This year, I had to act on that threat.
'The Love Boat' wasn't so exciting and new by 1983. It was in its 7th season, and roundly deserved its reputation as a repository for washed-up actors coasting on their name recognition. Along for the ride with Ursula in this particular episode were Lee Majors (The 6 Million Dollar Man), Erin Moran (Happy Days), John Forsythe (Dynasty), Linda Evans (also Dynasty) and Michael Constantine (any movie or TV show requiring a slow-moving, doughy bald man between 1949 and 2003).
As was traditional on 'The Love Boat', the narrative blended several individual storylines. Linda Evans falls in love with Lee Majors, then flounces away when she discovers he works in a field she doesn't like, but returns when he pats her silly female hand and tells her it's all okay. Meanwhile Susan Anton falls in love with Bernie Koppel, then flounces away when she discovers he works in a field she doesn't like, but returns when he pats her silly female hand and tells her it's all okay. At the same time, Patricia Klous and Erin Moran both fall in love with Lee Horsley, then flounce away when they discover the existence of each other, but return when he chooses one over the other, pats both of their silly female hands and tells them it's all okay.
I don't think these episodes were written by Andrea Dworkin, somehow.
Fortunately, Ursula wasn't required to put up with any of this flaky crap. Her story is one of love at first sight between a dying woman ticking items off her bucket list and gentleman criminal on the run. She's trying to elude the Grim Reaper, and he's trying to dodge the detective who's tracked him down. In between they relish their time together before they're dragged off to jail, or the grave, or both.
The other traditional part of a standard episode of 'The Love Boat' was a lot of fawning blather about this week's cruise destination. For Ursula's episode, it was China, which was a strange choice for a frothy TV soap in 1983, given that China was still a closed hardcore Communist dictatorship at the time, before the fall of the Soviet Union, the return of Hong Kong and the boom of the last quarter century. And with all that's happened since then, it's a little disconcerting to hear characters gush about the wonders of Tienanmen Square (which can apparently hold a million people, although presumably fewer if they've been flattened and spread out by tanks).
It's also amusing to hear characters burbling to each other about how "beautiful" everything is, despite the fact that it's TV and we can actually SEE the drab grimy buildings and listless grey trees behind them. When the most refined thing in a scene is Linda Evans' purple rayon blouse, something's not right.
Linda Evans' purple rayon blouse is emblematic of the only interesting thing in 'The Love Boat': the costumes. The words the actors are saying and the things they are doing aren't words spoken or things done by real human beings. They're not aspects of storytelling; they're lines in a formula that's been churning out scripts for seven seasons. But the costumes have space for creativity. They still don't make sense - Ursula manages to wear three full changes of outfit on a single day trip, despite not taking any luggage with her - but they're rich with the fashion semiotics of the late 70s and early 80s. Pastels, pantsuits, artificial fibres, shoulder pads and a horrible predilection for beige.
The very worst thing about this episode of 'The Love Boat' is the way that it treated our Ursula. She was a vivacious 47 year old, with a 3 year old child and a 31 year old lover. And yet here she is, forced into the role of a feisty senior citizen who could drop dead at any moment. With her white-blonde hair and awful beige leisurewear, she looks like she just stepped out of a commercial for denture adhesive or a "lifestyle village".
It's telling that her love interest was played by John Forsythe, at 65 an actual feisty senior citizen, who was nearly two decades her senior.
European love the idea of a sexy mature woman. Americans, by contrast, freak out if any woman over the age of 25 gives the impression that she has an active sex life. It's no wonder they had no idea what to do with a middle-aged Ursula Andress.