A little show that nobody wanted.
Let this settle in…I Love Lucy has never stopped airing on television since it premiered on October 15, 1951. Can you believe that? And to think this classic sitcom almost never got off the ground, because of the taboo surrounding a multi-ethnic married couple. It’s hard to imagine, in this day and age, that would be a problem, but in 1950 a Cuban band leader and an all-American girl as husband and wife, almost ended one of television’s greatest sitcoms even before began. Paramount’s I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 (Blu-ray) gives us 35 great episodes and an array of behind-the-scenes goodies. Whether you’re just getting acquainted with the series or admired Lucy and her crazy capers for as long as you can remember, this collection is a must.
I Love Lucy chronicles the zany antics of Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball, Mame), a woman who wants more than anything to be a star. The only problem is she lacks any discernible talent. But Lucy won’t let that stop her, much to the chagrin of her band leader husband Ricky (Desi Arnaz, The Long, Long Trailer). With the help of friends Ethel (Vivian Vance, The Great Race) and Fred Mertz (William Frawley, The Lemon Drop Kid), Lucy gets into one wacky situation after another to achieve her dream.
I Love Lucy is a great show…period. Even if you find an old worn out VHS copy, snatch it up, it’s that good. But on Blu-ray, do I even have to tell you it’s a must have? So let’s dispense with the formalities of a normal review and cut to the chase: This one is 100% not guilty! I’m even certain it’s a crime in at least 16 states not to go out and buy it right now. Because hey, what more can I say about a show that’s been on television continuously for 63 years?
I have seen every Season One episode at least two dozen times, and I still laugh like I was 10 years old sitting in my mom’s living room with my little brother. But I Love Lucy is more than just a half hour of laughs. It’s a break through series that still influences how television is made today.
Here are three reasons why I Love Lucy is such a significant piece of entertainment history…
Lucy and Desi were told a show featuring a mixed race couple wouldn’t work. They didn’t give up though, when financing was scarce, they took a chance and invested $5,000 of their own money to film the pilot that would change their lives. This was also the beginning of DesiLu Productions, a company that would go on to become a behemoth force in Hollywood, producing series like The Andy Griffith Show, The Jack Benny Program, and Star Trek: The Original Series. I Love Lucy was the anchor of DesiLu, pioneering such techniques as the use of three cameras when filming, shooting on film instead of videotape, and filming in front of a live studio audience. Up to that point, those three things had never been done on the same series, and it was so successful that many sitcoms still use to these techniques today. When the couple had to take a pay cut because production costs were too high, they made a deal to obtain ownership rights to the show, which allowed them to begin airing what are now known as reruns. Not stopping there, Desi and Lucy had the business acumen to make a deal that allowed other networks to show I Love Lucy in syndication, once its original run was over. This may be the norm today, but in the early days of television it was unheard of.
Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr, and producer Jess Oppenheimer were the creative team behind the shenanigans at 623 East 68th Street. They met Lucy during her time on the radio show My Favorite Husband, and adapted several of those shows for I Love Lucy. Lucy hired them because they wrote very visually, and she wanted that kind of liveliness for her series. Lucy called the writers her kids, and they had her complete trust, which allowed them to take chances. Even if she wasn’t sure the gag would work, Lucy would try because of the nature of their relationship. In a 1990 interview, Pugh and Carroll said they tried to make all of Lucy’s implausible situations appear as if they were the only possible solutions for her. Knowing audiences were savvy and would question those decisions, they often used Ethel as the audiences’ voice of reason, using dialogue like “Lucy you can’t do that” or “That is the craziest idea I’ve ever heard!” By having one of the characters question Lucy’s decisions, the writers believed this allowed the audience to accept any hair-brained scheme she came up with, no matter how outlandish. They were allowed to be as creative as they chose to be, because Lucy wasn’t afraid how it would make her look, as long as the audience laughed. Pugh, Carroll, and Oppenheimer managed to write scripts that have made people laugh for over six decades and their contributions to I Love Lucy are immeasurable.
There aren’t many women, past or present, who are as gifted a comedienne as Lucille Ball. She was able to take what her writers gave her and make what was funny on paper be hilarious on screen. On top of that she was a phenomenal physical comedian, whose facial expressions and body movements were all a part of her gift as an entertainer. The addition of Vivian Vance and William Frawley, as Ethel and Fred Mertz were a perfect pairing to Lucy and Ricky. Frawley was a well-established actor in vaudeville and films, and he campaigned for the role which producers saw as a godsend. Vance was seen in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse, and when the show was frantic to find the woman who would be Frawley’s on screen wife, someone who had seen that play recommended Vance for the role. Initially, Lucy was cool to Vance, since she was not able to make the decision on who would play her best friend, due to the impending birth of Desi Jr. But once she saw Vance’s talents and realized she was a team player, the two became lifelong friends. Probably the most underrated contribution to I Love Lucy is Desi Arnaz. As a performer, he was passable, paling in comparison to his immensely talented wife. But Desi was an integral part of the behind-the-scenes genius. He knew what was funny in ways that Lucy did not. She was able to take what was given her and perform brilliantly, but Desi knew the essence of what made people laugh, often changing parts of the scripts if they just didn’t work. He knew his wife was a great talent and generously allowed her to have the funniest parts, while he played straight man to her wackiness. Arnaz was so essential to the show’s success that half way through their first season he was made executive producer.
I Love Lucy is the perfect storm of talent and timing, executed by artists who loved their craft and were willing to give this project all they had. As I watch my kids enjoying Lucy around the same age I was when I became enchanted with the wayward red head, there is no doubt in my mind that the love for this show will outlive us all.
Paramount’s I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 (Blu-ray) is presented in full frame 1.33:1/1080p HD. These episodes look crisp and clear, highlighting the sharp contrasts in the black and white imagery. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track brings back warm memories of sitting in front of our old Zenith eating cookies, as my mom looked on mystified, wondering why we loved a show she watched before we were born.
As great as these episodes are, the bonus features are a fantastic addition to this classic season.
* The Original Pilot — Re-mastered from 35mm negatives, this was never meant to be aired and you can see why. Bt it did show that I Love Lucy was more than just the screwy husband and wife sitcom haters thought it would be.
* The Very First Episode — This 1990 CBS special let audiences view the pilot for the first time. Hosted by daughter Lucy Arnaz, it also features commentary from writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr, as well as interviews with Desi and Lucy in their later years.
* Viewing Options — Each of these episodes can be viewed commercial free or as they were originally broadcast with the now iconic Philip Morris ads. The tobacco company was the lone sponsor for I Love Lucy until October 1955.
* Alternate Show Elements — Thirteen first season episodes edited for rerun when the series was on hiatus.
* Home Movies — On set color footage shot by an audience member during the taping of episode six, “The Audition.” This is the only known color footage of the Tropicana and the Ricardo’s home set.
* Test Footage — Original costume and makeup tests for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
* Radio Episodes — Audio from the radio show “My Favorite Husband” that inspired I Love Lucy.
* Flubs — Bloopers and outtakes from various episodes.
* Guest Star Bios — Quick look at the various stars of stage, radio, and screen who stopped by the show.
* Production Notes — Detailed look at the inner workings of a hit network series.
* Photo Gallery — Vast collection of still photos from the production.
Regardless of Ricky’s innate ability to mangle the English language, and the obvious differences between him and his real life wife, I Love Lucy beat back all the ridiculous controversy that surrounded a show to go down as one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of television.
I dunt thin this is guilty.
I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 (Blu-ray)
2014, Paramount, 908 minutes, NR (1951)
VIDEO: Full Frame (1080p) AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish) SUBTITLES: English (SDH), Spanish
EXTRAS: Commentaries, Original Pilot, Alternate Episodes, TV Special, Costume/Makeup Tests, Radio Series, Home Movies, Bloopers, Production Notes, Guest Star Bios, Gallery ACCOMPLICES: IMDB