. . . just what action figure lines might we be collecting? Many of us remember with a special nostalgia the particular niche of kitsch that was MEGO. Whether it was playing with 8" figures donning cloth outfits and squishy heads, or 3 3/4" figures with bent knees and oddly sculpted left hands. (You know what I’m talking about.) MEGO had some great lines like World’s Greatest Super Heroes, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Eagle Force, and Micronauts. Then there were some head scratchers like Happy Days and The Waltons. But I think their decision to produce a line based on the TV series The Love Boat takes the cake!
I started thinking about this after reading a blog post on i-mockery entitled: Stupid Toys. Yes, The Love Boat figures made the list and the hilarious comments are well taken. But, hey, you gotta give credit to a company that decided it’d be cool to produce a wave of figures where all the characters are wearing suits! In fairness, back in 1981 when these figures hit the shelves The Love Boat was a popular show. In fact, the 1980-1981 season was its best according to the Nielsen Rankings (#5.) Aaron Spelling was at the peak of his TV dominance. Yes, it was frivolous and light but, hey, it was the late 70′s. Along with The Love Boat I fondly remember sitting on the floor at a relatives house down in South Jersey watching shows like Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, Magnum PI, and Charlie’s Angels on a big console TV – you know, the kind that looked like furniture. Innocent shows for an innocent time of life.
MEGO released one wave of The Love Boat figures which contained 6 characters: Dr. Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell,) Vicki Stubing (Jill Whelan,) Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin McLeod,) Isaac Washington (Ted Lange,) Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes,) and Burl "Gopher" Smith (Fred Grandy.) I’m going to assume that only this one series was ever considered. Although if the line turned out to be a hit there would have been endless guest stars to choose from for future waves. I don’t think there was an actor of that era who didn’t show up on that ship. The sculpts are reasonable for the time but not spectacular. Actually, Julie and Vicki’s head sculpts are pretty bad and bring the line down a notch. The Captain, Doc, and Gopher come with removable hats that fit their heads and stay put rather well. At some point there was a production change between not having and then adding knee joints for the men and from cloth to plastic skirts for the ladies (or vice versa – I’m not sure which variation came first.) I’m not sure if an actual Love Boat playset would have helped the line, but it couldn’t have hurt.
Like MEGO’s line of action figures the main cast of The Love Boat all kinda fizzled after the show was canceled. Fred Grandy, however, did run and was elected to the U.S. Congress where he served for 4 terms as Iowa’s representative. He then ran for Governor but lost.
When I consider this little line of figures I have to wonder, "If MEGO were around today, what properties would they be taking gambles on?" I tried to think of current TV shows that fit a Love Boat mold. Although I’ve never seen an episode I’m told that The Casino (or was it Las Vegas?) is probably the closest fit. (An exploration of the personal dramas that unfold among the guests and employees inhabiting the world of a hotel / casino.) But beyond shows of a similar vein, we’d no doubt already have long overdue Randy, Paula, Simon, and Ryan action figures from an American Idol series. There probably would have been a The Sopranos line. (After all, MEGO did have a Dallas series planned.) We would have had Seinfeld figures.
Otherwise, companies like McFarlane and Mezco are doing a good job of filling MEGO’s unique shoes. You just have to appreciate a company going out on a limb to produce figures for properties like Lost, Napoleon Dynamite, Heroes, South Park, and 24.
To a degree, all action figures are kitschy. Some lines just excel at it. Well, for folks like me who believe "the kitschier the better," lines like MEGO’s The Love Boat fill a special place in our collections.