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I Love Lucy: The Complete Series
I Love Lucy is a show that a lot of people take for granted. It has been on the air constantly since it's first run in the early 1950's, both in the US and abroad, and just about everyone has seen the show. Because of its ubiquitous nature, it is easy to forget how good the show actually is. Ground breaking for its time, this program is still able to get laughs from modern audiences over 50 years after it was first created. Now Paramount has released the entire show, all six season of I Love Lucy, and the 13 episodes of the follow up series, The Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Show all in a very attractive heart shaped box. With copious extras including the I Love Lucy movie available only in this set, this wonderful collection is easy to recommend.
I can't imagine anyone who can read English and has internet access not knowing about I Love Lucy, but in case that rare individual is reading, here's a brief synopsis: I Love Lucy is the story of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. He is the leader of a small band of some repute in New York and Lucy is always trying to get a part in one of his shows. She's sure that if she can only get on stage, fame won't be far behind. In a nearby apartment live their best friends and landlords, the Mertz's; Ethyl and Fred. It's often the boys against the girls as one side (usually the women) cooks up some hair-brained scheme or other.
This is where it all started. After having a successful radio show, Lucile Ball decided it was time to make the jump to that new media, television. Along with her husband, band leader Desi Arnaz, she created a show that would become a legend: I Love Lucy. This first season starts off strong and just grows from there.
After an initial few episodes where the actors are still getting used to their characters, the show settles into the hilarious groove that it would follow for the rest of its run. The highlight of this season is one of the best episodes of any sitcom; Lucy Does a TV Commercial. In this classic, Lucy is hired to sell a new health tonic on TV: Vitameatavegamin. It contains vitamins, meat, vegetables, minerals and 23% alcohol. After giving her spiel and taking a dose of the horrid concoction, Lucy is slurring her words and can no longer recite her lines correctly, much less pronounce Vitameatavegamin.
At the end of its first season, I Love Lucy was one of the highest rated television shows in the country. The show was being seen in 9,500,000 homes with an estimated 23,400,000 viewers each and every week. With numbers like that, you'd think that there would be celebrations and back patting all around. You'd be wrong. There was a lot of consternation going into the second season for one simple reason: Lucile Ball was pregnant. Instead of hiding her condition like the network and sponsor were pushing for them to do, executive producer Jess Oppenheimer his writers worked her 'condition' into the scripts, and they created some of the most memorable episodes of a TV sitcom ever. (For more detail on how they convinced the powers that be to allow them to work her pregnancy into the story, see my review of season two here.)
This second season has some fantastic episodes, some real funny stuff. They opened the season with one of my all time favorite episodes, Job Switching, where the women and men agree to switch jobs for a week. This show has the famous candy factory scene, but just as funny are the scenes were Ricky and Fred are trying to cook.
Another show classic show from this season is Lucy is Enceinte. This is another favorite of mine because of the touching ending. At the beginning of the show, Lucy goes to the doctor's and finds out that she's expecting. She is overjoyed at this prospect of course, and can't wait to tell Ricky. She has been imagining for years how she'll sit on his lap, gently cradle his face and give him the happy news. But every time she tries to tell him she gets interrupted. Finally she goes to the club when Ricky is performing and asks the host to give him a note. The anonymous note asks Ricky to sing "We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me" as a way for a lady to tell her husband that they are having "a blessed event." Ricky asks the couple to come up on stage, and when no one does, he sings the song as he wanders through the club asking the patrons if they are the lucky couple. When he gets to Lucy, she nods and he passes on. Then Ricky stops, realizing what she did, and looks back. She nods again. He rushes to her side and through tears of joy tells him that she is expecting. Desi is noticeably overcome with emotion and even forgets what his next line is. You can hear someone off stage yell "Sing the baby song!" before Ricky launches into the tune. Lucy cries through the rest of the scene. It is incredibly touching to see their honest emotion.
The third season was a bit of a transitional time for the show. The first season was fresh and new, and the second season had the pregnancy story line to hold it together. They would go back to having long story arcs in the future seasons, sending the Richardos (and the Mertz) to Hollywood and Europe, but this season they go back to the episodic format that had served them well in the past. It did work well. I Love Lucy was the #1 rated show in America at the end of the season, but taken as a whole, this season doesn't have as many stand-out shows as the earlier seasons did.
This season does have some memorable shows though. I particularly liked the two part episode where Lucy's "mother's friend's old college roommate's cousin's middle boy," Ernie, comes to visit. Played by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ernie is a down home county boy not familiar with the big city. He's out of money, and would like to go home, but won't accept charity. So he stays with the Richardo's and drives them crazy. When Lucy hears that Ernie's mother warned him about loose talking city women, she dresses up as a vamp to try to scare him away, only to find out that he likes the attention.
Another fun episode was the season opener, Ricky's Life Story. Life magazine does a feature on the Richardos, but Lucy's picture isn't anywhere to bee seen in the three page spread. She blames this all on Ricky. After all, if he would let her preform in his shows, she's be a star too. So Lucy weasels her way into the show so that she can upstage the star.
In this fourth season the producers tried something that really hadn't happened before in sit-coms. They gave the show some continuity. While each episode was still a self contained story, they formed part of a bigger story arc that is even more enjoyable when you can watch them in order.
This is the season where the Richardos and the Mertz's travel across the country to Hollywood so Ricky can film a movie. The season starts off in New York, where Ricky has attracted the attention of an agent from Hollywood and is offered a part in a movie. So they buy a car and the four friends (little Ricky is being looked after by Lucy's mother) take off for California. After a few shows where they travel across the country they arrive in the capitol of glamour: Hollywood.
After they get to Hollywood, about half way through the season, Lucy and company run into a whole slew of movie stars over the course of their stay. These guest stars always played themselves, and must have thrilled audiences back in the 50's. (Ironically, Lucy was much more famous than the people she brought on to her show as guest-stars at the time.)
The cast is very comfortable in their roles by this time, and everyone is at the top of their game. They create some wonderfully funny shows in this season. One of the highlights for me was seeing Harpo Marx appearing without his brothers. (And no, he doesn't talk.) When Lucy's near sighted friend from New York shows up wanting to see some stars, Lucy decides to accommodate her by dressing up as some celebrities. As luck would have it, just as Lucy has dressed up as Harpo, Ricky brings the real Harpo home. A funny show, especially when Lucy and Harpo reenact the mirror scene from Duck Soup.
Another great show is L.A. at Last. When they finally arrive in Hollywood, Lucy goes out to eat at the Brown Derby where she finds that William Holden and Eve Arden are in the next booth! This episode includes the hilarious scene where Lucy, in disguise, has William Holden light her cigarette and he accidentally lights her fake nose.
As this season starts, Lucy and company are all still in LA as Ricky's movie is about to wrap up production. This gives time for more guest stars including John Wayne who appears in one of the season's stand-out shows.
They couldn't stay out in Hollywood forever though, and the writers wisely sent the group back home to New York before the California gags became overdone. This leads to another great episode. Having sold their car, they group takes a train back to New York. In the classic episode The Great Train Robbery Lucy discovers that the emergency pull cord does stop the train. So she uses it again, and again, and again.
Once back in New York however, they found that they faced the same situation they had a year ago. They had already done just about everything that they could. There are only so many times that Lucy can try to get into Ricky's show before the program falls into a rut. Since the long California story line worked so well that they decided to send the group off on another trip this time to Europe.
Although the premise sounds a little like they are grasping at straws, this European trip worked out very well and was entertaining. It included some very funny shows such as the episode were Lucy and the Mertz are trapped in a cabin in the Alps after an avalanche, and the bicycle trip where Lucy sent her passport ahead to their hotel, which presents some problems at the Italian-French border. One of the absolute best episodes from this trip sequence though is Lucy's Italian Movie, where Lucy gets a part in a movie. To help her in her acting, Lucy decides to get a taste of the local life and gets a job at a vineyard. She is soon put to work stomping grapes which is much harder than it looks. A classic episode! The fight in the grape vat is one of the funniest sections in the season.
This was supposed to be the last season of the show. They were planning on ending with the final episode in this series and then moving to an hourly once-a-month format in 1957, but Desi was persuaded to let the show go on for one more year. In any case, the last episode in this season is very good and feels like it could (and some would argue should) be the final episode to the show.
Executive Producer and Jess Oppenheimer who was instrumental in giving I Love Lucy it's look and feel left the show at the end of the fifth season, and while the show doesn't crash and burn, the last few years aren't as creative or inspiring as the first five.
In the sixth season, Lucy, Ricky, and the Mertz' are back in New York after their European tour. The writers found themselves in the same situation that they had earlier though, what new situations could they put Lucy in? They overcame this obstacle the same way they had in the past; by including guest stars and having the cast go on a trip (this time to Florida.)
In the second half of the season they tried something a little different, they moved the cast out of New York City and into the country. This sounds like an act of desperation, and maybe it was, but it actually worked well. This created a lot of new show ideas, and a couple episodes that are classic. Building a Bar B Q is one such episode where Ethyl and Lucy put there husbands to work making an outdoor grill. When Lucy thinks that she's lost her wedding ring in the cement that they are pouring however, things get a bit messy.
Seasons Seven through Nine:
After the conclusion of the 1956-57 television season the I Love Lucy show was retired, though it was still at the top of the ratings. The following year Desilu (Desi Arnaz and Lucile Ball's production company) came out with a new version of the sitcom, The Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Show, (also known as The Lucy - Desi Comedy Hour). This hour long show was only scheduled for five episodes a year, and the final season only had three installments since Lucy and Desi filed for divorce before the final two shows were created.
Though the title had changed, the situation hadn't and for all intents and purposes, these final 13 episodes are a continuation of I Love Lucy. The Richardo's and the Mertz's are still all living blissfully in the country and Lucy is still trying the get into show business.
These last shows, while still very good, are only a shadow of the former seasons. One of the problems is the length. Many of these episodes just don't have enough story to last a whole hour, and they feel a bit padded and drawn out.
As with the last seasons of I Love Lucy, the The Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Show had a good line-up of guest-stars to help the show along. It was great seeing Ernie Kovacs in a rare guest appearance and director/star Ida Lupino is also featured in an episode along with more conventional stars such as Milton Berle and Fred MacMurray.
This set of contains all 194 episodes spread across an ample 34 discs. The discs come in two booklets, with the DVDs loading from the top. These are very secure and none of them were "floating" after the cross country trip through the US Mail. The two DVD books are housed in a nice box, the sides of which contain the famous I Love Lucy logo. There is also a handy booklet that lists the contents of each disc along with a synopsis of the episodes.
It should be noted that these are not the syndicated versions of the program that have been airing for years. In 1958, CBS ordered 4 minutes cut out of every episode to add more time for commercials. These cut shows ran 20:45. They didn't want to go to the expense of reediting the whole show, so they made the cuts at the beginning and ending of scenes. This sometime edited out information that was important to the plot. This set presents the shows in their full length.
The two channel mono English soundtrack is pretty good. Given the technology at the time, it is not surprising that there isn't a large dynamic range to the sound. This isn't a big deal in most episodes, but the musical numbers sound fairly flat. The dialog is very clear though, and easy to understand. There is a low level of hiss and loud noises distort sometimes, but neither of these things are distracting. There are no English subtitles.
There is also a Spanish audio track which was recorded when the show was first sold abroad years ago. A couple of the shows are missing this track, but all episodes do have a Spanish subtitles available. I spot checked the Spanish tracks, and they sounded a little worse than the English audio. They were a little scratchier and had less range. It is interesting to note that there isn't a laugh track with the Spanish audio, at least in the sections I listened to.
The restored black and white full frame picture is excellent, especially for a show this old. I Love Lucy was filmed instead of taped, and there is some grain to the picture, but the image is very sharp and clear. The contrast is also superb, and there is a good range of gray tones. The blacks are more a very dark gray than absolute black, but this is a minor quibble. These are fantastic looking shows.
This set has a great number of extras; it is a really nice package. Scattered other the discs are promotional spots for the series, (including a rare promo that CBS ran in 1951 to promote the series before it first aired), excerpts from Bob Hope's 1956 Chevrolet special featuring Lucy and the gang, a 50-minute Desilu/Westinghouse Sponsor Presentation, color footage of the show shot by an audience member, text biographies on the guest stars, production notes, audio excepts from producer Jess Oppenheimer's book about the show, lists of mistakes that were made in the shows (with clips highlighting the errors,) episodes of Lucy's radio show, My Favorite Husband, and the original openings. There are even a few commentaries to selected shows.
This set comes with a bonus disc that contains more rare material which isn't available on the individual season sets. The disc starts off mildly, with a colorized version of "Lucy Goes to Scotland", an episode from the fifth season. Never broadcast, or even recorded in color, this is wasn't very exciting.
The highlight of this extra bonus disc is I Love Lucy: The Movie. In 1953 with the TV show being so successful, Desilu decided to create a theatrical movie by stitching together three episodes from the first season (The Benefit, Breaking the Lease, and The Ballet.) Some extra material was filmed to join the episodes together and an intro was created. This introduction is pretty exciting for Lucy fans, since is shows Desi warming up the studio audience, something that he did for the entire run of the show. The movie was never released, since studio execs thought it would hurt the box office results of Lucy and Desi's film The Long, Long, Trailer, which was in release at the time. Shelved, the movie was forgotten until it was discovered 50 year later.
The first time Desi and Lucy appeared on TV together was as guests on the Ed Wynn show in 1949. A three minute Kinetescope except of this early appearance is included too, along with a five minute clip from the 1954 Emmy awards where I Love Lucy wins more than one statue. The disc concludes with the Phillip Morris introduction, by John Stephenson on the set of the show, to the first episode of I Love Lucy.
The I Love Lucy show was the number one rated show in America for years, won every award that was available at the time. CBS started to air reruns of the show as early as 1955, and the repeats were consistently among the top ten shows ratings wise, often beating first run programs. The show would go on to be constantly in syndication up to the present day. Not only that, but after her first TV series was concluded, Lucille Ball would continue to have a show airing in prime time for the next 15 years or so. An amazing feat that has never been duplicated. This set collects a truly remarkable show and does it justice. It deserves a spot in the DVD Talk Collector Series.