By the time most sitcoms reach their fifth season the premise of the
show has become worn and tired. They start resting on their laurels
and coasting which results in reworked story lines and some mediocre shows.
That wasn't the case for I Love Lucy. The number one rated
show in the country they could have easily continued in the style
that put them on top with few complaints. But the creative team behind
the show had an uncanny ability to determine what would work and what the
viewing public would want. So in the fourth season, they did new
and daring; they gave the show some continuity. They took the cast
out on New York, had them take a road trip across the country and go to
California. This fifth season continues and concludes the story line
and they sends the main characters off in a new direction once again.
In the fourth season of the show, Ricky won the leading role in a movie so the four characters (leaving their son Little Ricky behind) set off on a road trip to California. As this season starts, they are all in LA as Ricky's movie is about to wrap up production.
The season starts off well with a pair of strong episodes. Lucy is despondent that she doesn't have a good souvenir of Hollywood. Sure, she has a can that was run over by the rear tire of Cary Grant's car, but she wants something special. Then she notices that the cement cast containing John Wayne's footprints and signature in front of Grumman's Chinese Theater is loose. Wouldn't that be a great conversation piece?
Of course taking something like that is stealing. If she wants to stay out of jail, Lucy will have to replace the cast. Luckily John Wayne agrees to help make another cast with hilarious results.
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. There was a persuasive argument for continuing the series; it was still a top rated show. In any case, the last episode in this season feels like it could be the final episode to the show. It gives that feeling of closure.
Note: The box states that one episode, #130 "Lucy and the Dummy" is presented in an edited format. This is true, but not a cause for alarm. When the show originally aired it was three minutes short. To correct this problem that tacked on a three minute clip from the movie Guys and Dolls in which Frank Sinatra sings the song Adelaide. They couldn't get the rights for this clip, so it isn't included. The entire episode is present, just not the filler.
The 26 shows from the fifth season come on five DVDs which are packaged in slim cases enclosed in a slipcase.
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 more scratchy 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 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. There are promotional spots for the series, 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,) and the original openings. Each disc also comes with an episode of Lucy's radio show, My Favorite Husband, five in all. A really complete package.
A great set of shows. Against all odds this fifth season of I Love Lucy was very strong and solid. There were many good shows sprinkled throughout the series and a couple of truly great ones. This would be the show's last hurrah though. At the end of the season, the producer how had guided the show since the beginning, Jess Oppenheimer would leave. There was another season after this, but it just doesn't have the spark that the first five seasons had. This is a classic show with a very good selection of extras. This DVD set belongs in every comprehensive library of TV comedy. Highly Recommended.