”Have we made any preparations for El Nino?” are among the first words Capt. Jim Kennedy (Robert Urich) asks his crew in Love Boat: The Next Wave, so right away, you know we’re dealing with a new, timely, concerned Love Boat, not the silly, fluffy Love Boat that gave late-career employment to guest stars like Van Johnson and Ann Miller when it sailed from 1977 to 1986 on ABC. On the old Love Boat, ”El Nino” might have been the name of a song Charo cooed midway through the show. In UPN’s pointless, regrettably less-campy relaunch, the nice, friendly, dependable Urich plays the brand-new captain of the Sun Princess. (One assumes that the old love boat, the Pacific Princess, has been converted into a roomy trailer-park home for Gavin MacLeod’s now-retired Captain Stubing.)
Googly-eyed Bernie Kopell, the first Love Boat doctor, has been replaced by sourpussed Corey Parker — in the premiere, the doc suffers from seasickness, tee-hee-hee. Joan Severance, whom we must always think of as the slinky, incestuous Susan Profitt (with TV brother Kevin Spacey!) on the spectacular Wiseguy in 1988, is here as the ship’s prim-and-proper chief of security. It goes without saying that the romantic shipboard subplots are soggy and witless: Kadeem Hardison meets and instantly proposes to Shari Headley; two guys (Jason Brooks and Melrose Place’s Doug Savant) are mistaken for a gay couple, yet find that this turns them into chick magnets.
Urich’s Kennedy has a 15-year-old son (Kyle Howard) who’s a recovering druggie; he gets to make the show’s obligatory Titanic reference: ”I’m gonna go down to steerage and look for Leonardo DiCaprio.” Hmmm, you’d think he’d want to look for Kate Winslet; maybe he should be hanging out with Savant and Brooks? D+