Official First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s a given that, were you to ask the average person which of Lucille Ball’s four sitcoms would be the most appropriate to put into a TV time capsule, the unanimous answer would be “I Love Lucy,” and let’s be honest: only a fool would dare to suggest anything else. (Not that there isn’t a certain temptation to say “Life with Lucy,” just to see the look on people’s faces.) The problem is that, in recent years, Lucy’s efforts from the ‘60s and ‘70s seem to have fallen out of favor with the folks who re-run classic TV series, thereby leaving far too many of today’s viewers unaware that Ms. Ball still managed to stay pretty darned funny even after she and Desi parted ways.
Many episodes of Lucy’s early ‘60s endeavor, “The Lucy Show,” have found their way into circulation through those DVDs that pop up in your local Dollar Tree, but those who have rightfully groused about the execrable quality – because, y’know, for a buck, it should be utterly pristine, right? – will be thrilled to watch “The Official First Season,” which has been lovingly restored by CBS / Paramount to look as good as anyone could possibly hope for. It’s also been tricked out with plenty of bonus material, but more on that in the appropriate section. For now, let’s talk about the series itself.
The premise of “The Lucy Show” found our heroine playing Lucy Carmichael, a widow living in the small town of Danfield, Connecticut with her two kids, Chris (Candy Moore) and Jerry (Jimmy Garrett). If you’ve watched your fair share of “I Love Lucy” episodes but have never seen this series, then you may be surprised to find that the two series find Lucy sharing a co-star: Vivian Vance, a.k.a the actress formerly known as Ethel Mertz. Here, Vance once again plays Lucy’s best friend, but as Vivian Bagley, she’s a divorcee with a son, Sherman, played by Ralph Hart, and Lucy and Viv combine their families and save money by living together in the same house. You will be shocked – shocked! – to learn that these two women manage to get into all sorts of trouble together.
That, of course, is sarcasm, but you may be legitimately surprised to find that the show’s first season is devoid of a character who would, in its later seasons, come to be synonymous with Lucy: Mr. Mooney. Played by Gale Gordon, Mr. Mooney was the banker who handled the account which had been set up for Lucy by her late husband, but his series debut didn’t occur until Season Two; instead, Lucy’s occasional monetary battles find her butting heads with Mr. Barnsdahl, played by legendary character actor Charles Lane. (For the record, Gordon would’ve joined in Season One, but he was under contract to continue his role as Mr. Wilson on “Dennis the Menace.”) Also appearing in Season One but not in any subsequent seasons is Dick Martin of “Laugh In” fame, who plays Lucy’s next-door neighbor and occasional beau, Harry Conners. Perhaps most impressive about “The Lucy Show,” however, is how few celebrity guest appearances are utilized. One tends to think about the way Lucy always managed to shoehorn in this actor or that, but aside from Hans Conried appearing in one episode as Lucy's vocal coach, the season relies almost exclusively on the abilities of the show's primary cast.
It feels superfluous to tell you much more about “The Lucy Show” than what’s already been discussed, as it would detract from the experience of seeing what ridiculous things Lucy and Viv find themselves involved in, but there are a few specifics worth noting. With Lucy Carmichael having a teenage daughter and a middle school-aged son, there are several generation-gap storylines brought into play, but those actually tend to be the lesser stories. It’s generally the episodes where Lucy finds herself trying to perform tasks that her husband would ordinarily have handled that things reach slapstick nirvana, such as putting a TV antenna on the roof or trying to referee her son’s football game. There’s considerable humor drawn from Lucy’s love life as well, however, including one particularly fascinating episode – “No More Double Dates” – where the first half could be used in a college-level course entitled “Signs of ‘Seinfeld’: The Evolution of Comedy About Nothing.” Seriously, there’s a solid 10 to 15 minutes where almost nothing happens outside of a discussion about where the two couples are going to have dinner, but it’s absolutely hilarious.
No, “The Lucy Show” isn’t the first Lucille Ball vehicle you’d put in a TV time capsule, but it’s certainly a worthy selection for runner-up.
Special Features: This set would probably otherwise only earn 3.5 stars, just because it’s funny but not essential, but given that it’s so filled with bonus material, it’s impossible not to bump it up to a 4-star review based on this content alone. In addition to new interviews with Lucie Arnaz (who wasn’t a regular but did make several appearances) and cast member Jimmy Garrett, there are loads of cast commercials, network promos, vintage opening and closings which were removed when the show went into syndication, and clips from the so-called “Opening Night” special. There’s also a cool little feature called “Flubs,” which points out moments from the series – set malfunctions, missed cues, botched lines – which didn’t go as planned but were left in nonetheless. Lastly, you get cast biographies, production notes, and photos of vintage merchandise for the series.