In 1977, when other kids were discovering The Sex Pistols, I was discovering The Love Boat. I stayed at my grandparents’ house on most weekends, so on Saturday nights at 8 p.m., I’d settle down on the sofa with the two of them to watch Aaron Spelling’s marine masterpiece. This column is my attempt to reclaim the wonder of those weekends.
Romance Roulette / The Captain’s Captain / Hounded (A Dog’s Life)
Episode four opens with Donald Flanders (Gary Burghoff, better known as Radar from M*A*S*H) in a leisure suit and an unfortunate moustache. He’s totally pumped about spending ten days in the sun, which lets us know right away that’s not going to be his fate. You see, a security guard dog has gone missing and… you guessed it, like April Lopez, it has stowed away in Flanders’s cabin. Every time he tries to leave, the dog growls and barks aggressively at him. All attempts to distract and/or tranquilize the dog are futile and none of these people seem to have the first clue that this is actually a German Shepherd and not a tiger from the jungle.
It’s one of the most eye-rolling segments of The Love Boat thus far, even when it turns out the dog was pregnant and was just trying to protect her unborn pups. It’s a clunky reveal that doesn’t do a whole lot to save this uninformed drivel, but at least the dogs are cute.
Meanwhile, Captain Stubing, Senior (Retired) is on board making life miserable for his son through exacting and infuriating attention to detail and general busybody behavior. Things improve drastically for the crew and the viewer when “Stubby” falls for saucy ship’s cook P.J. Muldoon, played by vaudeville star, comedienne, and actress Judy Canova. Captain Stubing, Jr. proves to be shockingly boneheaded in his classist attitudes and soon he’s begging his father to be a part of his life instead of apart from it. Love and tolerance win out in the end. Did I mention that Phil Silvers portrays Stubing Sr.? Yep, he sure does.
The third plot line begins like the “screaming woman reunion” but it’s eventually revealed to be a long-awaited get together for three old friends from college: two swinging singles named Toby and Beth (played by Susan Heldford and Growing Pains’ mom Joanna Kerns, respectively) and one spinster, English Prof Regina (Jane Curtin). The “Romance Roulette” game upon which they embark is pretty crass, but hey, equal rights and feminism, right? The plan is to pick a secret code word that only the three women know. When a seemingly eligible bachelor utters that word, the women have to pursue him. This romance is JUST for the cruise; no commitments are involved.
This gets hairy (literally) when Regina falls for Frank Vallone, the ship’s plumber. Like Regina, he’s got a hankering for Lord Byron. Better still, it turns out he is a budding poet. (One wonders why the title “The Poet and the Plumber” wasn’t used instead.) When Frank finds out about the game,he tries to dump Regina but wonder of wonders, it turns out she’s in love with him, too, so they get engaged. After three days, who could blame them?
Dear Beverly/ The Strike / Special Delivery
The regular chef on the Pacific Princess is out with appendicitis, so fill-in chef Antonio Borga is dispatched to help. He and Captain Stubing hate each other because of the latter’s fondness for ketchup. Or something. Al Molinaro from Happy Days portrays Borga like a cross between Mario and Chef Boyardee but with a huge ego. His refusal to apologize to Stubing for something incites the cooking staff to go on strike, leaving the Captain, Julie, Gopher, Issac, and Doc to kitchen duties in one of the more sitcom-y situations ever to appear on The Love Boat. Things are eventually resolved, to the great relief of the crew and the viewers.
Julie seems romantically interested in long time friend of the Pacific Princess, travel writer Jeff Smith, played by a shockingly handsome Bob (a.k.a. Robert) Urich. Their first kiss, however, doesn’t go well and that awkward scene gets Jeff to admit he’s still in love with his ex-wife, the one he walked out on for another woman nine months before, the same one who’s super pregnant and also on the same cruise. (For real, you guys, was the Pacific Princess the only cruise ship in North America in 1978?) The stubborn estranged couple finally reconcile just in time for Gail to go into labor and for Doc to prove that yes, he is a real doctor, by delivering the baby.
Eva “Not Zsa Zsa” Gabor is famous advice columnist and TV star “Dear Beverly” Blanchard, whose long-suffering and frequently ignored husband Russ gets so tired of her workaholic, grandstanding, self-centered behavior that he starts an affair with another passenger. Which Beverly sees in action and then decides she’s going to take a break from work. Leslie Nielsen is Russ in this segment and as likeable as he usually is, he comes across like a real dick, regardless of how Beverly treats him. It’s a fairly distasteful narrative that seems to revel in rewarding bad behavior instead of chastising it.
Until next week, remember to let it flow, because it always floats back to you.
Fun Fact: Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor are not twins but regular siblings. They even have an older sibling named Magda who has a remarkably bare IMDB page.