The Love Boat, Season 4, Episode 11, “That’s My Dad/The Captain’s Bird/Captive Audience”
Original airdate December 20, 1980
It was the 1980s and I used to be a child savant with the TV Guide. After my dad came home from work, he’d sit back on the sofa and ask me what was on the television schedule for the night. I’d tell him exactly what would be on after the news. Our favorite nights were the double bill of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Both executively produced by Aaron Spelling, the series had similar scenario set-ups: three stories that take place in a constrained one-hour setting (Fantasy Island: the island, The Love Boat: the boat). Each of these storylines would have different writers and would sometimes intersect with one another, and starred a variety of celebrity guests.
The Love Boat consisted of Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), Doctor “Doc” Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell), Ship’s Purser “Gopher” Smith (Fred Grandy), Bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), Cruise Director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), and the captain’s daughter Vicki Stubing (Jill Whelan). The three storylines of this particular episode I’m recapping are: “That’s My Dad”, “The Captain’s Bird” and “Captive Audience”.
“That’s My Dad” stars Dirk Benedict (aka the original Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica and Face in the original A-Team) as Jeff, Meeno Peluce as Scotty and Beth Scheffell as Cathy. Jeff is a playboy who’s on the cruise to find romance. He spots Cathy as soon as he arrives and begins to flirt with her throughout the cruise. Scotty is a child stowaway. Scotty passes himself off as Jeff’s son when he is spotted by members of the crew (unbeknownst to Jeff, of course), and spends the rest of the cruise latching on to Jeff when not hiding. Little by little, Scotty’s story starts to unravel into some dark truths when the Captain notices bruises on the boy’s back. The crew realizes that Scotty has stowed on to the ship. Jeff turns out to be a lawyer and feels bad because he would dismiss the kid for being a brat. He finds him some help and offers Scotty a way out of his predicament. The story wraps up with Jeff finding a new girlfriend in Cathy and a possibly new son in Scotty.
“The Captain’s Bird” is the comedic portion of the episode. The Captain buys a parrot as a Christmas present for Vicki. However, the bird doesn’t know how to talk. Stubing hands the parrot over to Gopher and Isaac and they promise they’ll have the bird talking in no time. Through the frustrated efforts of the boys, the bird ends up learning to say, “Captain Stubing is a jerk!” In the end, Vicki accepts her present with glee, but in the spirit of Christmas offers to give it to someone less fortunate.
“Captive Audience” stars real life father and son duo Allan Jones and Jack Jones (Jack Jones is actually the singer of the series theme song) as Bobby Braddock senior and junior. Dorothy Lamour is Lil Braddock and Laraine Stephens plays Jack’s wife, Susan. Bobby Jr. is the featured act in the cruise’s famous Acapulco Lounge (where the music is mostly Vegas lite-fare and very slow adult contemporary. Think elevator music with a bit of disco.). Bobby Senior and Junior have been estranged for many years after Junior went off to be a solo singer. Susan and Lil have conspired to get the two back on talking terms by having them surprise meet during a performance. This all backfires on them when Bobby Sr. walks out leaving Bobby Jr. feeling dejected and embarrassed. Eventually through interactions with other stories, the two recognize their stubbornness is keeping them from being a family again. The father and son reunite for Christmas celebrations and all is well with the world.
Christmas is really just a background to the three plot lines, but it connects them via the spirit of the holidays: generosity, compassion, and community. The topic of child abuse and homelessness is a tough one for such a light-hearted show, but it’s handled with a delicate balance of concern and humor within the ship’s crew.
Honestly, I’ve never been held in a moment of suspense or felt scared while watching the show. Its characters were like cartoon staples: Julie with her constant welcoming smile; Isaac ready to hear everyone’s problems at the bar; Gopher being his goofy fun-loving self; Doc being the kind Casanova; Vicki being bubbly and remarkably well-adjusted for a kid being raised by a single father on a cruise ship and the fatherly Captain Stubing always ready with his sage advice with a bit of an eccentric flair. Their actions were predictable and the stories set among the tourist haven of Mexico, not much could go too terribly wrong in an hour.
This Christmas episode was memorable for me, not because of the dark storyline of “That’s My Dad”, but because in many ways, the holidays were treated like every other day on The Love Boat. Just earlier that month, John Lennon had been shot and the holidays felt a little dimmer as a result. The commercial normalization of the holidays was an escape and the show definitely provided that with little of the usual tear-jerking fodder that tends to happen on TV at that time of year. You’d just know that come the New Year, the Captain and his crew would continue in the same merry spirits. I think in many ways, this is what many holiday specials lack. It’s the idea that the holidays are a way of celebrating the everyday and the spirit of the people you let into your lives; that’s what’s important. In many ways, this is why serial shows like Doctor Who are emboldened by their holiday specials. They are set apart from their regular themes because of the seasons, but they give the viewer a sense of continuity, a comfort, if you may, to the lonely viewer, the one who wants the escape, or the one who just needs a laugh during what can be one of the most depressing days of the year.
Historically, this show isn’t of significant importance, but it was for the year it was broadcast. The end of 1980 had the releases of new The Police and AC/DC albums, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, Lennon was no longer with us, and inklings of what would become the World Wide Web were beginning to take shape. The Love Boat would run for nine seasons and four specials. Every show had the same format and they offered the same comfort every week. There’s no way a show like it would survive in today’s demand of reality shows and hyped up sitcoms. It was a wholesome series despite the slight debaucherous tone of the Acapulco Lounge. Television would evolve beyond sight gags, slapstick, and suspending one’s disbelief. This is a good thing because in reality, complex storylines solved to a fruitful conclusion within an hour are ridiculous.
That being said, it was quite the amusing thing to hear myself yelling things like: “Why are their shorts so short!” or “Well, that’s not at all funny! How in the world is that funny?” or “Why are they so happy? That kid is still homeless!” Re-watching old shows like this just goes to show that my heart still loves the 80s, but my brain is pretty happy to be existing in the here and now. In this day and age, the future continues to be a gift after all.