In 1977, when other kids were discovering The Sex Pistols, I was discovering The Love Boat. On Saturday nights, I’d settle down on the sofa with my grandparents to watch Aaron Spelling’s marine masterpiece. This column is my attempt to reclaim the wonder of those weekends.
Captain & The Lady / One If By Land / Centerfold
Airing on September 24, 1977, the first installment of The Love Boat only hinted at the show’s future glory. Like all episodes of the show, it followed three parallel, but rarely intersecting narrative arcs, all written by different sets of writers. One was usually pure comic relief and in this instance, that arc was called “One If By Land.”
Starring Jimmie Walker, Suzanne Somers, and Brenda Sykes, who you might remember from 1973’s Cleopatra Jones, it’s hijinks all the way. Walker plays Ronald, an exterminator (?!) who refuses to marry his live-in girlfriend Ginny (Sykes) and as a result, she’s booked solo passage on the Pacific Princess to think about things. Somers is Lorraine, Ginny’s cabin mate who seems remarkably sober for someone who spends most of the episode boozing it up. Jimmie Walker is… Jimmie Walker. There’s a lot of mugging, and at least one awkward piece of dialogue: “If took us 300 years to get our freedom; you want me to give mine up now?”
Captain Stubing (The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Gavin McLeod) is far grumpier in this episode than I remember, and the crew – Gopher, Isaac, Doc, and Julie (Lauren Tewes is the definition of “fresh faced” here) – seems intimidated by him. “Captain & The Lady” involves one Stacy Skogstad, portrayed by Bonnie Franklin with a slight British accent, who comes across as a humorless ball buster for most the episode until Capt. Stubing has finally had enough and commands her to go to her room. It might sound sexist and awful, but you see, Stacy is Merrill’s ex-wife so it’s OK! (womp womp womp). Actually, it’s totally not OK, and the scene where he grabs her arm at the Captain’s table actually made me wince.
“Centerfold” is exactly what you think: The Love Boat‘s version of that song by the J. Geils Band. Sort of. Meredith Baxter Birney, who looks like she stepped out of a shampoo commercial, portrays Sandy. She’s terrified that her senator fiancée will find out she posed for nude photos “back in the day” because Kitten magazine has recently published them. She confides in Julie about five minutes into the episode and the two become immediate BFFs. I guess “Cruise Director” is just another term for “Relationship Counselor.”
In between asking Sandy why she would EVER pose nude and her regular cruise director duties, Julie manages to snag all the remaining copies of Kitten from in the gift shop, so it’s up to Sandy to track down the three that were purchased. Rather than catching dudes in the bathroom, she discovers them all gawking at the centerfold out in public, including one guy whose lascivious expression is genuinely disturbing. I know I was young back then, but I do not recall people just busting out skin rags in the open and staring at the photos.
Sandy tracks one copy of Kitten to Doc’s office and of course, he already knows why she’s there because he “never forgets a face.” Nope, not even remotely creepy. At any rate, he convinces her that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and sure enough, her fiancée feels the same way, after revealing he’s got five issues stashed away in his luggage.
Oh, Dale! / The Main Event / A Tasteful Affair
Episode 2 fares much better. “The Main Event” is pure retro comedy, with Sherman Helmsley as Maury Marshall, “The Sausage King” of Philadelphia, and his wife, Stella, portrayed by the inimitable LaWanda Page, a.k.a., Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son. They bicker and squabble and get stuck in an elevator and it’s totally charming and annoying at the same time.
Jaclyn Smith portrays Janette Bradford, who, like Ginny in the previous episode, has booked a solo trip to ponder her relationship problems. Her husband is a workaholic who never has time for her and she is sick of it. I was also a huge Charlie’s Angels fan back then and always thought Jaclyn Smith was a goddess. Watching this episode confirms that I did not fall prey to the naiveté of youth. She is just as stunning as I remember, with perfect lipgloss, glorious tresses, and a voice so smooth, she could say she hated you and make it sound like music.
Janette’s jerkface husband Lucas has hired a private dick to spy on her because he suspects she’s having an affair. The dick is played by the handsome Dennis Cole, so you know immediately that these two are going to fall in love. They bond over Hemingway, play backgammon, dance in the moonlight, and it’s all so romantic.
The third arc of this episode is classic, embarrassing late 1970s comedy shtick. John Ritter is Dale Reinhardt, who’s convinced himself he’s in love with Joanne, who’s more interested in Peter Pringle’s Mercedes than Dale’s Canadian tuxedo. When Gopher assures him he can’t purchase the last remaining ticket because he’d have to share a cabin with another woman, Dale steals a few suitcases, and… I think you know where this is going. Female Dale looks like Miss Piggy and it’s clear why Ritter never had a career as a drag queen. His obnoxiously emo cabin mate is Susan, played by Tovah Feldshuh, who will always be Danielle Melnick from Law & Order to me.
When trying to comfort Susan, Female Dale realizes he’s fallen for her so when Male Dale prevents her from killing herself (it’s way less dramatic than it sounds), Susan feels that spark and they agree to meet up at 9 p.m. But Captain Stubing’s got his eye on Female Dale and insists that she visit the captain’s quarters for a tour. He refuses to let her leave and it comes across a bit like a live action Pepe Le Pew and somewhat rapey. Susan and Dale eventually work things out and only later on, do the Captain and Gopher suspect that some cross dressing tomfoolery might have taken place.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this episode, however, is the way Julie just gives out passenger information to anyone who asks. Clearly there were no privacy laws on the Pacific Princess.
Until next week, remember to let it flow, because it floats back to you.
Fun Fact: Gopher is a Yeoman Purser, or ” the person on a ship responsible for the handling of money on board.”