I Love Lucy: Blu-ray | Paramount (May 2014)
I Love Lucy: Blu-ray cover | Paramount (May 2014)

Why We Still Love Lucy After All These Years

The I Love Lucy cast insisted that the show didn’t intend to take on world-changing progressive issues, but it was far more subversive than they let on.

I Love Lucy
various
CBS
1951-57

Under the Radar Episodes

“Breaking the Lease”

Season 1, Episode 18. Directed by Marc Daniels, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll, Jr. Original air date: 11 February 1952.

Some of the best shows on I Love Lucy deal with conflict between the Ricardos and the Mertzes. Though the four actors share incredible chemistry the writers seemed to have great fun writing shady put-downs, and few actors could deliver a mean one-liner like William Frawley, with his growly voice.

The plot is one of many that has the Ricardos and the Mertzes feuding, this time about making too much noise in the middle of the night. The episode’s conflict is ramped up with spiteful pranks, and peaks with the Ricardos hosting a late-night rager in the flat, dancing up a storm, causing plaster to rain down on the Mertzes’ heads. The inevitable reconciliation takes place, with the women dissolving in hugs and tears. This episode has the best elements of I Love Lucy: barbed humor, physical comedy, memorable quips, and a satisfying conclusion.

“Ricky Asks for a Raise”

Season 1, Episode 35. Directed by Marc Daniels, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr. Original air date: 9 June 1952.

So much of I Love Lucy is a showbiz sitcom and it’s always neat to see Ricky’s singing career. In this episode, Ricky asks his boss at the nightclub for a raise and when refused, he quits in a fit of pique.

To get his job back, Lucy, Fred, and Ethel dress in a series of quick-change outfits pretending to be disgruntled patrons who leave the club once discovering that Ricky’s no longer there. Though the editing is a godsend for a gag like this, the various phony guests that the trio play is hilarious. This is one of many times that Lucy and her pals meddle in Ricky’s career to help him out.

“Lucy Goes to the Hospital”

Season 2, Episode 16. Directed by William Asher, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr. Original air date: 19 January 1953.

This isn’t the best episode of the series but it’s a touching one nonetheless, particularly because we see the family unit gel completely. Ball was really pregnant at the time, and like many ground-breaking aspects of the show, the pregnancy was dealt with in a frank and candid way (though it was forbidden to utter the word pregnant on television at the time). It was one of the most-watched moments in television, with over 70 percent of the television-owning public tuned in to watch their favourite wacky housewife give birth. (Lucy’s birth scooped Eisenhower’s inauguration).

One of the warmest and funniest moments in the episode is when Ricky, Fred, and Ethel struggle to rehearse their system for when Lucy goes into labor – each is assigned a job, none of which matters when Lucy actually does go into labor, causing anarchy. Seeing the Mertzes take on important roles in the birth is a lovely touch.

“No Children Allowed”

Season 2, Episode 22. Directed by William Asher, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr. Original air date: 20 April 1953.

Another important episode in the I Love Lucy lore with the first episode introducing Mrs Trumble (Elizabeth Patterson), the quavering-voiced neighbour who would become a recurring character on the show, serving as Little Ricky’s babysitter.

Another episode highlighted with a fight, this time due to Ethel’s boasting of how she defended the Ricardos’ against neighbors’ complaints of Little Ricky’s late-night crying. Despite Ethel’s obnoxious behavior, her defence of the Ricardos is touching: “We can rent that apartment just like that. And even if we couldn’t, it wouldn’t matter, because my friendship with the Ricardos means more to me than all the money on Earth.”

“Lucy Visits Grauman’s”

Season 5, Episode 1. Directed by James V. Kern, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf. Original air date: 3 October 1955.

One of the things that I Love Lucy did well was serializing the plots. In an effort to inject freshness to the show, the writers created multi-seasons story arcs that took the Ricardos and Mertzes to other locales. In the fifth season, Ricky gets a chance to become a movie star, taking his friends and Lucy to Hollywood while filming his movie debut. Lucy and Ethel descend on Tinseltown on the hunt for the best souvenir, setting their sights on John Wayne’s footprints at Garuman’s Chinese Theatre.

Again, though Lucy’s plan is total absurd nonsense, Fred and Ethel throw themselves into the scheme, helping her out even if they disapprove. Their scheme falls into even deeper chaos when Lucy gets her foot stuck in a pail of cement and she hides out in the Mertzes’ room to avoid Ricky’s wrath. The lengths Fred and Ethel go to in their attempts to keep Lucy hidden from Ricky is touching (though modern sensibilities make it somewhat troubling to see Ricky lift Lucy and drag her away). The episode is very funny but does gesture toward a worrying theme of having celebrities stroll onto the show’s set, setting the stage for stunt guest casting that would hurt the show’s quality. 

“Face to Face”

Season 5, Episode 7. Directed by James V. Kern, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf. Original air date: 14 November 1955.

Once Ricky earns a modicum of success it subtly changes the dynamics of his return to New York City from Hollywood. Though former vaudevillians, Fred and Ethel are somewhat cowed by celebrity. Worried that Ricky’s humble domicile may hold him back, they selflessly pick a fight with the Ricardos so that they will leave their building and take on a flat in a fancier building. It’s a moving gesture, one that shows just how much they love their friends.  

“Staten Island Ferry”

Oppenheimer, Madleyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller. Season 5, Episode 12. Directed by James V. Kern, written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madleyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf. Original airdate: 2

January 1956. In another story arc that takes the characters away from the familiar New York City apartment, the Ricardos and the Mertzes find themselves on a multinational tour of Europe. In this episode, we find a funny and sweet scene between Fred and Lucy, in which the two find themselves on the Staten Island Ferry, the former hoping to get over his seasickness but the latter finding herself doped up on seasick pills. Fred’s solicitous attention over Lucy is quite delightful.

“Lucy Hates to Leave”

Season 6, Episode 16. Directed by William Asher, written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf. Original air date: 4 February 1957.

In mirroring the American family of the mid-century, we saw the Ricardos fulfil the ultimate goal of the American dream: leaving the city and moving into the suburbs. Ricky becomes a commuter, taking the train into the city. In preparation to move to Connecticut, the Ricardos are forced to move in with the Mertzes, turning their apartment into a self-storage unit. Only real friends would let their flat be stuffed with boxes and furniture.

“Lucy Misses the Mertzes”

Season 6, Episode 17. Directed by William Asher, written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskhopf. Original air date: 18 February 1957.

When the Ricardos move to Connecticut it would seem that the dynamic foursome would forever be split apart. In a classic game of misunderstanding, the Ricardos return to New York to visit their beloved friends only to miss the Mertzes who decided to jet down to Connecticut to see their pals.

The resolution finds the four people reunited in the middle of the night after the Ricardos mistake the Mertzes as burglars. Once the four are joined up again, they fall into each other’s arms, crying. It’s a moving scene that perfectly encapsulates the warmth of the programme.

“Housewarming”

Season 6, Episode 23. Directed by William Asher, written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf Original air date: 1 April 1957.

Though the show maintained its quality throughout its six seasons, it was clear by the close of the sixth season that the show was winding down. The final episodes have the Mertzes and the Ricardos switch roles, the former landlords living on the Ricardos’ homestead, keeping their house and continuing to help with Little Ricky. The dynamic has shifted though the quartet living together means that a homier household was established.

In “Housewarming” an interesting wrinkle is added to Lucy’s and Ethel’s friendship with a third character – Betty Ramsey (Mary Jane Croft). Though Lucy and Ethel have friends introduced throughout the show’s run, the core family unit is the most enduring. Bringing in another friend adds an element of diffidence when Ethel feels inadequate compared to the seemingly urbane and elan Betty.

When Betty and Ethel find kinship and inadvertently leave Lucy out, more misunderstandings arise, resulting in poor Ricky and Lucy erroneously expecting a housewarming party. When no party materializes, the Ricardos feel spurned and alone. When the Mertzes learn of their friends’ hurt feelings, they do what the greatest friends do, they jump into action and improvise a housewarming party, saving the most important aspect of I Love Lucy: friendship.

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