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!
It’s time to set sail on adventure and set your mind on a new romance!
Episode 1.2 “A Tasteful Affair / Oh, Dale! / The Main Event”
(Directed by Richard Kinon, Adam Rafkin, and Stuart Margolin, originally aired on October 1st, 1977)
The second episode of The Love Boat was all about fighting lovers.
For instance, one storyline — I assume it’s the one that was called “The Main Event” — features Sherman Hemsley as Maurice Marshall and LaWanda Page as his wife, Stella. From the minute that they get on the boat, Maurice and Stella are arguing but it soon becomes obvious that, like many couples who have been together for a while, arguing is just the way that they express their love for each other. The insults may be frequent but they’re always affectionate, which is kind of sweet. Anyway, while on their way to dinner in the ship’s lounge, they get stuck in an elevator. After arguing about the best way to escape from the elevator, they end up making out. Of course, when the doors to the elevator do finally open, Captain Stubing and Gopher see that the couple, rather than being dead, are instead making good use of the space. Everyone laughs. Seriously, that’s the entire story. Two people get suck in an elevator and make out. That’s it. You know, you can fool around on a moving elevator as well. You don’t have to fry the circuitry ahead of time. Just listen for the ping before the elevator doors open.
In a rather more serious storyline, Jaclyn Smith plays Janette Bradford, the wife of a wealthy but heartless man named Lucas (David Knapp). Lucas is convinced that Janette is only taking the cruise alone because she’s planning on cheating on him. Lucas hires a private investigator named Dennis Kingsley (Dennis Cole) to watch her on the boat. Dennis soon discovers that Janette is not cheating on her husband but instead, she took the cruise because she needed a break from his controlling and emotionally abusive ways. Dennis ends up falling in love with Janette and Janette with him. However, Dennis also knows that he’s going to have to tell her the truth about why he’s on the cruise. It doesn’t quite lead to heartbreak but it’s still far more serious than anything you might expect to see on a show of The Love Boat‘s reputation. Jaclyn Smith, it should be said, does a wonderful job in the role of Janette, capturing both the vulnerability of someone in an abusive relationship and also her growing determination to escape from Lucas’s control.
Unfortunately, while all of this is going on, you have to deal with John Ritter playing a guy whose lover actually is cheating on him. Ritter plays Dale. Dale wants to follow his girlfriend on the cruise for the same reason that Lucas hired Dennis to spy on Janette. Dale suspects that he’s being cheated on. However, the cruise is almost entirely sold out. There’s only one ticket left but it’s to share a cabin that’s already occupied by a woman. Since Dale is not a woman, he can’t buy the ticket. So, of course, Dale steals a blonde wig and a suitcase full of the frumpiest dresses imaginable. Can you guess where this is going? Dale gets his cabin, falls in love with his cabinmate (played, in a likable performance, by Tovah Feldshuh), and spends a lot of time changing clothes in the ship’s linen closet. Captain Stubing ends up getting a crush on the mysterious woman with the big blonde hair and the ugly dresses and yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds with a heavy dose of cringey 70s gay panic humor tossed in to boot. It doesn’t help that John Ritter gives such a frantic performance in the role that I actually got nervous watching him. “Calm down!” I wanted to say.
As you can guess, the tone is all over the place in this episode. That’s to be expected when you’re telling three stories at one time but there’s such an imbalance between Jaclyn Smith acting depressed and fragile and John Ritter doing pratfalls that it ultimately takes away from both stories. With the second episode of The Love Boat, it seems obvious that the show was still struggling to find the right balance between drama and comedy. As well, this episode suffers because the crew isn’t given much to do. The first episode was enjoyable because the main cast had a fun chemistry but, in this episode, everyone is a bystander except for Captain Stubing. Unfortunately, this episode couldn’t even treat Stubing consistently as the elevator storyline requires Stubing to be significantly smarter than the Stubing who appears in the John Ritter storyline.
Would the show ever succeed in finding and striking the right balance? We’ll see what happens next week!