow and uninteresting?). This season opener is a gloomy blah (compounding the problem, the producers’ second episode—again, with little star wattage— Going My Way / Dance with Me / Doc, Be Patient, finds Julie for a second time in the dumps, now griping about her job (shut up and have some fun!).
Still, as The Love Boat’s third season sails on, the established episode formula of one comedic story/one romantic story/one dramatic story begins to find traction, and we’re rewarded not only with some series’ best outings, but with something else that was peculiar to The Love Boat: occasionally weird juxtapositions of wildly dissimilar actors…who somehow shine within that tension. Sure, it might have been a good idea if the producers had laid off using the same people too often; when viewers tuned in year after year and saw performers like Christopher George, Barbara Rush, James MacArthur, Jill St. John, Lyle Waggoner, and Sonny Bono appear and reappear with bewildering frequency, it could work against the anthology format. To be honest, however, that kind of “mistake” becomes a big part of the fun of The Love Boat. As a TV and movie-obsessed kid, for me the most enjoyable aspect of watching the show was using it like a barometer, to see where an actor was in his career. For The Love Boat, it was pretty simple equation: if you had any kind of name at all, your career was circling the drain (can there be anything sadder than seeing the end of blaxploitation movies this season…when John Shaft and Coffy wind up on the Pacific Princess?). Anything else and you were either an up-and-comer or a one-shot never-will-be. That ranking gamesmanship is The Love Boat’s most interesting—as well as morbid, even ghoulish—aspect, and it’s what keeps me tuning in, time and time again (I don’t know what’s more fascinating: when a former high-flyer shows up on the Pacific Princess, looking increasingly desperate…or utterly defeated).
Buddy and Portia’s Story / Julie’s Story / Carol and Doug’s Story / Peter and Alicia’s Story (September 15th, 1979)
I don’t want to beat up on Tony Roberts again…but he’s just wrong for the part here. Donny Most is one of The Love Boat’s most dejected, ineffectual losers (you can just tell he knows it’s only going to be Potsie and Richie and the Fozie and that’s it). Ray Milland is his usual efficient self, but Eleanor Parker hams it up something awful (when didn’t she, thank god?). Mark Harmon and Lisa Hartman have the exact same blond highlights (Clairol #7: Ash Blonde), while acting honors go to Lorne Greene and Audra Lindley, a good example of what I was referring to above: Greene’s usual stiffness is considerably loosened by Lindley’s quirky verbal twists and turns (is she actually drunk in one of her scenes? Looks like it to me…). Oh, and Carol Kaye’s the slut without a bra. Nice.
The Grass Is Always Greener / Three Stages of Love / Oldies But Goodies (September 22rd, 1979)
Julie had a crush on Captain Stubing during her training? Let’s avoid that future subplot, thank you. Lani O’Grady gets the season’s first bikini shot (give her credit: the coke kept her thin…), but remember to avert your eyes whenever way too-eager-to-please Eddie Mekka starts pawing her. Colonel Klink ditches the Hogan’s Heroes accent to be wheelchair-bound Barry Sullivan’s manservant (should have kept it), and Amanda Blake looks truly lovely in a nice, reserved performance. Oh, and Julie enthusiastically exclaims, “The heck with woman’s lib!” Damn right, Julie.
Going My Way / Dance with Me / Doc, Be Patient (September 29th, 1979)
Uh…yeah, I don’t tune into The Love Boat for culture, so spare me any future subplots that involve ballet (no joke: someone please email and explain to me why Carol Lawrence had an acting career). Susan Sullivan is far too serious in her story concerning love with Doc Bricker (or maybe she’s just not that interested…). No big stars in this blah outing, although another favorite of mine, the delightful Arlene Golonka, is quite sweet as a carefree passenger (and award that girl combat pay for having to make out with…Buddy Hackett!).
The Scoop / The Audit Couple / My Boyfriend’s Back (October 6th, 1979)
Phyllis Diller is the whole show (although handsome, funny Lyle Waggoner is always a welcome addition) as an IRS agent onto Captain Stubing. She gets one of Love Boat’s rare swear word shout-outs, too (“Damn, he’s cute,” she exclaims, looking after the Captain—she’s hilarious). Joyce DeWitt gets the serious subplot, having a son with developmental disabilities. When Doc offers that he’s “slow,” DeWitt says you don’t need to use euphemisms: “He’s retarded.” I’m guessing that this initial upfront string of relatively blah episodes contributed to The Love Boat’s lower ratings this season.
Gopher’s Greatest Hits / The Vacation / One Rose a Day (October 13th, 1979)
Fred Grandy gets some laughs parodying lounge singers, but the resolution is sappy, and Grandy overplays it (quite frankly, who cares if Gopher’s feelings are hurt?). In the running for this year’s Most Unlikely Coupling Aboard the Pacific Princess Award: Conrad Janis and Joanna Cassidy (she’d eat him alive) as a married couple on the outs when Janis starts to think his wife has been cheating every time she goes cruising with sister Jaye P. Morgan. To be fair, Janis and Cassidy have a surprisingly deft rapport with each—another example of the “Love Boat performance effect,” I’ll call it. Old pros Martha Scott and Don Ameche are also quite affecting together, as florist Ameche tries to woo the widow Scott.
The Reunion / Haven’t I Seen You? / Crew Confessions (October 20th, 1979)
Not so successful a pairing of vintage professionals in this outing, as Jane Wyatt and Jean-Pierre Aumont romance each other. They’re fine together, but their storyline—is he her dead husband lost 40 years ago in the war?—is ridiculous. Much, much better is another “Love Boat performance effect” pairing of Don Knots and Julie Newmar, who generate big laughs as the peripatetic Knots passes himself off as a famous star to Newmar, who in turn wants to have a baby (Knots, looking the statuesque Newmar up and down in bathing suit, is priceless). Oh, and Isaac has a boring subplot where he wants to be a writer (hey, Isaac, write this down: “Two martinis, hold the olives.” Now…scoot.
Play by Play / Cindy / What’s a Brother For? (October 27th, 1979)
Christopher George is back again, this time with his real-life wife (she looks thrilled) as battling sportscasters (someone please chuck a javelin at my head and just end it all). Patrick Wayne is given yet another chance to show he can’t act (wasn’t The People That Time Forgot enough?) when he’s put in a wheelchair (that’s our quota for the season). He soon c-blocks his brother Tom Hallick, whom the pretty Joan Van Ark likes (she was really wasted in all this TV crap). And the “Prince of Pop,” Frank Sinatra, Jr. (yep—you just read that) tries to make Melissa Sue Anderson into a singer (doesn’t work).
Trial Romance / Never Say Goodbye / A New Woman (November 3rd, 1979)
The biggest news here is the confirmation that Vicky will be coming onboard the Pacific Princess on a permanent basis (Dramamine, please…). To be fair, Jill Whelan is a cute little actress, and her scenes with MacLeod are rather sweet…but I’m sorry, I just don’t want any kids around when I’m on a cruise. Vic Tayback (“Flo!”) and JoAnn Pflug seemed to be having fun together as jury members who argue alot…inbetween the lovin’ (didn’t that just make you sick?). Vic needs to take his sweater off in bed, though (oh, wait…he’s not wearing a sweater). Former big deal in early television Gale Storm (look her up) has some very funny moments with another amusing veteran, Louis Nye (their voices are made for cartoons); they’re a humorous duo, and a highlight here.
The Love Lamp Is Lit / Critical Success / Rent a Family / Take My Boyfriend, Please / The Man in Her Life (November 10th, 1979)
Okay, well…The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders! Now we’re talking! Who the hell was their agent, because that guy was a genius. I mean, they actually had real acting gigs for a couple of years back then—remarkable…since none of them had a bit of talent. Very amusing to see the men of the Pacific Princess openly drooling over these women (back when men were men, girls…and by “girls,” I’m talking to the p.c. millennial men out there). This episode is a classic; it has all the required elements for a perfect Love Boat outing: crappy D-listers, failing, soon-to-be ignored TV performers, and one genuine “big faded star.” Oh, and crappy writing. Bill Daley’s subplot about a job applicant hiring a fake family to impress his boss should have scored big, considering that cast (Roz Kelly, who can’t help but crack you up, Jackie Earl Haley, who has zero to do, and a hilarious, from-the-vaults Patsy Kelly, who acts like she doesn’t give a sh*t what anyone thinks). However, the writing lets him down. Ditto for Larry Linville (so forced, unfortunately), and that wowzer, Gunilla Hutton (Doc makes sure to add this, when examining her, “Now, let’s take a look at those throats.”). As the topper, genuine iconic legend Ginger Rogers docks here (our first Oscar winner this season, I think…), and proceeds to make Love Boat history by murdering a Captain & Tenille song (she’s exactly like Lola Heatherton, with the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers backing her up). She’s just fine, though, when bantering with an easygoing Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. before they start swapping their Sears & Roebucks’ choppers.
The Brotherhood of the Sea / Letter to Babycakes / Daddy’s Pride (November 17th, 1979)
A thoroughly boring episode, redeemed only by the sight of Demond Wilson in dark glasses, walking around with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist (that kind of miscalculation and obliviousness, is exactly why I watch this series). Raspy-voiced Christopher Connelly can’t get started with birthday girl Julie (and we care…not), little tyke gymnast Nancy McKeon doesn’t want to put in the effort to be an Olympic finalist (dad Alex Cord is right: she’s lazy), and Wilson is using Jimmie “J.J.” Walker as a beard for cheating. In the immortal words of Mad magazine: blech.
Not Now, I’m Dying / Too Young to Love / Eleanor’s Return (Novemeber 24th, 1979)
Please, god…no more Barbara Rush! The simpering, the brave little trembling chin, the fake catch in the voice when emotion must be summoned up. Enough! Thank god for Barbie Benton (in white short shorts and off-the-shoulder peasant blouse), who, believe it or not, isn’t half-bad in her subplot with Dack Rambo (equally good), who’s dying of something or other. Oh, and there’s a young couple on board, looking to get busy (cute kids, but anonymous) and Gopher has to keep them apart (tedious beyond belief with Grandy channels Alan Young and tries for various “colorful,” broad caricatures). And what’s the deal with Sydney (the marvelous Sid Gould), the comical waiter that infrequently pops up here this season? Were the producers floating him as a possible series’ regular? They should have–he’s a stitch.
The Stimulation of Stephanie / Life Begins at 40 / The Next Step (December 1st, 1979)
“The Stimulation of Stephanie” sounds like bad ’70s porn; unfortunately…that’s not what we’re watching. Rather, it’s Dick Martin as a sex professor, trying to use some doohickey to measure Char Fontane’s sexual stimulation levels (yep). Casting Martin against type (clueless and staid rather than his usual goofy and oversexed shtick) doesn’t work. Judy Landers has a moment or two with Doc, while Rosie Greer (gritting my teeth…) is his predictable self, blundering through set-up lines like an elephant in a china shop. Did people hire him just because they were afraid he’s fall on them? (his whole off-putting, fake nicey-nicey persona is, “Love me and laugh at me…or else.”).
The Harder They Fall / The Spider Serenade / Next Door Wife (December 8th, 1979)
It’s great to see the Skipper, Alan Hale, Jr., come on board, trying to get in shape to box old rival, Uncle Miltie (oh vey what a kvetch), but as much as I love Jill St. John (one of my favorite Bond girls), enough is enough when she’s reduced to being Gopher’s lover (from Sean Connery to Fred Grandy in 8 short years). And while we’re at it: no more Dano, either; I never “got” James MacArthur, and he never delivers on The Love Boat (now girlfriend Susan Buckner does deliver, though, in black lingerie and high heels).
Making the Grade / The Gift / Doc’s ‘Ex’ Change (December 15th, 1979)
A classic Love Boat episode for all the cringe-inducing, miscast performances. Sonny Bono, in a dramatic turn (hee hee!), is woefully, painfully inadequate as a loser who steals money to take his wife, shell-shocked Ronee Blakely, on a cruise (how do you go from wowing audiences and critics in Altman’s Nashville, to playing second fiddle to Sonny Bono on The Love Boat?). Red Buttons and Kaye Ballard do those vague, fuzzy, indeterminate “ethnic” turns that television back then thought was an okay substitute for out-and-proud Jewish humor, while normally amusing Dick Gautier turns in a smug, unpleasant performance as a know-it-all teacher who wants to discipline sexy Jessica Walter’s kid (give credit where it’s due: Walter is one of the few bigger stars who actually puts on a bathing suit for her The Love Boat appearance, and with legs for days, she’s insane looking) Finally, Kopell has nice chemistry with sleek Juliet Prowse, one of Doc’s many ex-wives, when they try to rekindle that old magic (they have a nice bickering/bantering rhythm to their scenes).
April’s Love / We Three / Happy Ending (January 12th, 1980)
Put on the subtitles, folks: Charo is back! You had to grow up in the ’70s to get Charo; I love her whole phony act, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s a p.o.a.. Plus, she’s quite funny with old pro Forest Tucker, who gets a lot of mileage out of his blowhard Texas car dealer character (seriously: what’s with the writers making Doc and everyone hate Tucker right off the bat? Is this The Hate Boat? Very weird, and out of character for the show). Poor Don Adams; he can’t get any traction with his role here as a bickering screenwriter battling his wife, Juliette Mills (Adams was a bit of a TV sensation in those early, heady Get Smart! days…and he never got over it). Kudos, though, to Ross Martin, who gets the serious subplot this time; he’s excellent as a husband getting to know his daughter (Martin was such a talented guy; why didn’t he cross over into higher-profile projects?).
Kinfolk / Sis & the Slicker / Moonlight & Moonshine / Too Close for Comfort / The Affair (January 19th, 1980)
An absolute Love Boat classic. Third-rate singer Donnie Osmond is ashamed of his hillbilly family: Richard Paul, Slim Pickens, Loni Anderson, and Marion Ross (?). So…he pretends he’s not related. Not cool, dude, particularly when everyone on the Pacific Princess is charmed by the hayseed bumpkins (nothing says cruising like a good ‘ol fashioned square dance on the Lido Deck!). To balance off these offending Southern stereotypes (“A man without kin is like grits without hog fat.” Aaaaaaa-men!), The Love Boat writers kill off blaxploitation cinema once and for all by turning Shaft‘s Richard Roundtree and Sheba Baby‘s Pam Grier into boring upper-class marrieds involved in adultery (she’s screwing TV’s Benson, well-played by Robert Guillaume as a cold, calculating, amoral snake). It’s all quite well done, actually (Denise Nicholas, as usual, is excellent as the other cheated-upon wife). The comedy slapstick involving the male crew bunking in the Captain’s quarters is deftly handled (they should have let MacLeod do more physical stuff like this), while the disco-dancing lesson with Julie and Isaac has an unending series of unabashed, unashamed crotch shots for all the kids out there. Nothing can quite compare, though, with Donnie’s big number, as he rocks out CCR’s Travelin’ Band with Las Vegas (lower) lounge gusto, as his screaming geriatic fans throw dentures and Depends up on the stage. This, this is why we love The Love Boat.
Rent a Romeo / Matchmaker, Matchmaker / Y’ Gotta Have Heart (January 26th, 1980)
Weird pairings continue. “Broadway” Joe Namath tries romantic comedy (hmmm…no) as he’s manipulated into thinking mousy Vicki Lawrence is an “animal” in bed. Of course, this is set up by Doc, who wants to nail her sister, Misty Rowe (my all time favorite “Hee Haw” honey). Call me crazy…but are Kopell and Rowe really into kissing each other (seems like it to me…). Cleavon Little is very good, as is another favorite of mine, Ja’net DuBois, in a story about divorced parents having to relieve their kid of any Parent Trap notions. It’s a shame that such a talented performer like Little couldn’t capitalize on his Blazing Saddles triumph with something more prominent (too bad Temperatures Rising didn’t catch on). Oh, and Phil Harris does his faded jive shtick.
The Remake / The Perfect Match / The Captain’s Ne’er Do Well Brother (February 2nd, 1980)
MacLeod has a chance to stretch a bit here when the classic TV trope, “the evil twin,” is trotted out (sorta). Captain Stubing’s look-alike brother is on board; he’s a no-good rake looking to fleece wealthy Diane Ladd (you can tell MacLeod appreciates the change of pace–he’s quite fun as the bounder brother). Serious actor James Broderick doesn’t seem to know he’s on The Love Boat; he gives a credible (but dull) turn as a love interest for a just-this-close-to-being-shrill Florence Henderson, who pretends he’s just like her dead husband (Vertigo this ain’t). Speaking of shrill, Connie Stevens wants perfect specimin Kent McCord to imprenate her. Okay. Despite the dreadful writing, Stevens can’t help but make you like her, while good sport McCord constantly seems like he’s ready to bust out laughing at her line deliveries (he’s not bad in the romantic comedy department, actually).
Gopher’s dad died (saw the Merm naked, no doubt), so it’s time for Fred Grandy to snuffle and sniffle and bawl again (cripes). Gene Rayburn is off-key as the Merm’s new beau (she’s always great, though), while The Hudson Brothers get exactly one joke on-stage during their stand-up performance (“Hey, Bonkers! and Razzle Dazzle fans! The Hudson Brothers are on The Love Boat tonight! Yes! So make sure all 7 of you watch!”). And Johnny Yune gives us yet another reason to bomb the sh*t out of Korea with his approximation of a comedy routine (it begins with “Herro,” and only gets worse). The politics of his routine doesn’t offend me (everything needs to be joked about in this country, and America as a whole needs to lighten up). What offends me are comedians who can’t make me laugh (you say, “Herro,” Johnny, and I say, “So Rong!”).
Another Time, Another Place / Doctor Who / Gopher’s Engagement (March 1st, 1980)
We’ve got another sex therapist onboard: Bert Parks (haha!), whom Phyllis Davis (yowza!) wants to get to know…except she thinks the expert is milquetoast astronomer Arte Johnson (what–no nuclear physicist Ruth Buzzi?). You know what else is “Verrrry interesting”? I can’t abide Johnson (those eyes are dead, man). When she saw the call sheet, Davis had to be wondering who the hell she had to sleep with to get off this voyage (watch Maureen McCormick’s blank look of disdain when Johnson hits on her). Oscar-winner Jane Wyman does the best she can with a silly story: she’s a nun, tempted to throw it all away for former high school sweetheart, Dennis Morgan (a robotic performance). If you’re any good at math, you’ll get a laugh when he says it’s been 30 years since school (that would make him a 40 year old Senior, and spring chicken Wyman 32). Wyman keeps the faith at the end, in case you had any doubts (hard to imagine after that tempting offer…).
Dumb Luck / Tres Amigos / Hey, Jealous Lover (March 15th, 1980)
A mixed bag. Senior mathematician Shelley Hack (what–no Tanya Roberts OB-GYN?) has to play dumb to attract regular guy Kevin Tighe. Tighe, like Kent McCord earlier, surprised me with his laid-back, assured rom-com skills, but Hack can’t even Hack acting dumb (it’s painful when an actor seems genuinely stupid trying to play someone stupid). Miles better is old pro James Gregory, who’s flat-out hysterical as a jealous husband, lobbing grouchy, angry insults at anyone who even speaks to his wife, Jayne Meadows (who knew she had legs like that?). Best bit: the entire crew screaming, “No!” and diving for cover when Gregory pulls out a gun.
Celebration / Captain Papa / Honeymoon Pressure (March 29th, 1980)
Well, unfortunately, the Pacific Princess is a suitable place for Vicki to grow up, so says social worker Lois Nettleton (one of the best TV actresses of the 1960s, reduced to this). Genuine “former big star” Alice Faye shows up, but no musical number for her (smart, unlike Ginger Rogers). She plays second banana to Noah Beery, Jr., who’s yet another deadbeat whom the captain takes pity on when the bills come due (jesus, I’ll bet the real cruise line loved episodes like this). Finally, there’s a definite 70s live-action Disney feel to Eve Plumb’s subplot, where 2 Mafia-like thugs–the very funny Richard Bakalyan and Norman Alden–make sure nothing funny happens on her honeymoon (Bakalyan, an old favorite, could deliver a line, “You are duty bound to engage in husbandry,” like nobody else).
Vicki’s First Love / The High Cost of Loving / Accident Prone (April 5th, 1980)
Isaac finally admits it: “Welcome aboard The Hate Boat.” Okay, seriously: I don’t want to watch Vicki stuff her bra, no matter how light Julie makes of it (“A bust doesn’t have anything to do with being a woman. Look at me: I’m no Suzanne Somers, and I do real fine.”). What’s truly nauseating is the object of Vicki’s affections: Rex Smith. Oh, and Britt Ekland shows up in a crocheted bikini-type thing (nice) for Steve Kanaly, who, thanks to Dallas, blinks into the kleig lights and looks like he just won the celebrity lottery.
Invisible Maniac / September Song / Peekaboo (April 19th, 1980)
And no, I don’t want to watch Isaac really fall in love, either (nor the rest of the crew, frankly). Even if it is with the delightful BernNadette Stanis. On second thought, though…I’d rather watch that than a Peggy Cass/Gordon Jump pairing (when Cass mooed about where the deep water was, my hopes knew no bounds). About ten seconds of either one of them is about all I can take at a time. Another surprise: An energetic David Hasselhoff doesn’t do too bad with a subdued Shelley Fabares, an “older” babe he wants to marry (she needs convincing, of course). Best of all, that terrific veteran, Jane Withers, gets big, big laughs as a prude seeing sex fiends around every corner of the Pacific Princess; she’s accompanied by another Brady Bunch alum this season, Ann B. Davis, as her horny sidekick (when that assured old pro Withers delivered a perfectly imperious, “If you catch [the imaginary pervert], clap him in irons! I want him chained and helpless!” I hit the floor…right before Davis topped here with a beautifully timed, “Me, too!”)
No Girls for Doc / Marriage of Convenience / The Caller / The Witness (May 3rd, 1980)
And finally…Doc swears off women in one of this season’s most leering episodes, when the Captain brings hot Lindsay Bloom on to tempt the medico Lothario. Larry Wilcox is in over his head trying to do what Tighe and McCord did with ease…but then again, appearing with Catherine Bach gives him little to work with (her line readings are so flat and one-note). Do we really need yet another appearance by James MacArthur? Was there no one else to book, Dano? His real-life mother, the First Lady of the American Thea-tah, Helen Hayes, is here, too…hamming it up something awful (she doesn’t wear well, does she?). Nobody (at the time) Martin Short makes a funny appearance as a dork stalking cute Christopher Norris (nice to see a bit of SCTV weirdness). And lastly, it’s great to see fav Henry Polic II get one line in as the ship’s put-upon tailor, Pierre; too bad they couldn’t find room for him again on the show (he should have had a long, long run on Mel Brooks’ brilliant, When Things Were Rotten).