Judge Cynthia Boris would have written more, but she has to get a kangaroo out of her shower stall.
Have a Ball with Lucy
In the '80s, it was Kate & Allie, in the '70s, Laverne & Shirley, but the real queens of comedy date back the '60s when Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance teamed up for a second round of sitcom fun. It's The Lucy Show: The Official First Season now on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Lucille Carmichael (Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy) is a widow raising two children, teenager Chris (Candy Moore) and 7-year-old Jerry (Jimmy Garrett). To help make ends meet, Lucy shares her home in Connecticut with her best friend Vivian Bagley (Vivian Vance, I Love Lucy). Vivian is divorced and has a son Sherman (Ralph Hart) who is a few years older than Jerry.
In the first season, Lucy is living on a trust fund that is monitored by Mr. Barnsdahl (Charles Lane), the Danfield Bank President. Lane would later be replaced by a more familiar face, that of Gale Gordon taking on the role of Theodore J. Mooney. Dick Martin (Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in) recurs as Lucy's neighbor Harry, who often fills in as both surrogate father to the boys and last resort date for Lucy.
Like I Love Lucy before it, the plots were designed to put Lucy and Vivian into incredible slapstick situations such as installing an antenna on a roof, building a shower stall that fills with water with them in it, and interacting with sheep, kangaroos, and elephants. The big difference here is the concept of the women as single moms. This opened up a whole new line of plot developments that made the show exceptionally relatable to the TV audience.
There are 30 half hour episodes on this first season DVD. The titles alone pretty much sum up the nature of the series.
Though TV viewers were used to seeing widowers on TV, the widow wasn't quite as common in the early '60s, and a divorcee was downright scandalous. But somehow Lucy and Viv made it work. As single moms, most of the plot points fell between doing for their children and dating. With no husbands in the picture, Lucy and Viv were forced to take on some traditionally male roles such as refereeing the boys' football game, completing household repairs, and coming up with the cash needed to provide for the family.
The search for a new husband threads through many of the episodes and takes front and center in some, such as "Lucy the Music Lover." But mostly, the comedy comes out of a typical Lucy take on a common family problem. For example, in the first episode, "Lucy Waits Up for Chris," Lucy embarrasses her daughter in front of a boy then tries to make up for it by promising not to wait up on Chris' next date night. But when Chris comes home early, Lucy has to find a way to sneak up to her room so she can keep her promise, and that involves the use of a trampoline and some incredible stunt choreography.
The Lucy Show, like many sitcoms, was filmed in front of a live audience, which meant performing all of these crazy stunts for real—no small feat. There's a famous story about the infamous shower stall episode that claims Lucy was actually drowning in the tank of water but quick thinking Vivian Vance pulled her up to safety and kept ad libbing until Lucy could catch her breath.
Vivian Vance is a severely underrated comedian, and I suspect it's because she makes it all look so natural you forget that she's acting. It couldn't have been easy for her, always playing second banana to Lucille Ball, but she holds her own and even steals a few scenes in The Lucy Show. The three children are also very natural and believable. Young Jerry in particular delivers some of the funniest lines and often with a look that said he thought these grown-ups were pure crazy.
Jimmy Garrett, the actor who played Jerry Carmichael, is one of two people they interviewed for the special features on this set. Though it's been nearly 50 years since he first got the role, Jimmy recalls detail after detail about those days, and he's a joy to listen to. The other interview on the DVD is with Lucie Arnaz. She appeared in a few episodes due to the family nature of the production. Her mother was the star and in the beginning, her father, Desi Arnaz, was the producer of the series. Already divorced from Lucy at the time, Desi stayed on for only a short while then left the production. Lucie Jr. says it was all for the best, as her mother's new husband was usually on the set, making things a tad awkward.
As you roam through the special features on the DVD, you'll find a number of references to the family atmosphere on the set. Desi Arnaz Jr. was known to entertain the crowd by playing with the band as did Lucy's former TV son, Keith Thibodeaux. There are also a few very rare behind the scenes photos and detailed production notes for many of the episodes. Each disc also has a section called Flubs, a feature that helps you zoom in on mistakes such as a visible director's chair, hidden guests and special effect mistakes.
If you're a classic TV junkie like me, you'll really get a kick out of the vintage commercials, promos and credit sequences that are included on this DVD. As was common at the time, the episodes had sponsors such as Jello Pudding and Lux soap. These brands were integrated into the animated opening sequence for the show and they were also hawked by the characters on the show. For example, at the end of one episode Vivian makes a Jello Lemon Pie to serve to her friends. It's full of all the usual commercial-speak but it's done completely in character. These spots are very rare and very enjoyable.
Even more rare, is footage of Lucille Ball from a TV special called Opening Night. This was a variety show put together to introduce CBS's fall line-up. The first piece features Lucy selecting a date from CBS's leading men such as Andy Griffith, Jack Benny, and Gary Moore. The second piece has Lucy recreating her famous top-heavy headdress showgirl routine from I Love Lucy. A really unusual find.
As if that wasn't enough, there are also several static special features such as bios on the cast and crew and a guest star chart that will save you from running to IMDb when you try to place that face.
The first season of The Lucy Show is black and white and given that it's nearly 50 years old, the video quality is excellent. There were no scratches or pops in the episodes, though many of the special features show their age, but it's very forgivable. The audio is mono but it's still a nice mix keeping that laugh track at a level that never overwhelms the actors.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I only have two complaints about this DVD and they're both in the delivery. First, the cheap packaging. Again, we're saddled with plastic flipper discs and an episode guide hidden on the backside of the box wrapper. That's no way to treat a classic. Instead of spending the money on a useless slip sleeve, I wish they had invested in a booklet filled with the trivia you see on screen.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint. The navigation on this DVD is a nightmare. Each disc has a choice to play the episodes, choose episodes, watch the special features or go to the setup where you can choose to tag on the vintage openings or not. To move from screen to screen there are blue and purple bubbles and yellow arrows. Figuring out which bubble you're on and when you should press enter was completely counterintuitive. And if you're looking for a particular special feature, good luck. It took me quite a lot of hunting before I realized that some screens have a second level to them. Some static screens can actually be triggered to play a video component and there's no telling what's under the catchall link that resides in the middle of each special feature play list. I really enjoyed the vintage features on this DVD and so I was doubly frustrated by the clumsy navigation.
When you think Lucille Ball, you think I Love Lucy, but The Lucy Show is a classic in its own right, if only for its early (and hilarious) portrayal of two single moms trying to make it in a very married world.
This court finds The Lucy Show: The Official First Season to be
innocent, family fun.
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