Judge John Floyd knows that an open smile on a friendly shore can lead to a lot of embarrassment and some serious physical discomfort if one isn't careful.
Our review of The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two, published August 25th, 2008, is also available.
"Love, exciting and new!"
Get ready for brainless fluff and B-list actors on the high seas!
Facts of the Case
In every episode of The Love Boat, celebrity guests climb aboard the Pacific Princess cruise ship hoping to find new love, rekindle an old flame, or salvage a relationship headed right for an iceberg. Playing Cupid to these moonlighting TV personalities are Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), Cruise Director Julie (Lauren Tewes), Yeoman Purser Gopher (Fred Grandy), Doc (Bernie Kopell), and Isaac the Bartender (Ted Lange). This DVD includes the first 12 episodes of the series:
Here's a typical episode of The Love Boat, summarized for your consideration:
Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons) and LaWanda Page (Sanford & Son) play a married couple whose relationship is built primarily on insulting one another. John Ritter (Three's Company) has been dumped by a sexy blonde and wants to follow her onto the ship, but the only available accommodations on the cruise are in a cabin with a single woman, so he must dress in drag in order to secure passage. Jaclyn Smith (Charlie's Angels) is the wife of a successful businessman who doesn't have time for her, but is so possessive that he hires a private detective (Dennis Cole) to follow her onto the ship and spy on her. Hemsley and Page get stuck on an elevator during the voyage and eventually stop bickering long enough to admit their love for one another. Despite being inexplicably irresistible to most of the male crewmembers while posing as a female, Ritter finds love with his new roommate, an attractive brunette who was dumped at the altar. Cole inadvertently falls for Smith and, after he confesses what he's been up to and she gets back to port to dump her husband, they become a couple. Roll credits.
On the surface, this might seem like frothy but reasonably entertaining stuff. Hemsley and Page built their careers on exchanging zinging one-liners with their costars, so one would expect some sidesplitting verbal volleys before the obligatory tender reconciliation. Unfortunately, everything on The Love Boat is homogenized and pasteurized for mass consumption, and the two veteran comic actors never seem to hit their stride. Their exchanges are, at best, modestly amusing, and never particularly cutting. In 1977, there were few young actors on television more likable than John Ritter. Likable, however, is not the same as believable in drag. Not only is Ritter completely unconvincing in a bad wig and flowery dress, but he is forced to contend with an equally incredible performance by the supposedly smitten MacLeod. The notion that on a luxury liner loaded from stem to stern with sunbathing bikini babes the Captain would fall head-over-heels for the 5'11," broad-shouldered, husky-voiced "Dale" is not just ludicrous; it's disturbing. Again, the program's safe, threadbare storytelling (a different director typically worked on each plot before the editing department spliced them all together into a single episode) generally prohibits Ritter from exhibiting any of the trademark slapstick and self-deprecation that made him a star on Three's Company. The Cole-Smith tale is the only "serious" romance in the episode, but consists primarily of the two playing backgammon and interacting with some other couple whose only purpose onboard seems to be to help the writers get the leads together. Predictably, all of these plotlines are tied up in neat little bows by episode's end, with almost no actual drama occurring along the way. The final result is a tale that, despite a capable cast of small-screen talent, has little conflict, few real laughs, and a trio of resolutions everyone could see coming from the moment the opening credits ended. And so it went on The Love Boat, for 10 long and virtually identical seasons.
In the show's defense, the by-the-numbers formula does grow on you a bit as the first half of Season One progresses, and there are some notable performances by some high-profile guest stars. Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H) and Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch) are excellent as a divorced couple learning to come to terms with their lingering bitterness toward one another, and Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) and Brenda Benét deliver genuinely touching turns as a sportswriter and a wheelchair-bound tennis star, respectively. There are admittedly a few laughs along the way, too. Michelle Lee is fun as a nervous wife who believes her husband is out to murder her, while Charo livens things up in the first of her many visits to the show as a Mexican stowaway forced to share Kopell's quarters. For every solid performance and modestly heartwarming or amusing storyline, however, there are plenty of clunkers. In the very first episode, for instance, we are treated not only to a tale loosely involving both Jimmy Walker (Good Times) and Suzanne Somers (Three's Company) hamming it up so badly that you want to travel back in time and punch them both in the face, but also a paper-thin plot in which Meredith Baxter-Birney tries to hide all the copies of a nudie mag she posed for from her politician fiancé—a cipher who doesn't appear on-screen for more than a couple seconds at a time or speak a single line of dialogue until the resolution scene! A later episode features a very young Scott Baio trying to impress a very young Kristy McNichol by repeatedly doing what is supposed to be an impression of some sort of mad scientist, but just makes his character seem mentally challenged. Ugh. It's a pre-pubescent fling that makes Baio's tawdry, pathetic reality show seem sweet and romantic by comparison. For that matter, Zapped! had more heart than this drivel.
The regular cast members are likable but somewhat inconsistent. Grandy would be fairly solid if he weren't asked to play the fool so often. Tewes is okay when given something to work with, but often is relegated to smiling and rolling her eyes at the guest stars' antics. Lange is handed a meaty romance with Diahann Carroll in one episode, but can't quite carry it off. MacLeod's performance is all over the place from one scene to the next. One minute, he's a believable and stalwart man of the sea, the next he's a stuffy comic foil, and the next he's stumbling over himself trying to put the moves on a cross-dressing John Ritter. Kopell, who came into the series with more experience in broad farce (Get Smart!) than the rest of the cast combined, is the only truly rock-steady principal player. His one-liners aren't always funny, but his delivery and characterization are consistent through all 12 episodes in this set.
Die-hard fans of this series will forgive its shortcomings, but they aren't likely to be so gracious toward Paramount's stingy presentation. The only extras in the three-disc set are the promos that originally aired before the opening titles. The 1976 pilot movie is not included. Worst of all, the distributor has opted to release this show in half-seasons. Loyal viewers who have waited patiently to see The Love Boat on DVD can expect to pay about $740 if they want to eventually own all ten seasons in their entirety, since the suggested retail price for this first partial year is $36.99. That's too much to pay for an incomplete season of any show, much less one that has not aged gracefully and comes without a single noteworthy bonus feature. A tender kiss between Juan Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter (Robert Hegyes) and Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick) may be a heady sight for those of us old enough to recognize both actors, but nostalgia buffs would probably be better served just buying full seasons of the shows that made them, and the rest of The Love Boat's celebrity guests, famous in the first place.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One indisputably fantastic thing about this show? It's iconic theme song! After the Mission: Impossible and The Jeffersons themes, this catchy, cocktail lounge standard (sung by Jack Jones) might be the most memorable and appropriately mood-setting piece of television music ever composed.
The Love Boat: Season One, Volume One is a difficult voyage for all but the most faithful fan, and a pricey one even for the most dedicated devotee of the long-running Aaron Spelling fluff-fest.
The folks at Paramount are guilty of piracy on the high seas for expecting
anyone to pay so much for so little. If this court had a plank, they'd be forced
to walk it. As it is, they are to be keel-hauled and forced to watch Scott Baio
mug like Peter Lorre on crystal meth over and over again until they jump
overboard of their own volition.
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