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!
This week is all about deception.
Episode 2.15 “Cowboy/Substitute Wife”
(Dir by Arnold Laven, originally aired on January 20th, 1979)
Brian Kehoe (Hugh O’Brian) is from Texarkana. In his youth, he was a rodeo rider but now he’s a broken-down old man who works as a rodeo clown. He’s one of the best in the business and every rodeo rider on Fantasy Island swears that Brian has saved their lives multiple times. (There’s a surprisingly large amount of rodeo people on Fantasy Island.) However, Brian is deeply ashamed of just being a clown. In fact, he’s spent his life telling his 11 year-old son, Tommy (Johnny Timko), that he’s the greatest rodeo champion of all time.
Brian’s fantasy is to be just that. He’s spending the weekend with his son on Fantasy Island and he wants everyone to treat him like he’s a world famous rodeo star. However, when he realizes that Tommy wants to see him in action, Brian realizes that he’s going to do have to ride a bull himself. Unfortunately, Brian just can’t do it. He’s old and out-of-practice. So, he and his friends try to play a little trickery on Johnny. Brian explains that he always wears a bandana over the lower half of his face whenever he rides. When Tommy is cheering for his father, little does he realize he’s actually cheering for one of his father’s friends. But when one the real riders is put in danger, Brian has no choice but to reveal the truth. Of course, that was Mr. Roarke’s plan all along.
This was an okay fantasy. I appreciated the fact that everyone pronounced rodeo correctly. There weren’t any Yankees wandering around talking about the “roe-day-o.” Hugh O’Brian did a good job of portraying the sadness beneath Brian’s confident façade. And, when Tommy first learns that his father has been lying to him, he has a very honest reaction. He is pissed off! It takes Tommy a while to forgive his father. This was a well-acted little fantasy, even if you never had any real doubt that things would eventually work out.
As for the other fantasy …. bleh. Jayne Meadows Allen plays Nadine Winslow, a woman who suffers from hypochondria. Her fantasy is to learn what’s wrong with her. She’s examined by a Dr. Van Helsing (Hans Conried), who informs her that she only has a few weeks to live. After Nadine leaves the exam room, we learn that Dr. Van Helsing is actually a waiter and it’s always been his fantasy to tell someone that they only have a few weeks to live. Between this guy and that Nazi POW camp a few weeks ago, I’m starting to doubt Roarke’s instincts.
Nadine’s new fantasy is to find a new wife for her husband, Harvey (Peter Lawford, who appears to be slightly hung over in most of his scenes). She settles on Monica (Sherry Jackson), whom Harvey meets during a bizarre Fantasy Island dating game that is hosted by a leering Mr. Roarke. Monica and Harvey seem like a good couple but then Nadine spots her doctor working as a waiter and she realizes that she’s not dying. So, she and Harvey get back together and, for some reason, they thank Mr. Roarke as opposed to suing him for emotional distress. That whole fantasy was just dumb.
So, this was a pretty uneven episode. I liked the rodeo stuff. I disliked the death stuff. That’s the way it usually goes.