PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season One' Is Really Smokin'

I Love Lucy has been treasured for years, but this is the first time that it has been presented in a manner so thoroughly studied and examined within its historical context.

I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season One

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley
Network: CBS
Release date: 2014-05-06

Start ranking prominent female comedians of the last century, and Lucille Ball’s name is sure to be among them, usually towards the top. From 1951 to 1957, her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy stayed at the top of the ratings for four of its six seasons.

Even today, Ball remains a massive draw for television audiences. As recently as last December, CBS aired a colorized version of the I Love Lucy Christmas special in primetime, which garnered 8.65 million viewers, beating out both It’s A Wonderful Life on NBC and the most recent Peanuts Christmas special on Fox. The fact that I Love Lucy remains so popular 57 years after it ended is a true testament to the star’s talent.

And make no mistake; it was Ball’s talent that kept audiences coming back for more. Desi Arnaz as Lucy’s persnickety husband, Ricky Ricardo, as well as Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardo’s landlords and best friends, Ethel and Fred Mertz, all deserve honorable mentions. They were invaluable characters, and each lent their own brand of comedic brilliance to their roles. But they all revolved around Lucy, and it was her outrageous antics, half-baked schemes, and zany characters that always drove the show forward.

Episodes of I Love Lucy are not hard to find. Individual packages of each season, as well as a box set of the entire series, are all available on DVD. Clips abound on YouTube. But a new collection of the first season just became available, released for the first time on Blu-ray and it's called “Ultimate Season One” for very good reason. All 35 episodes here are presented in two ways: the syndicated broadcast version, with the well-known heart on satin-curtain openings and closings; and as they were originally broadcast, with an opening and closing vignette featuring Ball and Arnaz as stick-figure cartoons, additional scenes rarely televised for syndication, and all of the original commercials.

Certain episodes are presented yet a third way: the rerun broadcasts that aired during the second year of I Love Lucy while Ball was on maternity leave. These rebroadcasts sometimes added new scenes or dialogue that replaced original versions. This box set has included all elements for these episodes, meaning these “rerun” versions retain original dialogue and scenes from the original broadcast as well as any additional content added for the later version.

This means that you could potentially watch one episode of I Love Lucy three different ways and see something a little different each time. It’s truly a “completest” set. For I Love Lucy fans, there’s simply no other way to watch this show.

The commercials in particular are a fascinating glance back in time. Big Tobacco Company Philip Morris, “America’s most enjoyable cigarette”, sponsored I Love Lucy for three years. In fact, because advertising sponsorship could sink or swim a show back then, it was only due to Philip Morris that I Love Lucy was able to get on the air in the first place. Sponsors had enormous influence over the direction of a show. In the case of I Love Lucy, Philip Morris insisted that the show be set in New York City instead of Los Angeles, as originally planned.

These original commercials also lend a new context to the series missing from syndicated versions. In the famous Vitameatavegamin episode (contained in this season), Lucy tries to convince Ricky to let her perform in a television commercial. When he refuses, she guts their TV set and crawls inside, dressed in a bellhop hat. Holding a pack of cigarettes aloft, Lucy cries, “Call for Philip Morris!” and then promptly drops the cigarettes through the nonexistent “screen”, effectively ruining the illusion.

A bit obscure to modern audiences, watching the episode with the commercials intact sheds new light on the entire joke. The skit is a reference to Johnny Roventini, Philip Morris’ “living trademark”, who began most episodes of I Love Lucy dressed as a bellhop and yelling “Call for Philip Morris” in a haunting B-flat monotone.

In an era when any and all cigarette advertising is banned, the constant pall of smoking over the show’s proceedings firmly plant I Love Lucy in the time and place in which today's aversion was originally conceived. In post-WWII America, nearly half of all Americans smoked, and the long-term health effects were just beginning to become apparent. Evidence suggests that tobacco companies knew about these risks long before the public did, and nonetheless tried everything they could to ensure their product stayed at the center of a daily routine.

In these commercials, it’s suggested, with the help various spokespersons, that the only real way to enjoy I Love Lucy is with a Philip Morris cigarette in your hand. In the show itself, Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred all smoke on occasion, and Ball and Arnaz even appear in their own commercial, Ball exclaiming, “Don’t say cigarette! Say Philip Morris!” Time and again, audiences are assured it’s a “scientific fact” that Philip Morris is the “only brand proved definitely less mild, definitely less irritating, than any other leading brand.”

This kind of propaganda, which only the tobacco industry is capable of, is what makes this new collection so intriguing, especially when a disclaimer now airs before each episode that reads: WE DO NOT RECOMMEND SMOKING, WHICH CAUSES LUNG CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES.

I Love Lucy has been treasured for years, but this is the first time since the show ended that it has been presented in a manner so thoroughly studied and examined within its historical context. And that’s fitting for a show that broke so much ground. It was the first show to feature a mixed-race marriage, starred the first Hispanic headliner on network television, contained the first time pregnancy ever featured on air (although not the word itself), and pioneered the multi-camera, live studio audience set-up that’s still in wide use today.

I Love Lucy is more than just a really, really, funny show – it’s an enduring piece of television history. And thanks to this new Blu-ray set, an entirely new generation of fans can love Lucy for years to come.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.