Here's Lucy: The Complete Series is MPI's repurposing of individual season sets of the popular 1968-74 TV show originally released to DVD during 2009-2012. This six-season boxed set offers nothing new not already included in the individual releases, but the transfers are nonetheless great and, like star Lucille Ball's previous series, are positively crammed with supplementary features. (However, some extras from Shout! Factory's 2004 release of Here's Lucy: Best Loved Episodes from the Hit TV Series, produced by others, don't seem to have been carried over.)
Here's Lucy was Ball's second sitcom following I Love Lucy/The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1951-60) and her divorce immediately thereafter from Desi Arnaz. In The Lucy Show (1962-68), the suddenly single Lucy was teamed with mostly straight man Gale Gordon (as curmudgeonly Mr. Mooney), whom Lucy had worked with on radio, in "My Favorite Husband."* When Ball sold her interests in Desilu, the production company/studio she formed with Arnaz, the still popular Lucy Show became, for business reasons alone, the only slightly revamped Here's Lucy (1968-74). Gordon, who also appeared in the ill-fated, ill-advised Life with Lucy (1986), played an uncannily similar character in Here's Lucy. All told, Ball had starred in half-hour sitcoms virtually non-stop for nearly 25 years.
Lucy and Petula Clark
This reviewer never much cared for The Lucy Show. Where I Love Lucy's Lucy Ricardo was scheming and naive, The Lucy Show's Lucy Carmichael too often was an idiot and a ding-a-ling, at times unbelievably stupid and infantile, in scripts that relied heavily on the broadest of slapstick. The show's switch to color only seem to make Ball's antics even sillier. Middle age, that shock of famously hennaed hair and a three-pack-a-day raspiness ("Mwaaaaaaaa!") -- all in living color -- had turned the Lucy character into something of a bumbling banshee. (As for that raspiness, Ball must have favored the company of fellow smokers. Ball and frequent co-star Vivian Vance succumbed to smoking-related illnesses, while Gordon, Arnaz and second husband Gary Morton all died of lung cancer.) Ball's voice drops at least an octave during her long television run.
To this reviewer's surprise, Lucille Carter in Here's Lucy is a bit more mature and less frenetic, though still the same ol' Lucy. Perhaps it was because Ball herself was getting older (she was 63 by the time Here's Lucy ended), perhaps it was the growing maturity of most of the sitcoms around her (All in the Family and, especially, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, both also on CBS) that gave way to a lower-key, more sedate Lucy. And unlike many a Lucy Show, Here's Lucy is often very funny.
Looking back at these episodes, one can really appreciate the performance aspect of these shows. Sitcoms today are still shot in the same manner DP Karl Freund and Desi Sr. had devised for I Love Lucy years before. But as Desi Arnaz, Jr. points out in one of the myriad commentary tracks with sister Lucie Arnaz, gone is the tension of the live, almost real-time performance of these shows. He complains bitterly, and justly so, about going to the taping of one half-hour sitcom, where filming ended up taking five hours, with the studio audience trapped for the duration like POWs. (Arnaz doesn't name the show, but it sure sounds like Friends.)
In Lucy's day, he rightly argues, there was a respect for the studio audience -- the cast and crew owed them their best performance, with shows more like live plays filmed in little more time than the 30-minute slots in which they eventually aired. Because of this, now more than ever, it's easy to appreciate the meticulous comic timing of both Ball and Gordon, and the degree in which both feed off the audience.
The show was something of an effort by Ball to pass the baton onto her children, teenagers Lucie and Desi Jr., who play her TV children on Here's Lucy. Some of the episodes in this collection focus mainly on them, such as an episode where Donny Osmond develops a crush on Lucie Carter. The show is interesting partly because so much of both the writing and Arnaz's performance reflect Ball's style during I Love Lucy earliest days. As Lucie says throughout her commentary, Here's Lucy was nothing if not an incredible training ground for young talent.
One of the quainter aspects of the show is that Lucille Carter, mother of two, is a widow (as she had been on The Lucy Show), a concession to prudish TV standards that would not have allowed the character to be divorced, even though any adult watching the show would surely have known about Ball's own divorce from Desi Sr. Indeed, one suspects some viewers probably wrongly assumed that by his absence Arnaz himself (or maybe Ricky Ricardo) was dead.
One might argue that the original I Love Lucy jumped the shark when William Holden set Lucy's nose on fire that fateful evening in 1955. Hollywood stars gave I Love Lucy a shot in the arm ratings-wise, but eventually dominated all of Ball's shows, including this one. By the time Here's Lucy went on the air, however, times had changed and the reverential treatment stars received in I Love Lucy scripts gave way to stories that made hay of the darker aspects of their public image. When Lucy met Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the show's writers had a field day, stuffing it with references to the famous couple's fights and drinking binges. An episode with Shelley Winters finds that by-then chunky star devouring a whole turkey. Though such shows strain all credibility, it's impossible to deny the fun of watching the cast rent rooms from Jack Benny's Palm Springs "home," and Jack hosting a busload of tourists (charging them for a cheap buffet dinner), including Jackie Gleason in his Ralph Kramden persona. More so even than either of Ball's previous shows, Here's Lucy is packed with in-jokes.
The ding-a-ling Lucy still peeks through many episodes, which play like dusted off Lucy Show scripts, especially "Lucy and Sammy Davis Jr.," which requires Lucille to behave like a complete moron. But shows featuring Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon (Lucy "stumps the band" and has dinner with Johnny and Ed at the Brown Derby) and others are actually quite good. These shows make great use of the Lucy character's awkward, fevered energy around celebrities, signature shtick of Ball's that none did better.
Video & Audio
Here's Lucy looks brand new, with a sharp image and superb color. The show looks far superior to its original syndicated version, and the episodes are unedited and not time-compressed. Animation buffs will want to check out Jim Danforth's delightful stop-motion Lucy, in animated titles that open each show (during which she blows a kiss to Lucy's second husband, Gary Morton). The ton of material on each disc is carefully organized and menu screens are easy to navigate. There are no subtitle options. My only complaint here is the spoiler-filled audio introductions to each episode, though viewers have the option to skip those. The mono audio is fine, and English subtitles are included on these all-region discs.
Supplements include cozy "Episode Introductions," typically by Lucie Arnaz and, more rarely, Desi Jr. Some surprising faces turn up occasionally, including Wayne Newton, Petula Clark, Donny Osmond, Art Linkletter, Kaye Ballard, Rich Little, Arte Johnson, as well as busy character players like Joseph Ruskin, Bruce Gordon, Elliott Reid, James Hong, Alan Oppenheimer, Paul Pircerni, Cliff Osmond, and Doris Singleton, many of whom have since passed away. There are also Featurettes, "Let's Talk to Lucy: Lost Interviews," "Special Television Appearances and Interviews," "Treasures from Lucy's Vault," a "Special Here's Lucy U.S. Savings Bond Episode & Public Service Film," "Slide Shows," "Series Production Files," "Original CBS-TV Network & Syndication Promos," and "Original Sponsor Billboards." That's a-lotta Lucy.
Reportedly, Here's Lucy was cancelled by Ball herself, perhaps recognizing that her brand of comedy was a prehistoric breed by 1974, though in one sense she got the last laugh. Here's Lucy may have played like a dinosaur even then, but it was still a Top-Ten show for its first four seasons, and earned respectable ratings even after that. It's not a great series but it is moderately amusing most of the time on Ball's and Gordon's strengths alone, while the parade of guest stars add to the fun. MPI's discs do the show justice both in terms of the transfers and the extra features, so this comes Highly Recommended.
* Strangely, Ball's "My Favorite Husband" co-star, prolific actor Richard Denning, never once appeared on any of Ball's various TV projects. Ever. I wonder why?
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.