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Thursday, July 23, 2009

THE LOVE BOAT: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO -- DVD review by porfle

Recently I've begun to develop a perverse enjoyment of extremely cheesy 70s and 80s television shows that I wouldn't have been caught dead watching during their first run. Curious to test my newfound ability to withstand anything the likes of Aaron Spelling could launch at me, I was eager to take on one of the all-time undisputed champeens of cheese, "The Love Boat." So as soon as I got my mitts on the new four-disc, 12-episode DVD collection THE LOVE BOAT: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO, it was on, baby! DING!

Actually, once you resign yourself to how silly and totally corny it all is, the show isn't that hard to like at all. If you're looking for "Playhouse 90", you're on the wrong boat. And who doesn't want to spend a little time on a cruise ship with a fun-loving crew and dozens of pop culture icons gettin' it on with each other? As one of the first and best of these "Grand Hotel"-style multi-plot, multi-guest star shows, "The Love Boat" is simply a boatload of dumb fun.

The first episode alone features none other than Abe Vigoda and Nancy Walker sharing romantic dialogue on deck with a scenic sunset in the background. Also representing the older set in later episodes are: Ray "Scarecrow" Bolger and Martha "Poli-Grip" Raye as high-school sweethearts who haven't seen each other in forty years; Arthur Godfrey and Minnie Pearl as eloping lovebirds on the run from their overprotective offspring (Elinor Donahue and Warren Berlinger); and Barry Nelson and Nanette Fabray as an empty-nest couple whose plans for a round-the-world vacation are deep-sixed by news of a surprise package.


One of the best of the show's December-December flings takes place when rich widow Celeste Holm winds up on the same cruise with her vacationing chauffeur, John Mills, and they discover that they're in love with each other. The awkward situation builds to a romantic crescendo (with that same sunset in the background) which actually has some pretty decent writing for a change, and a couple of seasoned actors with the talent to turn it into something substantial. The director goes in for some tight closeups in this scene because he knows that old pros Holm and Mills are working this material for all it's worth.

On the flip-side, where things are just plain goofy, we get Ron "Horshack" Palillo as a magician filling in for his brother in the ship's lounge and falling for his pretty assistant (Melinda Naud), who, incredibly, returns his affections. Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara play harried parents who can't get any private time away from their gaggle of brats, including a fledgling Corey Feldman. Roddy McDowell, surely one of the most ubiquitous actors of all time, plays a constantly sneezing dweeb who discovers he's allergic to his demanding bride-to-be Tammy Grimes. We also get to witness the startling sight of "Match Game" stars Gene Rayburn and Fannie Flagg sucking face like there's no tomorrow while her yappy little dog (the specially-billed "Cricket") tries to come between them. And...omigod...Charo. 'Nuff said.

The biggest surprise is that I didn't remember how serious some of these stories could get. We're talking actual soap-opera-level melodrama here. A man (Randy Mantooth) introduces his girlfriend (Cathy Lee Crosby) to his dad (Robert Mandan)...the girlfriend and the dad fall in love...the son blows his top and dad slaps him! Elsewhere, Craig Stevens is a WWII vet wounded on Omaha Beach, suddenly reunited after all these years with the only woman he ever loved (Cyd Charisse), only to find her attached to some young French stud named Francoise. This is classic "women's picture" stuff just like all the studios were churning out back in the 40s and 50s.

Even when Sonny Bono guests as Deacon Dark, a ludicrous cross between Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons, it's played mainly for bathos because Sonny really wants to be a lounge singer (despite resistance from his materialistic manager, Arte Johnson). This is compounded when he meets a cute deaf girl who falls for the real Sonny and "listens" to his sensitive ivory-tinking by feeling the vibrations in his piano. Talk about laying it on with a trowel--you gotta love it!


Gavin McLeod plays Captain Stubing, the distinguished and very proper main man of the Love Boat, and it's nice to see McLeod in a successful starring role after all those years as a second banana on shows like "McHale's Navy" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Too bad he's usually the straight man for his wacky underlings here, since he was always pretty adept at comedy himself. He does get his share of dramatic subplots and sappy love affairs, as evidenced by this hair-curling exchange:

"Hey, hey...eyes as lovely as yours shouldn't be clouded with tears."
"You say the nicest things."
"Only to the nicest people."

Future four-term Iowa congressman Fred Grandy is Yeoman-Purser "Gopher" Smith, easily the biggest idiot on the ship. Gopher takes center stage in some of the silliest stories, as when his supermodel dreamgirl (the always delightful Hayley Mills) comes aboard and he retreats into a Walter Mitty-style fantasy world, or the one in which he overhears a couple of murder-mystery writers (Peter Lawford, Dana Wynter) discussing their next book and thinks they're planning to kill the Captain. Surprisingly, the season finale features Gopher in one of the most dramatic scenes of the whole set when he has an extremely emotional reconciliation with his estranged father (Bob Cummings).

The concept of Bob Cummings and a Godzilla-like Ethel Merman playing Gopher's parents is almost too much to bear, as is the big finale with father and son crooning a comedy version of "Sonny Boy" to each other during the crew's "Talent Night" show. And yet, like everything else that happens on this series, I feel compelled to watch. I guess it's just one of the mysteries of life.

As Isaac, the ship's bartender with the chipper attitude and big kid smile, Ted Lange is one of the brightest performers on the show. Isaac is always there to help the passengers get sloppy drunk and to dole out helpful advice when they unload their sob stories on him. I like the episode where Isaac's old friend Reggie Jackson books passage to get away from all the constant fan adoration, only to have his ego crushed when nobody on board recognizes him. But even Isaac has his serious side, which we see when he tries to help a troubled young girl who's a convicted shoplifter by getting her a job in the gift shop. Sure enough, a pair of expensive pearl earrings turn up missing.


Bernie Kopell as ship's medic "Doc" Bricker is another TV veteran who excels at light comedy while also handling some pretty bleak material, such as the episode in which his old surgeon friend (Richard Anderson) is dealing with the loss of an arm in a car crash while his wife (Diana Muldaur), stricken with guilt for having caused the accident, suffers an addiction to prescription drugs. Less turgid and a lot more fun is the time one of Doc's several ex-wives (Tina Louise) hires narcissistic pretty-boy Lyle Waggoner to pose as her new fiance to make Doc jealous.

Lauren Tewes, who, sadly, would later have to leave the show due to her own real-life drug problems, is all winsome and chipper as cruise director Julie McCoy. Her character comes to the fore in one of the set's two feature-length episodes, in which Julie's high-school graduating class has its ten-year reunion on board the ship. This episode is loaded with guest stars and subplots, including a self-destructing alcoholic teacher (Raymond Burr), a wheelchair-bound Viet Nam vet (Michael Cole), his best friend who is wracked with guilt for evading the draft (John Rubinstein), and a heavy-set gal (Conchata Ferrell) who has a fling with Doc until she suspects him of ridiculing her behind her back. Also appearing in this one are Christopher George as a famous TV star and Bob "Gilligan" Denver as the class dork.

Looking cuter than I've ever seen her in anything else, Kim Darby (TRUE GRIT) plays a classmate trying to uncover the identity of a secret admirer within the group's ranks, which gives her an excuse to get romantic with just about all the male guest stars. Julie, meanwhile, shows her ruthless side as she tries to steal handsome disco instructor Michael Lembeck away from a pre-nosejob Lisa Hartman. Much of the episode's later scenes take place during a big disco party, which is typical of the show's obsession with this much-reviled dance craze. There's nothing like seeing a ballroom full of people with absolutely no sense of rhythm boogeying down like a bunch of brain-damaged storks.

In addition to those already mentioned, this collection's incredible roster of guest stars includes Phyllis Davis, "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall, Barbara Rush, Elaine Joyce, Bobby Van, Carol Lynley, Hans Conried, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Ben Murphy, Donna Pescow, David Hedison, Juliet Mills, Telma Hopkins, Debbie Allen, Maren Jensen, Dennis Cole, Samantha Eggar, Paul Burke, Arlene Dahl, James Dobson, Leslie Nielsen, Jill St. John, and Charlie Callas. Ken Berry and Beth Howland star in one of the show's most moving segments about a woman who is trying in vain to be accepted by the daughters of the widower she's just married. Howland, of TV's "Alice", is particularly good here.

Aside from the opening titles and some of the stock footage used on the show, the picture quality here is pretty good. The DVD image is 4.3 full-screen with Dolby Digital sound. English and Spanish subtitles and closed-captioning are available. Each episode comes with its original promo, which is the set's sole bonus feature.

By the time I got to the final episodes of THE LOVE BOAT: SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO, I was actually looking forward to the next sappy romantic adventures aboard the Pacific Princess. Not only that, but I caught myself singing along with the theme song! Aaron Spelling strikes again, and another hapless TV junkie winds up with a Gopher on his back.

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1 comment:

Sean B. Halliday said...

First off, I have to say that I LOVE cruise ships.
I spent over 12 years working on them as a Scuba Instructor,
Shore Excursion Manager and an IT Officer.

For 2 years I also worked shoreside in Miami as a database IT guy.

During my years on ships, I have to stay that many things happened
and that life is definately stranger than fiction on cruise ships.

Many people have asked me to share the stories I have collected over
the years, so I am complying with their request.

My site is: www.cruiseshipstories.com

If you had any stories of your own to add, please
send them to me and I will be happy to add them.

Sean B. Halliday
www.cruiseshipstories.com