Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986. The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!
Despite being exhausted last night, I still made sure to watch the next episode of Fantasy Island before allowing myself to fall asleep. It’s all about priorities.
Episode 1.8 “Superstar/Salem”
(Dir by Earl Bellamy, originally aired on March 25th, 1978)
After a conversation with Tattoo about Tattoo’s sudden interest in photography, Mr. Roarke heads to the docks to meet this week’s guest stars!
First up, we have Richard Delaney (Gary Burghoff) and his wife, Dora (Darleen Carr). Dora thinks they are on a business trip but actually, Richard has a fantasy. Despite the fact that he is short, middle-aged, and not at all athletic, Richard’s fantasy is to not only pitch in a baseball game but to also strike out the best baseball players around.
(As a side note, as soon as I saw that this was going to be a baseball episode, I woke up Erin and made her watch it with me. Of course, it was also one in the morning at the time but still, I would have been a bad sister if I hadn’t.)
Anyway, Richard gets his chance. It turns out that Fantasy Island is holding a charity baseball game and Mr. Roarke has told everyone that Richard is the best amateur pitcher in the world. With the help of some Fantasy Island magic, Richard is able to strike out every batter who comes up to the plate. (According to Erin, all of the batters were real baseball players.) We know that Richard’s skills are due to magic because, whenever he throws the ball, we hear goofy sound effects. (“This is dumb,” Erin said, “Why did you wake me up for this?”) Richard is offered a try-out with the Dodgers. Yay!
Richard immediately get a little bit full of himself but it turns out that Richard’s fantasy didn’t include becoming a professional baseball player and he loses his ability to pitch. Unfortunately, Richard doesn’t discover this until after he tells off his boss. Fortunately, his boss is impressed by Richard’s honesty and he gives Richard a raise. Richard may never play pro ball but at least he’ll make a lot of money as an accountant or whatever it is that he does for a living. Yay! (“Is it over?” Erin asked, “Can I finally get some sleep now?”)
Meanwhile, Martha and Walter Tate (played by Vera Miles and Stuart Whitman) think that the world has become too permissive of bad behavior so they want to go some place where people are better behaved. Mr. Roarke promptly sends them to 17th century Salem, where they are both accused of being witches and narrowly avoid being executed. You know, Mr. Roarke, you could have just sent them to a friendly rural community in Nebraska or something. NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE A LESSON!
The best thing about the Salem storyline was that the evil and feared Dr. Whitfield, the man who ruled Salem with a iron fist, was played by Leslie Nielsen. When we first meet Dr. Whitfield, he’s explaining how the town drunk came to die.
Dr. Whitfield wanted to hang both Martha and Walter for the sins of dancing and giving aspirin to a child.
Leslie Nielsen may be playing a villain but he delivers his lines in the same style that later made him a comedic icon. If nothing else, that makes this episode fun to watch.
Martha and Walter end up fleeing Salem and, miraculously, they find themselves back on Fantasy Island. Mr. Roarke says that he hopes they have had an enlightening fantasy. Personally, if I was Mr. Roarke, I would be more worried about the lawsuit that they’re probably going to file against him.
This was a pretty silly episode but, as a general rule, I enjoy anything that features Leslie Nielsen playing a humorless villain. Add to that, it was hard not to smile at the sight of Mr. Roarke and Tattoo casually emerging from the jungle in their white suits to greet Walter and Martha after the latter two escaped Salem. It may have been a silly episode but it was also a fun one. And really, what else does one expect from Fantasy Island?