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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two
The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two
Paramount // Unrated // August 12, 2008
List Price: $36.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted August 6, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Author's note: As regular consumers of TV on DVD know, the marketing gimmick of splitting up complete seasons of vintage TV series into two separately released volumes has become, regrettably, an increasingly common practice. Having written an in-depth review of The Love Boat: Season One, Volume One back in May, and since stylistically and aesthetically, there is no difference between the first and second half of that particular 1977-1978 season, I've rewritten my original review of that season to cover this Volume Two release - with important additional commentary added at the end, discussing specific episodes from this volume, along with a discussion of an intriguing bonus feature that's been included on this set - the third made-for-TV film, 1977's The New Love Boat (the final pilot for the series) - which pointed the way towards quite a different Love Boat.

Love. Exciting and new.
Come aboard. We're expecting you.
Love, life's sweetest reward.
Let it flow. It floats back to yooooooooooou.
The Love Boat! Soon will be making another run!
The Love Boat! Promises something for everyone!
Set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance.
And love...
Won't hurt anymore.
It's an open smile, on a friendly shore.
Yes, love!
It's love!
Welcome aboard, it's loooooooooooove!

It's Love, American Style on water! Or, "Nine Years of Constant Nautical Fornicating and Not One Sexual Harassment Law Suit?" CBS DVD and Paramount has released The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two on a four-disc, 12-episode collection that is, in my humble opinion, one of the three or four classic litmus tests for whether or not you truly love TV. Now I'm not just talking about "liking" TV. We all like TV, whether we admit it or not. And we all watch it, despite those few poor liars we work with or know who sniff, "I never watch TV." No, I'm talking about "loving" TV, as in "I was born and raised on endless hours and hours of absolute junk crammed into my head from the earliest possible age" kind of TV. Some of TV is good, or even great; a very small portion of it you could even call "art" (whatever that is). But an awful lot of it is puerile swill, and you have to love that - faults and all - before you can say you love the medium of TV as a whole.

Now, I'm making a point here. I don't think for a second that The Love Boat is "puerile swill" - not at all. In fact, I think it's light and fluffy, and rather charming in its openly calculated, commercial way. But most "TV critics" in 1977 certainly hated it, and over the years, the words "The Love Boat" have become an easy, convenient way for people who haven't seen the series to take a cheap shot when comparing other shows thought to be similarly brainless or trivial. But I take my stand and say, "Nay!" There are quite a few pleasures to be derived from The Love Boat, particularly in the earlier seasons, and just as importantly, The Love Boat gave a lot of pleasure to millions and millions of fans who responded to its silly premise and its sunny, innocent, sweet-natured attitude. And I'll take that aim any day over TV that deliberately offends, or shocks, or titillates, or exploits, in the specious pursuit of faux-gritty, spuriously "real," bogus "art."

Now, a little background for the younger viewers who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. The Love Boat series grew out of a series of three TV specials guided by producers Aaron Spelling (Charlie's Angels) and Douglas Cramer (Dynasty), based loosely on a best-selling tell-all about cruise ships called The Love Boats. The first TV movie, The Love Boat, aired in September, 1976 (featuring none of the series' actors), and was a surprise hit in the ratings. A second TV movie, The Love Boat II was quickly commissioned for January, 1977. Fred Grandy as Gopher, Ted Lange as Isaac the bartender, and Bernie Kopell as the ship's doctor (called Dr. O'Neill here), all soon to be regulars on the series, appeared for the first time here. A third TV movie, The New Love Boat aired during the May sweeps of 1977 and garnered even bigger ratings, with new actors Gavin MacLeod (as Captain Merrill Stubing) and Lauren Tewes (as Cruise Director Julie McCoy) rounding out the soon-to-be iconic cast. High ratings for all three TV movies made it a cinch that The Love Boat would sail on ABC's 1977's Fall slate.

The premise for the series was quite simple (and therefore, comfortably predictable week after week). The crew of the Pacific Princess, docked in Los Angeles, welcomed aboard six hundred passengers every week for a three-day cruise down to Mexico (usually Puerto Vallarta). And among those six hundred passengers, the TV audience would get to know about half a dozen or so, featured (usually) in three subplots during the hour-long episode (structured similarly to ABC's earlier anthology hit, Love, American Style, but with the ship's crew providing better linkage and continuity between the three short stories). The ship's crew featured prominently within these subplots (particularly Julie, whose romantic life was fodder for many episodes), where they interacted with the passengers as well as having stories centered around their jobs and lives aboard the Pacific Princess.

Cruise Director Julie McCoy was the incredibly perky, corn-fed, blue-eyed beauty who was responsible for making sure everyone on board had a good time, aided frequently in her duties by good-natured goof Yeoman Purser Burl "Gopher" Smith (Fred Grandy). Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), the head bartender on the Pacific Princess, always had a ready smile for the passengers, while Ship's Doctor (and resident Lothario) Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell) always had a ready bed for any gorgeous girl who happened to cross his path (and there were plenty of them). Overseeing this energetic, happy crew was the stern, fatherly Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) who often had to warn his eager, rambunctious crew to stay in line and maintain the dignity expected of them on board ship. But often, Captain Stubing would let down his guard and show the crew that he was human, and capable of sharing in their fun.

As for the passengers this first half season, they consisted mainly of TV stars on the way up or on the way down (increasingly over the years, and particularly in this second half of the season, The Love Boat would become a haven for former glamorous stars of the silver screen). Lots of actors from other ABC hits show up (Dick Van Patten from Eight is Enough, Diana Canova showing up again, from Soap), along with visits from popular competing network stars like Maude' Adrienne Barbeau or Chico and the Man's Scatman Crothers, picking up a fast buck for a couple of days work.

The revolving subplots on The Love Boat didn't vary greatly from episode to episode, consisting of standard romantic comedy conflicts such as a suitor pursuing an unwilling lover, a married couple trying to rekindle their old flame, the sudden appearance of a former lover disrupting someone's current relationship, or the inevitable attraction of total opposites. Leftover "shocking" taboos that hadn't been shocking to anybody for years - such as divorce, living together unmarried, one-night stands - were grafted onto the familiar stories (some straight, some slapstick) to give them an air of "with-it-ness" while giving the whim-whams to all the grannies out their waiting to see their favorite stars on the tube. And of course, any troubling suggestions that this largely dysfunctional romantic world view pictured on The Love Boat might actually be real, were gleefully dashed at the end of each episode: happily, all the newly formed (or reconstituted) couples filed out past the crew, letting the audience know that love had once again triumphed.

A real trip down memory lane for viewers who grew up during the 1970s, The Love Boat is a great exercise in, "Hey, who the hell is that? when spotting actors who look vaguely familiar, but for whom a name can't be placed. At this early point, the series hasn't yet employed the neat trick of superimposing the faces of the guest stars over their names in the porthole opening credits, so we can say, "Hey, David Groh! Rhoda's husband's going to be on tonight!" As well, The Love Boat provided a low-charge vicarious thrill for many Americans who still viewed taking a cruise as a relatively luxurious novelty in 1977. With quite a few scenes staged on the actual cruise liners, viewers were given the impression that all one had to do was buy a ticket on a cruise, and all their unhappy romantic realities would be whisked away by the smiling, friendly Love Boat crew (according to some, the series was instrumental in broadening the appeal of cruising to the general public).

Certainly the spirited, talented cast had something to do with the popularity of the show, as well. Gavin MacLeod, an unusual choice to head up the show, was probably the most familiar name in the cast, having just come off the highly successful The Mary Tyler Moore Show as that series' resident one-liner king - a role that Bernie Kopell, also familiar to TV fans for his numerous appearances on previous series like Get Smart! and Bewitched, inherited here as the wisecracking, bed-hopping Dr. Bricker. Getting most of the good jokes (as well at being the most adept at delivering them), Kopell acted as the show's resident Lothario, which the matrons at home ate up. I remember reports at the time, as well, commenting on MacLeod's status as a middle-aged "sex symbol" for all the little dears out there watching the show (my grandmother thought he was "cute" with his shiny bald head, piercing blue eyes and blazing white shorts). I don't think anyone would have predicted that out of all the cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gavin MacLeod would be the one to have the most successful post-series career, but he's excellent here, providing just the right amount of authority that the role needs, while balancing his skillful comedy timing.

As for the newcomers, Ted Lange as Isaac was an instant hit with viewers, coming off as the most relaxed and laid-back member of the Pacific Princess (he was also lucky to create the one identifiable trademark move out of the whole show: the jaunty pointed finger at the audience with an accompanying big grin, seen in the opening credits). Fred Grandy's Burl Smith hasn't become too over-the-top yet with his boyish goofiness, while lovely Lauren Tewes pretty much takes center stage as the series' lead character, based on her dominating the story lines during this first season. Clearly, Spelling and Cramer saw the value of having Tewes take the spotlight to attract the largely female audience for The Love Boat. And she's quite effective, making sweet, pretty Julie the kind of career girl women either wanted to be, or for the older viewers, the kind of woman they wanted their sons or grandsons to bring home (I admit to having a terrible crush on her for several months this first season, since I always caught The Love Boat at my grandmother's, where it was required "safe" Saturday night viewing).

Initially premiering in September, 1977, at 10:00pm on Saturday nights, The Love Boat moved back down an hour to the more family-friendly 9:00pm time slot at mid-season, and stayed there on Saturday nights for the next seven and a half years, becoming a Saturday night tradition for many families. Initially put up against former powerhouse The Carol Burnett Show (which had dropped out of the Nielsen Top 30 the year before), and the underperforming The NBC Saturday Night Movie, The Love Boat proved to be an immediate hit with audiences, coming in as the 14th most popular show of the year. Saturday nights were weak for the networks in 1977. CBS' sterling Saturday night lineup had lost some of its luster, with The Bob Newhart Show and The Jeffersons out of the Top 30. NBC's The Bionic Woman, a hit the year before, was soon to disappear, while ABC's run-up to The Love Boat was faltering, as well, with Fish, Operation Petticoat and former hit Starsky and Hutch failing to perform.

So The Love Boat, coupled with Spelling's other soon-to-be smash Saturday night hit, Fantasy Island, which came in as a mid-season replacement in January, 1978, in The Love Boat's old 10:00pm slot, seemed like a sunny breath of fresh air for audiences looking for a little bit of escapism during the weekend. Sure it was silly and corny overall, and even maudlin at times, but it never talked down to its audience. The Love Boat was very clear about its intentions: if viewers took the time to tune in, The Love Boat would provide an hour of light entertainment that might make them feel just a little bit better than they did when the show started. The Love Boat respected the experience of watching "disposable" TV by making the series as pleasant as possible. A little romance, a little humor, some glamour from by-gone stars, and some exotic locales to liven up an hour of escapist TV watching. That's what The Love Boat was, nothing more nor less. And what's wrong with that?

Well...nothing, as I originally wrote back in May. But with the surprising bonus inclusion of 1977's third Love Boat TV movie - the TV movie that served as the final pilot for the series (with the entire iconic crew slotted into their roles for the first time) - it's interesting to see the direction in which the producers and the network may have gone with The Love Boat. Certainly the biggest change is evident in the Captain Stubing character. Regular fans of The Love Boat may be, shall we say, shocked, to see Captain Stubing initially portrayed not only as a mean, slightly vicious character (he coldly reams out everybody on board, particularly Gopher, because they have a past history together - Gopher blew up the yacht Stubing was piloting), but also as an unsavory lecher, asking no less than sweet, innocent Julie to be his pimp (!), pressuring her to find Georgia Engel (?) to be seated at his table for dinner - or else lose her job! Of course, they have Captain Stubing "reformed" at the end, evolving into something closer to the stern but ultimately understanding "father figure" he became in the regular series, but certainly this opening salvo of "Stubing-as-villain/lech" is a disquieting note.

As well, the tone of The New Love Boat film isn't nearly as comedic as the series; in fact, it's surprisingly serious. The main storyline, involving Phil Silvers as a dying passenger connecting, very briefly, with an aging Audra Lindley, is emotionally weighty, featuring a discussion between Silvers and Lindley on the nature of death, reincarnation, the soul, and how one must live his or her life to the fullest, that is quite out of the ordinary for the later series. Yes, "serious" subplots were often featured, but always shoehorned safely in among the comedy, and neatly wrapped up at the end (and usually with a happy ending). But here, there is no happy ending (although it's a "positive" ending), leaving the viewer with a sad, rather than happy, Love Boat experience (and I can't say enough about Phil Silvers' and Audra Landry's performances - they're nothing short of terrific here).

Even the crew of the Pacific Princess here is largely unfunny, coming off as more harried than humorous - when they're even seen. Clearly, the producers of this TV movie felt that the crew should stay on the sidelines while the passenger subplots took center stage. Julie, cute and adorable and sexy (in a girl-next-door way) in the series, is more overtly sexy here (I like her Toni Tennille flip hairdo, and she looks devastating, all glammed up, on the dance floor), but she's also more flustered and even a little shrill at times, and she isn't on screen nearly enough. Isaac is almost invisible, while Doc and Gopher are merely plot devices to keep the plotline balls juggled in the air. Featuring quite a bit of real location shooting on the actual Pacific Princess (which looks surprisingly grungy in many shots), there's a "reality" to The New Love Boat that may not sit well with longtime fans, either. Personally, I'll take the series' fake Lido Deck swimming pool, anytime.

And luckily, there are plenty of fun, fake, fantasy romances and comedy segments in these remaining twelve episodes of The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two to help you put The New Love Boat TV movie right out of mind. Proving the well-known adage that you'll never know who might just pop up on The Love Boat, Kathy Bates makes an appearance as a nervous bride (in the same episode with a seriously sleazy looking and acting Bob Crane). Don Adams makes an utter spectacle of himself in full mid-70s Studio 54 regalia, including painted-on corduroys (he "dresses" to the left), nylon shirts, gold chains, and a sweater tied around his neck - in a word: hilarious. A pop culture cross-promotional explosion almost cracks the earth in two when The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick hooks up with Bobby Sherman ("Iiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!"), while Patty Duke Astin brings Ricky Nelson ("Iiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!") back from amnesia! Isaac gets with the Black Power movement (and uses a racist term - "honky"), while Paul Burke dies with dignity (even though the crew thinks he's having an affair with his daughter). Frankie Avalon...in cherry red leather bell-bottomed pants and matching leather shirt, makes nasty and hits on Julie (she eventually succumbs to his charms, naturally). Barbie Benton wears the cutest, shortest little nothing as she scampers around the Lido Deck, while Harry Morgan cries when he's caught cheating at cards (the crew still loans him the money he needs to pay for the cruise...instead of hauling his ass off to jail). On a stronger note, acting-wise, Broadway veteran Frank Converse is excellent along with Welcome Back Kotter's Marcia Strassman (equally low-key and believable) as a thief and a cop who fall in love.

Soap's Diana Canova returns for her second go-around this season (what happened to her? She was really talented), while Elaine Joyce shows up in...a starched, white nurse's uniform. Complete with stockings, and, one must assume, a garter belt (smelling salts, please). And in some of the more bizarre events in this second half of the season, The Brady Bunch's Eve Plumb is a rotten Commie; Captain Stubing makes it with a cheerleader; and Julie tells diminutive Paul Williams, after a fun date as they're standing at her door, "If you want something...get it." And yes, she means a kiss...and more (again, she's sexy as hell, but...Paul Williams???). We even get a spectacular two-hour episode (evidently, the producers of the series felt confident enough in the initial ratings to go with this splashy two-parter mid-way through the first season - a vote of confidence that was well-deserved considering how long the series ran). Passengers include a bumbling gang of Disney-like jewel thieves: Harold Gould, John Schuck, Larry Storch, and Karen Valentine (looking awfully depressed); Desi Arnez, Jr. as a formerly blind, now sighted kid who reunites with formerly sighted, now blind Stephanie Zimbalist; playboy Dan Rowan hooking up with both his wife, Juliette Mills, and his lover, Adrienne Barbeau; Fernando Lamas and Michelle Lee (quite good together) as selfish movie stars, and even a Captain Stubing evil twin! Wow! Now that's a Love Boat episode (we even get the actors' images in the opening credit porthole, a gimmick the series will eventually utilize for every episode).

Here are the remaining 12, one-hour episodes of the four-disc set, The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two. A brief note: in very small type on the back of the DVD box, it states: "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions." If you're at all familiar with TV on DVD, you know, then, that this issue of edited TV episodes is probably the most hotly-debated discussion concerning the DVD format (with some people believing that the studios put this disclaimer on all vintage TV sets to cover any potential lawsuit). There is no indication of what the cuts might be (I noted the word "music" weren't included - which usually is to cover licensing problems), with the episodes timing out to around 50-51 minutes each, which seems about right for these 1977 run times (minus the commercials):

DISC ONE

Cinderella Story / Too Hot to Handle / Family Reunion
Kathy Bates and John Rubinstein can't seem to make love on their honeymoon; sleazy Bob Crane finally meets up with the daughter, Dori Brenner, he abandoned all those years ago; and Bruce Solomon pretends to be an ace ad man, acing out ad man Don Defore from businessman David White's lucrative contract.

Isaac's Double Standard / One More Time / Chimpanzeeshines
Ex-show biz partners (in business and in the bedroom) Don Adams and Nanette Fabray reunite to perform on The Love Boat; Isaac gets very nervous about his mom, Pearl Bailey, having sex; and Gopher shacks up with a chimp.

DISC TWO

Eyes of Love / Masquerade / Hollywood Royalty / The Caper
Desi Arnez, Jr. sees Stephanie Zimbalist for the first time (but she can't see him); Fernando Lamas maintains the crease in his pants, even around foxy wife Michele Lee; Juliet Mills can't decide whether or not to dump Dan Rowan when she discovers his lover, Adrienne Barbeau, on board (hmmm...dump him!); and Harold Gould, John Schuck, Larry Storch and Karen Valentine make No Deposit, No Return look like Citizen Kane.

Winner Take All / The Congressman Was Indiscreet / Isaac's History Lesson
Scatman Crothers embarrasses Isaac because he smiles a lot and wants to entertain people, regardless of their race; Vicki Lawrence, journalist, hooks up with Dick Van Patten, embattled congressman; and Maureen McCormick vies for a beauty contest...while banging one of the judges, Bobby Sherman.

Last of the Stubings / Million Dollar Man / The Sisters
Peter Isacksen (of C.P.O. Sharkey fame) is the ballet-loving nephew of Captain Stubing; Frank Converse, embezzler, falls for Marcia Strassman, cop; and Pat Crowley makes her sister, Marion Ross, quite jealous by falling in love with Brett Halsey.

DISC THREE

A Very Special Girl / Until the Last Goodbye / The Inspector
Paul Burke dies slowly in the arms of beloved daughter Susan Blanchard; Debralee Scott can't get arrested on The Love Boat; while everyone thinks persnickety Jim Backus is the secret cruise line inspector.

Memories of You / Computerman / Parlez Vous?
Frankie Avalon likes what he sees in Julie McCoy (hell, yeah); Patty Duke brings Ricky Nelson back into the light; and Barbie Benton hooks up with Gopher (lucky S.O.B.).

Taking Sides / Going by the Book / A Friendly Little Game
Diana Canova spars with hunky new husband Robert Urich; Georgia Engel...does her Georgia Engel thing; and Harry Morgan tries to dupe the crew out of their money with a marked deck of cards...and cries like a baby when he's caught.

A Selfless Love / The Nubile Nurse / Parents Know Best
Lynda Day George is the younger, hotter wife to oldster Leslie Nielsen (they look the same age); Monty Hall wants his son set up in a relationship; Elaine Joyce looks starched and pressed (and gorgeous) in her traditional nurse's uniform; and Joe E. Ross rolls his eyes in one of his last screen appearances.

DISC FOUR

Musical Cabins
Everybody thinks everybody is screwing everybody else. Dick Gautier, Michele Lee (again), statuesque Barbara Rhoades, beanpole Marcia Wallace, and elfin Paul Williams are the screwers and screwees.

This Business of Love / Crash Diet Crush / I'll Never Fall in Love Again
Michael Callan and Annette Funicello bond over their shared loss of a spouse (grim); Christopher George hooks up with delectable hooker Caren Kaye (of My Tutor fame); and Jessica Walter plays cheerleader under the sheets with Captain Stubing.

Pacific Princess Overtures / Gopher, the Rebel / Cabin Fever
Gary Collins works for Pat Morita while wooing Diane Baker; Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear!!!) has a secret affair; and Eve Plumb's a Commie!

The DVDs:

The Video:
Astonishingly, someone has done a superior job in either restoring or returning to the original elements for The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two, because it looks better than it ever did on TV in 1977, or in the thousands of its reruns. I've included a comparison of a shot from an episode promo (which approximates how the series looked the last time I saw it on TVLand) and from the cleaned-up episodes for DVD - it's quite a remarkable difference. Colors are saturated and correctly valued, and the full screen, 1.33:1 image is remarkably sharp for a 31-year-old series. The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two looks terrific.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 mix is in big fat mono, which is fine for this series (there's a Spanish mono mix, too). All dialogue is cleanly rendered, and English and Spanish subtitles are included.

The Extras:
In a big switch from the way most of these TV DVD sets are released, an actual, genuine bonus extra is included in this go-around (when the first volume had none). In addition to the original episode promos that ran right before the credits rolled for the show, lucky longtime fans of the show get to see the third made-for-TV movie, 1977's The New Love Boat, that served as the template for the series as we know it today. I've included a detailed look at the film in the above review.

Final Thoughts:
Synonymous with "junk TV," The Love Boat actually is a feather-light little confection, expertly conceived and executed, with a good cast and a well-meaning intention: to entertain. That's all. And it does so quite well in the remaining twelve episodes of this first season's second volume of episodes. And as a big bonus; fans actually get to see one of the made-for-TV films that inspired the series - since when has a releasing company ever included a bonus the second time around, when the first DVD release extras were bare? Good show, CBS DVD and Paramount! That's what the fans want. I highly recommend The Love Boat: Season One, Volume Two.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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