Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986! The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!
Welcome aboard, it’s love!
Produced by Aaron Spelling, The Love Boat is one of the signature shows of the 70s and the 80s. Each week, the Pacific Princess would set off for a different location with a different group of guest stars. Typically, each episode would feature three stories. One story would be silly fun. One story would be a dramedy. And then one story would typically feature a member of the Love Boat crew either falling in love or worrying about losing their job. It was a tremendously silly show but, from the episodes I’ve seen, it was also very likable. If nothing else, the ship looked really nice.
While the passengers changed from week-to-week, the crew largely remained the same. During the show’s first season, the crew was made up of:
Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), who started out as a stern, no-nonsense captain but who became significantly nicer and a good deal goofier as the series progressed,
Adam “Doc” Bricker (Bernie Kopell), the ship’s doctor who hit on every woman who boarded the boat and who probably would have been an HR nightmare if the show actually took place in the real world,
Gopher (Fred Grandy), the ship’s purser who …. well, I’m not sure what a purser does but hopefully it wasn’t too important of a job because Gopher was always getting into weird situations,
Isaac (Ted Lange), the ship’s bartender who spent the entire cruise getting people drunk,
and Julie (Lauren Tewes), the cheerful cruise director.
And, of course, we can’t forget the true star of the show, the theme song!
Before the series, there were three made-for-television movies: The Love Boat (1976), The Love Boat II (1976), and finally The New Love Boat (1977). These movies served as pilots for the show. The first movie featured an entirely different cast playing the ship’s crew. Kopell, Lange, and Grandy first played their roles in The Love Boat II. MacLeod and Tewes came aboard in The New Love Boat. Unfortunately, these pilots aren’t available on Paramount Plus but, fortunately, the rest of the series is.
So, let’s set sail on a course for adventure with the first episode of The Love Boat!
Episode 1.1 “Captain & The Lady/Centerfold/One If By Land….”
(Directed by Richard Kinon, Stuart Margolin, and Alan Rafkin, originally aired on September 24th, 1977)
The Pacific Princess is about to set sail but all is not right on the cruise ship that some call The Love Boat.
Ginny O’Brien (Brenda Sykes) just wants to get away from her longtime boyfriend, Ronald (Jimmie Walker). Ginny wants to marry Ronald but Ronald just wants to have a good time. When Ginny boards the cruise, Ronald decides to follow her. The only problem is that the cruise is sold out and Ronald can’t break the law by stowing away. (I was actually surprised that didn’t happen. I can imagine The Love Boat writers room descending into chaos as the writers argued about whether or not it was too early to do a stowaway story.) Ronald decides to follow the Love Boat from port to port, just so he can show Ginny that he is committed to something. Ginny ends up spending her entire cruise wondering if Ronald is going to be make it to every port. To me, it felt as if her cabinmate (Suzanne Somers) seemed to be kind of annoyed about getting sucked into all of Ginny’s personal drama but that could just be projection on my part. I know that I would certainly get annoyed by it.
Meanwhile, Congressman Brad Brockway (Shelly Novack) has set sail with his fiancée, Sandy (Meredith Baxter-Birney). When Sandy was younger, she posed for a sleazy photographer. Now that she’s engaged to the Congressman, a tabloid has published those pictures. Sandy spends the entire cruise trying to keep Brad from seeing any copies of the magazine. The only problem is that the magazine is sold in ship’s gift shop! (Did most cruise ships sell adult magazines in their gift shop? I supposed it’s possible. It was the 70s….) Sandy manages to get almost every copy of the magazine but misses the copy that Doc keeps in his examination room. Doc looks at the pictures and tells her that she has nothing to be ashamed of because the pictures look good. That really wasn’t her main concern, Doc. Anyway, it turns out that the Congressman doesn’t care. Personally, I would have preferred that the story had ended with Sandy announcing that she was the one who didn’t care.
Finally, Captain Stubing is a nervous wreck because an executive of the cruise line named Aubrey Skogstad (Robert Symonds) is on the cruise and so is his wife, Stacy (Bonnie Franklin). While Aubrey is quiet and polite, Stacy proceeds to tell every member of the crew that they are inadequate and that she will personally make it her duty to get them all fired. It turns out that Stacy is hostile because she’s Captain Stubing’s ex-wife. Since Captain Stubing is still new to the ship and has kept himself aloof from the rest of the crew, they wonder if he’ll ever stand up for them. Eventually, the captain tells Stacy off and, in doing so, he finally wins the loyalty of his crew. Yay!
Anyway, the first episode of The Love Boat was very, very 70s. The only thing that could have made it more 70s would have been a disco ball on the lido deck. Fortunately, as our long-time readers know, I’m a total history nerd so I enjoyed the show as a floating time capsule. It’s one thing to watch a movie that’s set in the 70s and which features everyone going out of their way to bring to life every stereotype. It’s another thing to actually view something that was specifically made during the time period.
Unfortunately, the stories and the passengers themselves were pretty forgettable. The whole thing about the Stacy and the Congressman was slightly interesting just because, with the rise of social media, everyone’s got smutty pictures out there now. For the most part, though, this first episode was about introducing Captain Stubing and the crew and the cast did display a good deal of chemistry together. They were all likable. Even Doc Bricker, with his stash of cruise porn, seemed to be well-intentioned. They came across as people who most viewers would want to take a cruise with, which is exactly what the show required to be a success.
Next week …. more love, more 70s fashion, and more intrusive laugh tracks as we set sail on another voyage!