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.
A Very Special Girl / Until the Last Goodbye / The Inspector
Ah, there’s nothing like rewatching an episode of The Love Boat that you used to adore but have completely forgotten about. This week there are two of them!
A distinguished older gentleman is expectantly watching passengers come aboard the ship. Julie assures him “Don’t worry, she’ll make it!” assuming that he’s waiting for his lady love. She also expresses to Gopher and Doc that a man like that certainly can’t be single (what is it with Julie and old guys?). Soon enough, Mrs. Sarah Lambert arrives and the older gentleman – named Brian Sherwood – greets her enthusiastically. Hrm, an extramarital affair? On The Love Boat?
Another attractive lady on the ship is receiving male attention. She’s a blonde named Melanie, on the cruise with her good friend Jane, played by plucky Debralee Scott (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). But Melanie can hardly go five steps without someone hitting on her, including Doc and Gopher. Jane warns Melanie that if she gets any more suitors, “this side of the ship is gonna list.” Well-played, Jane.
Captain Stubing has a hot tip: an inspector is scheduled on this trip, to observe the crew in action and provide feedback to the cruise line. He’s sort of like a restaurant critic, because he won’t be revealing his identity, which means that the crew is going to have to be on their best behavior. Julie assures him that they always are. Well, except for a man named Mr. Zidreczky, who apparently only speaks Polish and constantly repeats the same Polish phrase throughout the episode, sort of like a recurring Laugh-In character. Could he be “The Inspector”?
Jim Backus plays Mr. Waterman, who insists that his suit is “casual wear.” When the crew notices him writing things in a notebook and timing how long he’s been waiting in line, they start to think he might be the inspector. But no, he’s just the author of some well-loved children’s books.
The crew also wonders if another passenger, the seemingly dim-witted Mrs. Corwin, might be the inspector. No one can be that dumb! It must be an act! But no, she really is that dumb and the constant ship to shore phone calls she makes are to her daughter, who paid for the cruise. (BTW, not everyone thinks Mrs. Corwin is dumb; she and Mr. Waterman hook up in the end.)
Jane is not having a very good time, although she’s trying to make light of it to cover her dismay. When Melanie comes out of the bathroom in a red bikini, Jane looks disheartened. “You’ll get the dates and I’ll get the pits!” she jokes. Who could blame her? Between Doc, Gopher, and two fellow passengers, Mike and Doug, Melanie is bombarded with men.
Sarah and Brian have their own problems. He’s got a nasty cough; she admits she’s staying with her husband despite a bad marriage “because of the kids.” Observing the couple, Julie, Doc, and Gopher think that they have a special bond, but Gopher feels like Mr. Sherwood is too old for the much-younger Sarah.
Melanie and her main suitor Mike, convince Mike’s friend Doug to keep Jane occupied. She ends up having to stay in Doug and Mike’s cabin one night when Melanie “entertains” Mike in her and Jane’s cabin. Jane insists on no hanky panky, but it’s obvious there’s a mutual attraction, especially when they take over the cabin the next night and put up the Do Not Disturb sign. When Melanie and Mike thank Doug for keeping Jane out of their hair, she overhears and thinks Doug’s affection is affected. She’s furious and storms off. But Doug follows her and tells her that’s not true! He loves her! And she loves him, too!
Sarah and Brian dance the night away while the crew watches, touched by their love for each other. When Brian gets the band to play one last song, “You and I,” and then sings to Sarah, she bursts into tears and runs away. Chasing her, Brian has a coughing fit and collapses. When Sarah goes to check on him, Doc and Stubing are there with some sad news and a note from Brian. It turns out that Brian’s health is declining rapidly and he’s gone to a hospital to die. It is also revealed that he’s her father. A private death was what they had agreed to, but Sarah can’t handle being away from him and convinces Stubing to tell her where he is. They arrange for her to meet him there so she can spend time with him “Until The Last Goodbye.”
Having still not discovered the identity of the inspector, Julie, Isaac, and Gopher must entertain the hundreds of passengers by the time the cruise ends. Thus, they are exhausted. When they dock, a young man runs on board asking about his father. It turns out that poor Mr. Zidreczky is his father and was dropping him off when he got stuck on the ship instead! The Polish phrase was, “Have you seen my son the inspector?”
In an interesting coda, Jane and Doug leave the ship clearly in love while Mike tells the expectant Melanie, “I’ll see you sometime.” Poor Melanie. It’s apparently Jane who’s “A Very Special Girl.”
Memories of You / Computerman / Parlez Vous?
Another winning episode! It’s a Valentine’s Day singles cruise and all of the crew are wearing adorable heart-shaped nametags. A “Computerman” is on board. It’s Frankie Avalon portraying Nick Heider, who is matching up passengers using a fancy computer program, sort of like Match.com but in 1978. Nick’s got eyes for Julie, whom he refers to as “Dollface,” but she wants none of it. On the other hand, poor Captain Stubing doesn’t have a match! Whomp whomp whomp.
In “Parlez vous?” there’s a pair of French-speaking women, Yvonne and Brigitte, the latter played by Love Boat MVP Barbi Benton. Gopher is transfixed by her beauty and insists on helping them by using a French-English dictionary. As we can tell right away, they are just faking to find gorgeous men. Well, Yvonne wants a rich man, but Brigitte just wants Gopher… and wants to tell him the truth.
Jamie Farr (do I really have to tell you this is Corporal Klinger from M*A*S*H?) is on the cruise as tycoon Seymour, along with his craggy-faced friend Walt. Yvonne puts the moves on Seymour and wants Brigitte to entertain Walt. But Gopher intercedes and manages to convince Walt that the phrase “pourquoi pas” means that he has a banana nose and feet like an elephant. My god, did I love this scene back in the day!
Yvonne schemes to spill wine on Gopher’s uniform and steal his clothes. When Stubing sees him wandering the halls wearing Yvonne’s housecoat, he calls him into his office, and thus he doesn’t get to spend the last night of the cruise with Brigitte. But Yvonne’s plan backfires when Brigitte speaks English as they’re leaving the ship and Seymour overhears. He immediately takes back the expensive ring he just gave Yvonne.
After a lot of flirting, Julie realizes that she and Nick have a lot in common (veal parmigiana, Frank Sinatra, and hot cocoa), even though Nick wears awful polyester clothes and Julie looks incredible in a backless red satin dress. However, his other matches aren’t working out so well.
Penny (Carole Ita White, a.k.a. Rosie Greenbaum from Laverne & Shirley) is an oversexed redhead paired with an intellectual who thinks she’s a “cultural desert.” Heather McKenzie, played by the always stunning and incredibly well-dressed Shelley Long, is a bookworm who is saddled with an egotistic cad who feels compelled to shave three times a day. Their other friend Betsy is stuck with a mustachioed fellow who finds her to be quite full of herself. I think you can tell where this is going… Nick’s computer program is a bust, but each of these passengers finds love with the right person in the end.
In “Memories of You,” the best segment of an already-great episode, Lilly (Patty Duke Astin) thinks she recognizes a fellow passenger. He says his name is Ted Wilcox, but she’s convinced he’s Alex Fowler. (He’s played by Rick Nelson.) She and Alex were lovers and songwriting partners at an ad agency years ago. They were going to be married but he mysteriously disappeared and she assumed he was dead, until now. She makes Doc her confidante in her confusion and he convinces her that if she likes this guy, it doesn’t matter what his “real” identity is. He also notes that maybe Alex suffers from stress-induced amnesia.
Ted says he’s a songwriter and when he plays a tune for Lilly, she recognizes it instantly as the “Cupid Cologne” jingle they wrote a few years ago. “Make her your own, with Cupid Cologne.” It’s actually quite a lovely melody. She tries to jog his memories gently by pointing out that he should try cognac (which Alex loved) and pointing out that they both are wearing the same rings (she and Alex had them custom made back in New York). They are starting to fall in love with each other – again – but Ted gets angry when Lilly refuses to move to California with him and calls him crazy.
After getting Doc’s advice, Lilly decides she doesn’t want to live in New York anymore. The Madison Avenue life isn’t what she wants. She wants to live with Ted and write songs together! “If you’re happy with what you’re doing, you’re not failing.” So they make up and in the end, it seems that Ted’s memories are even starting to come back.
Until next week, remember to let it flow, because it always floats back to you.
Fun Fact: It’s another flashback to Welcome Back, Kotter! Debralee Scott played Rosie “Hotsy” Totsy on several episodes of that iconic show.