Best Loved Episodes from the TV Series (Shout! Factory-2004)
Apparently, there were enough gay men and grandmas to keep Here’s Lucy firmly planted on CBS’ prime-time schedule during the most unlikely years of 1968-1974. For those of you who can’t keep your Lucy series straight, this one opened each episode with a winking, dancing, kiss-blowing animated doll with great gams. Also, this is the show in which Lucy’s hemlines rose higher and her voice plunged lower.
Though the series is as unhip as anything you’ll ever see, and although there is not a drop of irony to be squeezed from any single episode, Lucy somehow pulls it off: you won’t laugh more than twice, but you’ll be consistently compelled and curious.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to this broad. In this “I Am Woman” era, she is All That – one tough cookie who was never not on TV – and working both sides of the camera. This was no easy feat in a business that was rapidly changing and determined to make her brand of comedy obsolete. In the end, she lost the battle but won the war, as this DVD proves to be more delightful and watchable than you will bring yourself to admit.
During the socially turbulent years of the series’ run, the landscape of television evolved from flimsy, folksy offerings like The Flying Nun and Gomer Pyle to more sophisticated and/or relevant fare such as All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. While Lucy was mixing it up with special-guest geezers like Jack Benny and Milton Berle, Maude was having an abortion and Hawkeye Pierce was protesting the Vietnam War via Korea.
This cultural shift made Lucy’s staying power all the more astonishing. Although she would stubbornly stick to shtick, you could easily sense the sassy, younger competition closing in on her like a speeding conveyor belt of chocolates demanding to be wrapped.
This, her third series in less than twenty years, fixes nothing that ain’t broken, but offers only one wild new twist: “The Generation Gap.” Here, her real-life offspring, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Lucie Arnaz, semi-convincingly play her groovified teenagers. They’re allowed just enough adolescent attitude not to offend, along with lots of longish hair and eye-rolling. The essential plot point of each episode boils down to one of them saying, more or less: “Motherrrr, don’t be so conventional!” Then, of course, Lucy shows the world how unconventional she can be.
It’s Lucy, ultimately, doing all the grunt work. She plays a wacky, wily and wooly widow (divorced women were still perceived as undesirable by TV execs, even as America was increasingly becoming Splitsville). Unfortunately, by the late sixties, not only is the slapstick humor getting old, Lucy is getting old too, and her trademarked hijinks (Lucy skydives, Lucy wrangles with an electric floor polisher, Lucy wears outlandish costumes, Lucy is mistaken for an Air Force cadet) is feeling just slightly south of uncomfortable.
Lucy also longs to understand her kids’ love for rock music (in this case, represented by such born-to-be-wild rebels as Wayne Newton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ann Margaret and Donny Osmond). Also, we get Jan Brady herself, Eve Plumb, playing against type as a blonde teenager.
The series never gets racier than a few Raquel Welch jokes, a topless waitress reference, and a passing mention of “unrest on the campuses.” This is a world in which real men like Johnny Carson, Richard Burton, Robert Alda and Gale Gordon go casual by wearing ascots around their necks, and Lucy wears hot pants when upstaging Ginger Rogers.
The commentary track, provided by a grown-up, twenty-first-century Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., proves to be disappointing. Although the two of them could not be more down to earth and likable, there is a sense of them holding back, respectfully obeying an unwritten rule of “don’t go there.”
It’s fun to watch the shows with them, and hear them say, “now there’s an outfit,” or “Gale kills me” or witness them sneering at “that silly-ass pickle jingle;” however, they are careful not too dis too much. A noble gesture, but a dark night of the soul really would have given us something to chew on. There are long stretches of no conversation when you absolutely need to know what they are thinking and not saying. However, we do learn a few show biz tricks, such as the meaning of a sneer take, a swinging door take, a loop line and Lucie warning us, “sounds like a song cue to me.” Desi, meanwhile, instructs us that “it’s not all sunglasses and autographs out there on the set.”
In addition, the over analyzation of Lucy’s comic genius, the bowing and the scraping, and the endless beating of the tom-tom’s about Lucy’s contribution to television is already engrained in our cultural noggin by now – how many more times do we have to learn the lesson and digest it? And how many more times are we going to be force fed this theorem before we spit it out?
Unintentionally funny are the two other commentators, Carol Burnett and Wayne Newton, who appear on separate tracks. Although they are good sports, both claim to not remember anything at all about the episodes in which they appeared (gee, thanks a bunch!); however, Carol reveals that she was always asked to play the “man-hungry nerd.”
As in I Love Lucy, Ball is at her best when she is being a star-struck pain in the ass, unashamedly stalking hapless celebrities who are polite beyond belief, down to their last ounce of patience, yet are ultimately charmed by Lucy’s clumsy, child-like obnoxiousness.
The apex of the series, in fact, is the awesomely unlikely guest appearances of then-married-mega-stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, in the season premiere of 1970. Burton disguises himself as a plumber to escape his throngs of fans, then is roped into fixing Lucy’s sink. Lucy tries on the famous Krupp diamond (a real-life yet bigger-than-life engagement ring from Burton to Taylor) and, of course, can’t slide it off her finger. It’s Lucy’s show (or so she thinks), but Taylor out-wacks her with her strange, spacey immaturity and Burton will simply blow you away with his powerful stage presence.
No other episode in the series comes close to this kind of odd greatness, but there are some moments: Lawrence Welk pokes fun at his square image by saying, “Rock and roll can sound wunnerful, but it’s not my bag.” Shelley Winters, who will stop at nothing for her art, plays a movie star with an overeating problem, and she is not beyond humiliating herself while greedily devouring a turkey leg. And Ball’s former sidekick, Vivian Vance, shows up from time to time as Lucy’s friend from back East. Vance is natural and underrated, and she inadvertently serves as a reminder of better days long gone.
Sammy Davis, Jr., who guest starred on every television show ever, is seen in rehearsal footage, visited by the legendary Desi Arnaz, Sr., who says to Davis, “I see they are hiring minorities this week.” And be sure to treat yourself, your friends and loved ones to the blooper reel that contains a rehearsing Lucy exclaiming “Jesus!” and “up your ass!”
Unforgivable is the exclusion of the O.J. Simpson episode (while we are burdened with not only two Jack Benny appearances, but a tiresome Lucy guest spot on a Benny television special about – yawn – circus performers).
By the end of the early seventies, Lucy wisely bowed out, realizing that her time had come and gone. She would eventually attain worship status via endless reruns of her first series from the fifties. However, unlike that show, Here’s Lucy would not retain and nourish that perennial syndicated love and worldwide obsession. Still, it’s a hootable look at a curious performer in her twilight – a wrinkle in time.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 17, 2004.