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!
Episode 1.13 “Too Hot to Handle / Family Reunion / Cinderella Story”
(Dir by James Sheldon and Richard Kinon, originally aired on January 7th, 1978)
It’s time for another cruise with three separate stories!
Newlyweds George (John Rubinstein) and Sally Allison (a youngish Kathy Bates) board the Pacific Princess, hoping to enjoy the ideal honeymoon. Instead, it turns out to be one disaster after another. Sally gets sunburned. George gets poison ivy. Having gotten off the boat in Mexico, Sally returns to discover a totally different couple staying in what she thinks is her cabin. Uh-oh. It turns out that Sally accidentally got on the Sun Princess and the Pacific Princess has already set sail without her! This was a pretty simple storyline and, if anything, it mostly seemed to exist so that the show’s writers could see how many bad things that they could do to one perfectly innocent couple. But John Rubinstein and Katy Bates are so likable as George and Sally that the story works. You can’t help but hope the cruise gets a little better for them. Kathy Bates was 29 when she appeared on The Love Boat and there’s nothing about her performance that would necessarily make you say, “Hey, that’s a future Oscar winner!” But still, both she and John Rubinstein do a good job with the material that they’ve been given.
Meanwhile, Tommy (Bob Crane) is a middle-aged man who has been hired to work as a steward on the ship. Captain Stubing takes an immediate dislike to the irresponsible, womanizing Tommy. When he discovers that Tommy has been drinking on the job, Stubing comes close to firing him. However, Tommy confesses that he’s drinking because he’s just discovered that the daughter who he abandoned years ago is on the cruise. Wendy (Dori Brenner) has always believed that her father died in a shipwreck and she hopes that Stubing might know something about the wreck. Seeking to help out Tommy, Stubing tells a lot of lies about Wendy’s “deceased” father but Tommy finally breaks down and confesses the truth. At first, Wendy rejects Tommy but, with the help of her understanding husband (Robert Hays), she eventually forgives her father.
This storyline hinges on a huge coincidence. What are the chances that Tommy and Wendy would just happen to end up on the same cruise together and that Tommy would be assigned to serve as Wendy’s steward? On top of that, what are the chances that Wendy would just happen to have a picture of her mother sitting out where Tommy could see it? It’s all fairly predictable but, if you’ve seen Auto Focus, it’s interesting to watch Crane’s performance here. This episode aired just a few months before Crane was murdered in Arizona and it’s easy to see the charismatic but irresponsible and self-destructive Tommy as being a reflection of who Bob Crane himself had reportedly become at the time of his death. Tommy is a character who lives with a lot of emotional pain and regret and Crane is so surprisingly effective in the role that it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps, on some level, he related to Tommy.
Finally, in the show’s final storyline, Bill Edwards (Bruce Solomon) is a supermarket manager who has booked a cruise with his wife, Doreen (Judy Luciano). When a wealthy advertising exec cancels his trip, Julie and Gopher decide to let Bill and Doreen stay in the man’s luxury cabin. This, of course, leads to Stubing mistaking Bill for the ad exec! Suddenly, Bill and Doreen are sitting at the captain’s table and competing for an advertising contract! Eventually, the truth comes out but business tycoon Greg Beatty (David White) is so impressed with Bill’s ideas that he arranges for Bill to get a job with an actual advertising company. Mad Men it’s not! However, it’s still a charming little story, largely due to the performances of Bruce Solomon and Judy Luciano.
If last week’s episode was a “lesser Love Boat,” this week’s episode show just how much fun The Love Boat could be. Yes, all of the stories are fairly predictable but the guest stars all perform their roles with a lot of energy. Bob Crane brings a poignant sense of regret to his performance as Tommy while Bruce Solomon and Judy Luciano are exactly the type of attrative couple that you would want to meet on a cruise. And, as I said already, it’s impossible not to like John Rubinstein and Kathy Bates as the newlyweds who just can’t catch a break. The regular cast is used sparingly but effectively in this episode. Fred Grandy gets a nice scene where he has to explain to John Rubinstein that Kathy Bates got on the wrong boat. Bernie Kopell plays Doc Bricker as being an agent of chaos. It’s a fun episode and what more can you ask for?