I Love Lucy
The Complete Fourth Season (1954-1955) (Paramount-2005)
Do we really love Lucy, or have we been brainwashed to think we do, like in The Manchurian Candidate? When the laughter subsides, is Lucy truly deserving of our love? Is she as overwhelmingly funny as we are led to believe? Does the Empress have no clown clothes?
Perhaps a re-examination is in order.
The best way to do this, and to be fair, is to screen Season Four of I Love Lucy. For what it’s worth, it is more than likely the funniest of all Lucy seasons, concerning her cross-country trip to Hollywood and the resulting antics.
However, most of us have been exposed to only the wackiest of Lucy video clips (Lucy stuck in the meat freezer, Lucy working the candy factory assembly line, Lucy attempting to get it together in a ballet class). You’ll surprise yourself at how little schtick there actually is in the course of a typical episode; talk about a show about nothing – all the wackiness you are waiting for takes its good old time to get to you.
Still, the Arnazes give you your money’s worth – their typical television season will run from September until June! That’s either generous or greedy, depending on whom you ask (a fan or a sponsor, like Lilt Home Permanent and Phillip Morris Tobacco. Lucy and Desi seemed to be mightily pleased with both products, almost obsessively so.).
Even if you do not loathe Lucy, you still won’t find her as funny as her 1954-55 audience did, but consider where you stand on the show’s post-hoc hilarity (example: Lucy’s doddering mother consistently and mistakenly calls her son-in-law Mickey rather than Ricky. Is this funny? Discuss.).
In this particular season using a then-rare story arc, Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) is summoned to “Hollywood” to appear in a screen test for a major “picture,” called Don Juan. He decides not only to invite his wife along, but also his upstairs neighbors, and – eventually – his mother-in-law and his toddler son. To make matters even more unrealistic, they decide to drive, rather than fly, from Manhattan to LA (to make room for more cross-country-related fun).
This trip – now considered a TV classic – gets the cast out of their humdrum New York environment (they live on a busy Upper-West-Side street on which nobody ever walks – maybe because it’s so obviously a painted backdrop in a studio). They eventually take up residence in a Hollywood hotel (another painted, creased backdrop is rolled down in front of their “window,” with the same busy boulevard automobile traffic that stays frozen in the same place in the road for weeks at a time). And even on the west coast, Lucy and Ricky prefer separate twin beds.
This alleged “fun” has an expiration date: Lucy sees the sights, which include Eve Arden, Harpo Marx (living in character) and William Holden. Rednecks (played by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and by fat twins named Hotsi and Totsi) come in for a mean-natured ribbing, and Van Johnson is working on his nightclub act (or is it just his life?). So that Lucy has time to annoy everyone equally, neighbor Mrs. Trumble takes Little Ricky “to the zoo” or “to the park” (when the toddler does appear on screen briefly, he’s visibly miserable and reluctant to be there).
What to do about the baby who originally earned high ratings, just for being born? That was fine a few years earlier. Now, with Lucy and Ricky frolicking in sunny LA, they leave their two-year-old son with Lucy’s forgetful and undependable mother for weeks on end. As well, Lucy mentions during a particularly bad mood, “as soon as I start feeling better, I’m going to kill myself.” Great choice of words from mom.
In thirteen years of marriage, Lucy never picks up one word of Spanish from her Cuban husband, but we at least we still get to hear Desi sing “Cuban Pete,” and witness a tiny bit of film footage of the brand-new interstate highway system, christened by then-President Eisenhower.
Speaking of choice, Ricky has no choice but to treat his wife like a child, because that’s what she is, in essence. It’s uncomfortable for us to witness, like dinner guests who did not ask for that spontaneous argument and ensuing scene from their hosts.
Lucy’s personality pattern seems to oscillate between selfish child-woman and selfish castrating bitch. Perhaps it’s due to her lack of a full-time job and the fact that her baby son seems to take naps for entire episodes – she fills her empty days with an odd need to scheme and blackmail.
She cries to her husband’s business manager about getting more money for the household budget (by the way, her monthly utility bill is $8.75); her insistence on appearing in her husband’s show business projects only intensifies while in LA – she single-handedly destroys his screen test in the burning desire to appear on film herself.
When a near-sighted neighbor makes a surprise visit to Hollywood to see all the stars Lucy had lied to her about knowing, Lucy steals the poor woman’s glasses and then proceeds, from a safe distance, to impersonate stars (costumes and all) in the need to cover her fib. “Lucy,” Ethel blasts disapprovingly, “why don’t you just shoot her when she walks through the door?”
Poor Ethel, who puts up with all of this in order to take an exciting trip and break up the monotony of her own trap. Her love for her husband, Fred, is practically non-existent, and the building back in New York is hardly paid for after many years. She was a former vaudevillian; now a less-than-willing accomplice to her neighbor’s delusional schemes. This should have been the show.
When the gang visits Ethel’s hometown of Albuquerque, her old friends and family make a fuss over her. Sure, it goes to her head a little, but we can understand it and feel her. Not Lucy. Lucy can’t stand it. She goes out of her way to humiliate Ethel on stage and to crush her small – and possibly last – chance at happiness.
Funny? Or psychotic? You decide.
Simply, Lucy has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do: she knocks a hapless waiter into William Holden; she worms her way into Richard Widmark’s bizarre den (filled with stuffed, hunted game animals); she tortures Van Johnson during a nightclub rehearsal; and she marvels at Rock Hudson, who is promoting his latest “picture.”
We are told that this Monday-evening series on CBS was so popular that department stores would close early due to lack of business and that water pressure in New York City would increase only during the show’s commercials. There seems to be no hard proof to back this up, but a world like this would seem magical at best.
Either way, Lucy will be around long after you and I are gone, which prompts us to exclaim, just like Fred Mertz, “now, wait just a ding-dong minute!”
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 11, 2006.