Movie / TV review: ‘The Love Boat’

I’m changing things up today with a review of a television series. I’m taking a superficial look at the TV classic “The Love Boat.” It’s in my pantheon of TV shows that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years and I say this peek at “L” is superficial not because the show’s shallow (it is), but because of the guilty pleasure it brings. “L” has (then) new stars, a (then) handful of current stars and B-listers and a bushel of those (then) truly famous stars in their twilight with one more stroll into a spotlight. I was very glad when MEtv began running “The Love Boat,” just as I was for “CHiPs” coming to that network, and have enjoyed the episodes that I don’t have on DVD (yes, I did purchase DVDs of “The Love Boat” – both seasons).

‘The Love Boat’
(1977-1987; with a variety of directors and starring Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Ted Lange, Fred Grandy and Lauren Tewe)

THE ONE, THE ONLY … THE LOVE BOAT!

(NOTE: I updated this review with some additional trivia, a little more opinion and the updating of links on July 4, 2017.)

One of life’s guilty pleasures can be a light, airy television show that tries hard to have meaning but is just campy. The 1970s-80s hit “The Love Boat” is one of those guilty pleasures in camp (unlike today’s so-called guilty TV pleasure which mainly consists of the dreck about the sleazy and insipid Kardashians and their sleazy, insipid so-called trashy lives). “The Love Boat” is light, fun and you don’t have to think too much.

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Forget today’s dreck, so where else can you find two-time Oscar winner Tom (“Saving Private Ryan”) Hanks as the college roommate of one of the main characters (season 4 episode 1)?

Or where else will you find “The Brady Bunch’s” Robert Reed falling in love with pop star Toni “Love Will Keep Us Together” Tennille (season 2 episode 6)?

Or, where a very young Billy Crystal is a “kissing bandit” (also season 2 episode 6) and you watch him reluctantly plant one on “Miss Jane” from TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies?”

Furthermore, where else can you find the legendary Ethel Merman as the mother of one of the main characters or Pearl Bailey as the mother of another?

How about beach movie stars Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (click here for my review of their “Back to the Beach” effort) cruising but not together or “Mrs. Cleaver” and her two boys, “Wally” and the “Beaver,” also on separate cruises (she was on two episodes)?

Or how about “The Brady Bunch’s” “Marcia” looking to help one of “Welcome Back, Kotter’s” “sweathogs” (Robert Hegyes, who played “Juan Epstein”) lose his virginity (season 1 episode 6)? Or, how about the one with Jamie Lee Curtis in an episode with her mother Janet Leigh (season 2 episode 9)?

And, where can you find a cross-dressing John Ritter who steals clothes from a woman who likes country-western fashion to chase a woman who doesn’t love him and winds up jumping overboard to save the one who does? Plus, he has to fend off advances from the captain (season 1 episode 2). Whew! Quite a busy boy.

Of course, you’ll only find them on “The Love Boat.”

None of the actors are playing their more famous TV or film roles here, but it is just fun to point out the cross-over possibilities (not to mention some of the cross-dressing incidents aboard ship). Also, I’m focusing mostly on the first two seasons of “The Love Boat” since only those are available on DVD.

The MEtv network is showing episodes from later seasons, but like all television series, “The Love Boat” suffers as it ages and it even brought in Ted McGinley for 60 episodes – and he’s the noted “Jump the Shark” actor brought in when a show is failing and appears to need rescuing (actually, I like him, but he’s come in late on a number of series including “Happy Days,” “Dynasty” and “Married With Children” – although he had a major run with the last).

Here’s my look at the main cast:

  • Gavin MacLeod is “Captain Steubing” and is the commanding presence on the ship. MacLeod does a solid if somewhat stoic job here, but that’s the role. He’s fortunate he doesn’t get caught up in the slapstick the others contend with and he also did a role where he played his similar-looking, somewhat dubious brother (or was a cousin?). MacLeod has been in a variety of roles on TV (including his most recognized as “Murray Slaughter” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and was also in “Kelly’s Heroes” with Clint Eastwood (click here for my review).
  • Bernie Kopell is “Dr. Adam ‘Doc’ Bricker” and he’s the ladies’ man with a smooth line and a medical school diploma. Kopell is certainly 1970s suave here, but he does a nice job of being a loyal friend. He does good quips too (take the episode where he chaperones Georgia “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” Engall and has to keep an amorous suitor away in season 1 episode 21). Kopell has been in a string of TV roles including on “Bewitched” and “Ironside” and even recently on “Monk.”
  • Ted Lange plays “Isaac Washington” who starts out as a bartender and then becomes part of management as the “chief bartender.” You knew you Lange was going to be a love interest each time a guest star of color made an appearance on “The Love Boat.” Lange is cool, reliable and expresses his character well. Lange has been on TV’s “Scrubs” and is active in Hollywood today.
  • Fred Grandy plays “Asst. Purser Burl ‘Gopher’ Smith” and is the cast member they go to for cross-dressing (season 2 episode 5) and a lot of poorly-executed slapstick. Grandy rolls with the punches on this one and became one of those actors who could not escape his most famous character although he basically made the most of both the bad material and his marginal acting talent. Actually Grandy has much more intelligence than his character (he speaks French and Arabic, too); went to the top-tier Phillips Exeter Academy and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard; and he went on to be elected to Congress from Iowa then became the CEO of Goodwill Industries and has been a commentator on National Public Radio. He also was best man at his prep school friend David Eisenhower’s wedding in the marriage to Julie Nixon (daughter of the former president). Other acting roles? Don’t ask and I won’t tell.
  • Lauren Tewes won the role of “Cruise Director Julie McCoy” over 100 other actresses, according to IMDb.com. Tewes conveys her character’s perkiness, some naiveté, some strength and always looking to be a friend. I believe she gave the best and most underrated performance of the crew throughout her tenure (she left the show because of personal issues). Like Grandy, Tewes has been pretty much typecast but she did do a TV movie (“Locally Grown”) in 2013 after more than a decade’s absence from the entertainment world.

Some of the other great early moments include:

  • A cruise with a pre-Oscar and much thinner Kathy Bates as she’s a honeymooner who finds circumstances that keep her from consummating her marriage (season 1 episode 13). She was also nominated for an Oscar for her work in “Primary Colors” and was over-the-top good in HBO’s “The Late Shift” (click here for my review).
  • Will Geer of TV’s “The Waltons” fame does a nice turn (season 1 episode 12) as an elderly passenger who takes a teenage stowaway under his wing (back then it was nice; today it would be classified creepy). Geer died the year after his appearance on “The Love Boat.”
  • Harry Morgan, who was most famously TV’s “Col. Sherman Potter” on “M*A*S*H,” plays a man who cheats the crew at cards in order to pay for his and his wife’s cruise (season 1 episode 21). He does a good job, but it still comes off a bit cheesy. Of course Morgan was also Jack Webb’s sidekick on TV’s “Dragnet” and had appearances on a total of four “Love Boat” cruises (one a two-parter).

Just for the record, “The Love Boat” shows were usually split into three distinct segments and each had their own title and director and the ship’s crew was the only thread among them. There were some theme cruises, two-part cruises and even one with only one title: “Musical Cabins” in which “Gopher” hooks up with Bob Newhart’s receptionist Marcia Wallace (season 1 episode 23). The series was based on a book by Jeraldine Saunders called “The Love Boats” (and she was the real-life cruise director) and brought to TV by the venerable Aaron Spelling.

Also, remember that no true fan of “The Love Boat” will have ever watched the remake series called “Love Boat: The Next Wave.” It’s too bad that the five main cast members and the captain’s daughter “Vicki” made an appearance (I’m not giving you a link to that one).

Finally, the best thing about “The Love Boat,” is that each episode turns out great for everyone (although the one with a terminally ill passenger might not qualify) and you watch the credits with a smile on your face.

Assorted cast and series notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2017.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material
without express and written permission from this blog’s author
and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used,
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