Monday, October 2, 2017

In Defense of ‘Here’s Lucy’


The prevailing opinion among TV intelligentsia goes that I Love Lucy (1951-1957) is one of television’s crown jewels, and that The Lucy Show (1962-1968) is not as highly regarded, though perhaps its best moments rivaled the quality of its predecessor.

By contrast, Here’s Lucy (1968-1974), an unofficial continuation of The Lucy Show, surpassed the freshness expiration date for its antiquated sitcom formula – and its leading lady. 



But as is often the case with television, those who make such pronouncements did not speak for the public at large. Here’s Lucy ran for six seasons and 144 episodes. It ranked among the top ten highest-rated programs in its first four years, rising as high as #3 in 1970-71.

It’s likely that Lucy’s basic brand of comedy may have seemed outdated to those that preferred more substantive sitcoms like All in the Family, MASH and Good Times. But clearly there were just as many viewers who enjoyed a weekly visit with a friend they had watched for 20 years. For them, it was comfort TV.

Looking back on Here’s Lucy now, it’s easy to appreciate its old-world craftsmanship: the way standard plots unfold with clockwork predictability; Lucy’s comic incompetence at office work and blustery Gale Gordon as her exasperated boss (and in this case, brother-in-law); the lavish musical production numbers, expertly arranged and choreographed within the show’s standard shooting schedule, and performed for a live audience. 

The series frequently featured big-name guest stars, something The Lucy Show did in its later seasons as well. At the time these appearances were not considered all that special, but more than 40 years later it’s wonderful to watch so many classic film and television icons sharing the stage with Lucy.

Not that the show needs my defending, but here are ten episodes from an overlooked series that is worth a second look.

Lucy Meets the Burtons
This is the most famous Here’s Lucy episode, as well as the highest-rated, thanks to its Hollywood royalty guest stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. 



The couple is nearly upstaged by Taylor’s 60-karat ring, which figures prominently in the story when Lucy tries it on and can’t get it off. The show’s comic centerpiece was recycled from the I Love Lucy episode “The Handcuffs,” and works just as well the second time. 



Lucy the Fixer
Lucy meets Harry at his home to take care of some work. She discovers a lamp isn’t working and sets out to fix it. When she’s done, Harry’s house is in a shambles. 



“Lucy the Fixer” delivers a master class in the kind of physical comedy that dates back to the silent movie era. The timing, the steady build from minor trouble to major disaster, the reactions of Lucy and Harry every time the destruction escalates – it’s flawless.

Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton
One of the delights of Here’s Lucy that separates the show from Ball's previous series is how it utilizes the talents of Lucy and Desi’s two teenage children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., as Lucy Carter’s kids Kim and Craig. 



“Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton” is an ideal showcase for Lucie’s song-and-dance flair and Desi Jr.’s dry wit and drumming skills. Wayne Newton’s old-school style of showmanship meshed well with the series’ corny charms.



Lucy and Vivian Vance
Vivian Vance made a handful of guest appearances on Here’s Lucy, and each visit rekindled a 20-year on-screen relationship as beloved as any in television history. Viewers knew these moments were likely the end of an era, and you can hear the tumultuous audience reaction each time Vance first appears on stage. Perhaps the material they’re working with doesn’t compare to those moments on the chocolate factory assembly line, but their comic chemistry is undiminished.  



Lucy Visits Jack Benny
Jack Benny was among Lucy’s closest friends and a frequent guest on her TV shows. What makes this episode special is not its trite premise – Lucy’s family rents rooms at Jack’s Palm Springs estate, offering Benny several opportunities to display his tightwad persona – but a remarkable cameo at the end when a busload of tourists is dropped at the home for a tour. The bus driver is Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden. It’s a brief moment, but a special one. 



Lucy and Harry’s Italian Bombshell
Lucy ran her shows with military precision, which didn’t leave room for spontaneity. So it’s a remarkable thing to watch Gale Gordon ad-lib a line in this episode, which causes Lucy to start laughing to the point where she nearly breaks character, and to have the scene make it into the final episode. I’d give you the details but if you haven’t seen it, it’s more fun to experience unspoiled.

Lucy and Mannix Are Held Hostage
Lucille Ball’s studio clout kept Mannix on the air after a low-rated first season, so it’s not surprising to see Mike Connors appear as the detective on Here’s Lucy. It can be strange to watch a serious character engaged in broad physical comedy, but here it works – the scene in which Lucy and Mannix are tied to chairs, back-to-back, is one of those physical comedy set pieces treasured by Lucy fans. 



Lucy and The Andrews Sisters
Watching Here’s Lucy now is a nostalgic experience, but here’s an episode that generated nostalgic emotions when it first aired in 1969! Lucy and her daughter join Patty Andrews in recreating a big band era concert featuring the music of The Andrews Sisters. The performance is (mostly) played straight, to give these classic songs their due. 


  
Lucy the Crusader
Lucy tries to return a defective stereo, and gets the runaround at the store. She rounds up other customers stuck with lousy merchandise from the same manufacturer and leads an assault on the company’s stockholders meeting. The succession of prop gags as each defective item is demonstrated has its moments, but “Lucy the Crusader” made the list thanks to Charles Nelson Reilly, in his usual flamboyant form as the head of the store’s complaint department.

Ginger Rogers Comes to Tea
Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers appeared in the 1937 musical Stage Door. This episode, broadcast 34 years later, is practically a testimonial to Ginger, featuring Lucy and Harry singing “Cheek to Cheek” and a dance number (that Ginger choreographed) featuring Ginger, Lucy and Lucie Arnaz. It’s another delightful, carefree moment in a series that had no higher aspirations. And what’s wrong with that?

 

Here’s Lucy is available on some wonderful DVDs put out by MPI, featuring new introductions from Lucie Arnaz and other cast members for every episode from every season. And no, they didn't pay me to write that.


4 comments:

  1. The funny thing is now this show doesn't seem as dated as All in The Family.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. 'Here's Lucy' will never tell you who was president at that time, or that there was a war going on in Vietnam. It provided happy escapism then and still does.

      Delete
  2. Just been directed to this article by It's About TV. I remember Here's Lucy very fondly and even seeing some of your snapshots here it brings those memories back. Fantastic article!

    As I said on It's About TV, Here's Lucy was my most familiar Lucy title as its predecessors largely pre-dated my childhood, so when I think of Lucy I automatically think of Here's Lucy. It hasn't been shown on Australian TV for years sadly. Might have to be a DVD purchase.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I admit that I could never get into HERE'S LUCY nor THE LUCY SHOW...but I adored I LOVE LUCY. Somehow, Desi seemed to bring out the best in Lucy.

    ReplyDelete