[29 July 2009]
The recent releases of The Lucille Ball Specials and The Lucy Show: Season One offer Lucy fans the chance to get reacquainted with some of the later work that would go on to employ similar characters and themes, although with varying levels of success.
The Lucy Show (1962-1968) was the second series Ball starred in after the end of I Love Lucy (1951-1957) and then The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960). Many have never even seen the material included in these sets and their recent availability is a sign of future such releases such as later series Here’s Lucy.
The Lucy Show is a welcome, if not exactly up to the standards of the classic I Love Lucy, addition to the Lucille Ball canon. Here she plays widow Lucy Carmichael who lives with her two children, teenage daughter Chris (Candy Moore) and young son Jerry (Jimmy Garrett); along with her best friend, divorcee Vivian Bagley (Vivian Vance) and her young son Sherman (Ralph Hart). Their next-door neighbor, Harry (Dick Martin), is often a spectator to the hijinks involving the two women and serves as a frequent sounding board for their various schemes.
The series was based on the book Life Without George by Irene Kampen and makes for an original premise. Ball’s partnership with Vance continues to be just as winning as it always has been. Vance plays the straight woman to many of Ball’s outrageous antics, yet she still manages to deliver some of the funniest lines in the series with an affability that makes their real-life friendship obvious.
The series really gets going after a few episodes and Ball and Vance’s comedic fearlessness is on full display. From an attempt to install a television antenna themselves, to Lucy’s Chaplin impression, to a bunk bed stunt that involves stilts, the chemistry between the two leads is keenly palpable. There is also a looseness to their performances that offers a further glimpse into their working relationship.
The characters frequently disagree and more than once threaten to end their friendship, yet they always realize just how important one is to the other and make up. The audience gets the sense that while both of these women are opinionated and independent, they rely a great deal one another and their friendship has more depth because of it.
The Lucille Ball Specials both aired on CBS in 1975 after the run of her series Here’s Lucy ended. Unfortunately, they lack much of the verve and spark that viewers have come to expect from Ball’s performances. Lucy Gets Lucky has Ball playing Lucy Collins, a fan traveling to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand to see Dean Martin perform. Three for Two is a series of three vignettes focusing on love and marriage, starring Ball and Jackie Gleason.
Lucy Gets Lucky most closely resembles much of the zany antics often associated with Ball. However, unlike the Lucy in I Love Lucy, Lucy Collins lacks the ease and charm of the Ball most fondly remembered. The premise of the special revolves around Lucy’s trip to see Dean Martin perform.
After her harebrained scheme with a fake reservation leaves her shut out of the show, Lucy is out of options until a chance run-in with Martin in the commissary leads to a waitress telling her about a special employees-only show he’ll be performing. Lucy then spends the remainder of the special tackling a number of jobs at the hotel, from car attendant to Keno girl, Lucy repeatedly is on the verge of being fired only to have Martin swoop in and save the day.
The scheming soon wears thin and the special seems to be reaching too far for a laugh. In fact, at times it seems as if lines are being delivered in anticipation of audience laughter making for some awkward comic timing. While Ball and Dean do have some nice moments, such as their dance at the end, there is not enough here to keep the audience engaged for nearly an hour.
Three for Two’s unique presentation of three different sets of husbands and wives played by Ball and Gleason, is a departure from the more outrageous antics usually associated with the two. The first of the three vignettes focuses on a married couple vacationing for the first time in many years. Ball’s Sally is feeling neglected, while Gleason’s Herb is frustrated with her expectations. They argue, talk of divorce, and end up making up at the end. Save for a few throwaway moments, there is little in the way of comedy in this first pairing.
The second story has the two playing adulterers, Fred and Rita, secretly meeting in a dark nightclub. The piece is short and plays up the excitement of their clandestine meeting for laughs, but because of length it never really gets going. Finally, the third installment has them as Mike and Pauline, a married couple with two grown children who would rather spend New Year’s Eve without their parents. Here Ball and Gleason really shine in their respective portrayals of the over-the-top, hysterical mother and the classic patriarch of the time.
Lucille Ball is given the opportunity to do what she does best in both of these releases, although unfortunately, The Lucille Ball Specials does not exactly provide the best showcase for her talents. The specials seem to employ some of Ball’s classic comedic moves, yet in this context they are less than successful.
However, the release contains some very enjoyable extras that go a long way in making the DVD worthwhile. Excerpts of Ball on Art Linklater’s show and audio recordings of her radio show interviews with Dean Martin (accompanied by stills from the period) all highlight the charm and effortless comedy skills exhibited by Ball.
In addition, there is a featurette with actor Gino Conforti who worked with Ball on both of the specials, as well as in other projects. His memories of Ball are glowing recommendations of her talent as a performer and his insight into her style as a director on the 1981 comedy pilot Bungle Abbey.
As for The Lucy Show, while it may not be as classic and groundbreaking as I Love Lucy, the series still retained much of the appeal of the earlier show. Ball and Vance’s comedic partnership continued to be marked by their brilliant chemistry, while the premise gave them opportunity to play two very different women living under the same roof, raising their children, butting heads, and generally doing things for themselves – no small feat for a series of that time.
The first season set also includes a wealth of bonus features such as candid interviews with Lucie Arnaz and Jimmy Garrett; vintage openings and closings that incorporated advertisements for products of the time; cast commercials, flubs, and network promos. Further recreating the time in which the series aired, these extras give a fuller picture of the show.