“Look, tell me something. Do you play that thin’?”
“Never mind making fun of my English.”
The TV comedy series I Love Lucy was one of the earliest sitcoms to become a real hit. It began in 1951 on CBS and lasted until 1957, accumulating some 179 episodes, but has been available in syndication ever since, retaining its popularity better than any other comedy series. Paramount has now made the original pilot and first seven episodes from the series’ inaugural season available on DVD on two separate discs.
I Love Lucy: Season One, Volume One:
* The Lost I Love Lucy Pilot — Ricky’s band auditions for a television show and Lucy sees an opportunity for her to be part of the show.
* The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub — It’s Fred and Ethel’s anniversary and Ethel and Lucy would like to celebrate it at a nightclub. Fred and Ricky have a different idea entirely, however.
* Be a Pal — Lucy fears that Ricky is losing interest in her, so she tries various ways to rekindle their romance.
* The Diet — Lucy wants a song and dance role that is available on Ricky’s show, but the costume will require some fancy weight loss on Lucy’s part.
I Love Lucy: Season One, Volume Two:
* Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying to Murder Her — An engrossing murder mystery book leads Lucy into thinking that Ricky wants to do away with her.
* The Quiz Show — Lucy can’t manage to balance her household accounts, but sees a chance to correct matters when Ethel tells her about a television game show that has a $1000 grand prize.
* The Audition — Ricky’s band auditions for a television show and Lucy sees an opportunity for her to be part of the show.
* The Séance — A book on numerology leads Lucy and Ethel to stage a fake séance in order to fool a producer that Ricky hopes to get a job offer from.
The I Love Lucy series is one of a handful that would sell itself without any comment of mine, positive or not. But you’re not going to get any dissenting voice from me. I’ve always been a big fan of the show and can rewatch episodes endlessly and always find myself laughing. The four main performers (Lucille Ball as Lucy, Desi Arnaz as Ricky, Vivian Vance as Ethel, and William Frawley as Fred, for the uninitiated) seem ideally suited to their characters and always look as though they’re having a good time.
The first disc contains the original pilot episode and the first three episodes that were broadcast in the fall of 1951. The pilot episode was created strictly to sell the show to the network and was never actually broadcast. It was thought lost but eventually rediscovered a dozen years ago. Although it looks a little cruder in terms of sets than the actual episodes and Fred and Ethel are nowhere to be seen, the humour of the series that we’re all familiar with is firmly in evidence — from Lucy’s slapstick abilities to Ricky’s mangled English. The first three broadcast episodes are all of a high standard. They’re well written and all offer plenty of opportunity for Lucy’s wide range of antics. The first official episode — “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub” — is the best, but the others aren’t far behind. It looks anything but an introductory show. The story proceeds without any establishment of the characters’ backgrounds, giving the audience credit for being able to fill in the details for themselves. If you didn’t know better, you could easily assume that the episode was one from later in the series’ run, so comfortable and practiced do the characters look in terms of timing and interaction.
The second disc contains the next four episodes released chronologically in the fall of 1951. These episodes continue with the same high standard of writing established in the earlier ones. The third episode on the disc — “The Audition” — is actually a reworking of the pilot show. It contains a hilariously funny sequence in which Lucy auditions for Ricky’s show as a cello player. The quote at the top of this review comes from it and it’s one of those instances where Lucy and Desi barely manage to prevent their characters from breaking out laughing. One wonders how many times they had to do the sequence before they managed to contain themselves. The second episode on the disc introduces the actor Frank Nelson, a very familiar face who worked with all the top comedians of the time, particularly Jack Benny. He appeared on the I Love Lucy series 11 times, usually as different characters. Of the handful of supporting players on the series, he is probably the best remembered.
Fans of the I Love Lucy series should have no complaint about the quality of the DVDs that Paramount has issued. The decision to eschew seasonal box sets in favour of individual discs each containing four episodes will be open to dissent, however.
First to the quality. There’s no doubt that the seven broadcast episodes all are in great shape. They look to be cleaned up and free of scratches and speckles. Other than a few instances of softness in the image, they’re bright with good contrast. The original pilot is clearly inferior to the rest, with substantial scratching evident, but it’s still workable. Each episode has separate scene selections and, thoughtfully, chapter stops for any musical numbers. The mono sound (in both English and Spanish) is also surprising good with all age-related hiss and crackling removed. There is no subtitling available, however. For Paramount, the range of supplementary material is also a surprise. There is a nice collection of flubs, lost and/or restored footage, excerpts from the “My Favourite Husband” radio shows upon which the I Love Lucy TV series was based, photo galleries, and even the original opening of the first three episodes which featured the sponsor, Philip Morris cigarettes. It’s amazing that a lot of this material survived and it’s great to have it included on the discs.
As to the presentation, many will point to Paramount’s experience with their Star Trek series. The original series was released two episodes to a disc, but the Next Generation appeared in a seasonal format in response to consumer requests. Learning from that experience should have persuaded Paramount to go the seasonal route with I Love Lucy. As it is, those who want the whole set will be stuck with some 45 discs taking up over two feet of shelf space. I know people will be able to choose specific episodes more easily with the current format, but it just seems counter to what most consumers have indicated they want when it comes to the DVD release of TV series.
What a pleasure it is to have I Love Lucy starting to appear on DVD and looking so good as well. Although the presentation format is open to debate, I have no hesitation in recommending these discs, particularly as they’re offered at an attractive $15.00 list price. Highly recommended.