There is no question that I Love Lucy is one of the iconic situation comedies of the 20th century. It might not be the best written (The Mary Tyler Moore Show would get my vote), the most honored (Frasier won the most Emmys), or had the longest reign as the most popular show on television (All in the Family and The Cosby Show each placed as number one for five years to Lucy’s four), but it’s fair to say that somewhere in the world right now, I Love Lucy is playing and making folks laugh, the way it has done for more than half a century. The groundbreaking first season of this legendary sitcom is now being offered in a high definition package of six Blu-ray discs. Though the price tag is quite steep, there’s no denying that the package is crammed with content, just about everything a Lucy aficionado could ever want.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 2.0, Spanish 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 15 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case with leaves in a slipcover
Release Date: 05/06/2014
After many years of toiling in the movies working for major studios like RKO, MGM, and Paramount (among others), Lucille Ball had never quite become a household name or a big box-office star. It wasn’t a lack of talent or ambition; the cards just never seemed to fall in place for the red-headed actress. Enjoying the popularity of her comedy radio series My Favorite Husband, Lucy decided to embark in the new medium of television which had given similar boosts to other comic actors like Milton Berle and Ed Wynn who hadn’t ever been big hits in the movies. A series would also allow her husband Desi Arnaz, away from home for much of the year touring with his orchestra, to be reunited with her on this joint project. Though CBS wasn’t keen on casting Desi opposite Lucy in their new situation comedy, her insistence meant the married Arnazes would now star together in the new vehicle I Love Lucy.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
From the beginning, I Love Lucy was a ratings smash. Ranking as the third most popular series of the 1951-1952 season, there were episodes during the first season which reached a 90 share of the audience: nine out of ten people watching television during that half hour were watching I Love Lucy. And what were they seeing? Housewife Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) is married to Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) who works regularly at the Tropicana nightclub in New York City. Always wanting to be in show business and wanting to spend much more money than her weekly budget allows, Lucy is a handful for husband Ricky, often getting into hot water with her best friend Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) who often goes along with many of Lucy’s wild schemes to get what she wants. Ethel’s husband Fred (William Frawley), who’s the landlord of the building where they all live, often sides with Ricky in his constant struggles with Lucy’s wild card shenanigans, but he occasionally gets drawn into Lucy’s plans especially when there’s a show at the club that he, as an old vaudevillian, wants to take part in.
Watching the entire first season straight through for the first time in decades, it’s obvious that Lucille Ball gained in confidence working with props and mastering the increasingly slapstick high jinks as the season progressed so that by the time of “Pioneer Women” about two-thirds of the way through the first season, there really isn’t anything writers Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, and Bob Carroll, Jr. could dream up for her that she couldn’t deliver (and often, according to them, superseding their wildest expectations). And with two experienced veterans like Vivian Vance and William Frawley, the show was really blessed with three clowns and one straight man (Desi Arnaz), and even he gets noticeably better as the season progresses.
As for the episodes themselves, there are certainly some classics contained in season one. “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (the famous Vitameatavegamin show) occurs in the first season, and so do such hilarious capers as “The Freezer,” "Pioneer Women," “Breaking the Lease,” "Lucy Writes a Play," “Lucy’s Schedule,” “Ricky Thinks He’s Getting Bald,” and “Ricky Asks for a Raise.” But not every show is a gem. “The Young Fans” despite having Richard Crenna and Janet Waldo as guest stars doesn’t generate many laughs. Neither does “Lucy Is Jealous of a Girl Singer” even if it’s really a dancer that Lucy is envious of. “The Ballet” is usually listed among the fan favorites, but its slapstick is pretty obvious and not effortlessly performed. Nor is “Lucy Plays Cupid” up to the show’s usual high standards even though it’s always a pleasure to see Bea Benaderet and Edward Everett Horton in anything. Also be advised that the season is heavy on music: with Desi playing a singing bandleader, there are many episodes which take place partially in his nightclub and where he performs. If one isn’t fond of Desi’s sometimes off-pitch singing, those scenes can seem to crop up more often than one would like.
Here are the thirty-six episodes from the first season of I Love Lucy. On the six Blu-ray discs, each episode is offered in at least two versions: the present syndicated show and the original broadcasts with the animated segments and original commercials. For the thirteen episodes marked with an asterick (*), these are episodes which feature a third alternative, episodes rerun during Lucy’s maternity leave in season two which offer specially filmed new introductory scenes which lead the reruns into being flashback memories.
1 – Pilot (offered in both kinescope and remastered 35mm formats)
*2 – The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub
3 – Be a Pal
*4 – The Diet
*5 – Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying to Murder Her
*6 – The Quiz Show
*7 – The Audition
*8 – The Séance
*9 – Men Are Messy
*10 – The Fur Coat
*11 – Lucy Is Jealous of a Girl Singer
12 – Drafted
13 – The Adagio
14 – The Benefit
15 – The Amateur Hour
16 – Lucy Plays Cupid
*17 – Lucy Fakes Illness
18 – Lucy Writes a Play
19 – Breaking the Lease
20 – The Ballet
21 – The Young Fans
22 – New Neighbors
23 – Fred and Ethel Fight
24 – The Moustache
*25 – The Gossip
26 – Pioneer Women
27 – The Marriage License
28 – The Kleptomaniac
29 – Cuban Pals
*30 – The Freezer
*31 – Lucy Does a TV Commercial
32 – The Publicity Agent
33 – Lucy Gets Ricky on the Radio
34 – Lucy’s Schedule
35 – Ricky Thinks He’s Getting Bald
36 – Ricky Asks for a Raise
The episodes are presented in their original 4:3 broadcast aspect ratio and in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness for the most part is beautifully consistent with only an occasional shot which seems a little off (either owing to having to be taken from lesser source material or seeming a bit digital in look). The grayscale is magnificent with deep blacks and crisp whites dialed in with expert contrast. There is an occasional age-related anomaly where white swirls zip through the image for a second or two, but these are infrequent and easily ignored. There are also occasionally slight strobing effects in polka dot dresses or patterned blazers The original broadcast episode versions are a little rougher in appearance sporadically especially during the commercials, but they’re still surprisingly strong looking and a pleasure to watch in general. The episodes have been divided into 8 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) mono sound mixes have been as cleaned and spruced up as the video quality. While there may be occasional distortion when the band or Desi’s vocals get a little loud, there are otherwise no age-related problems with these encodes with dialogue coming across wonderfully smooth and clear and the music and sound effects sharing the track easily with the speech.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentaries: two commentaries covering three episodes are present. The first is a general omnibus set of edited comments from Lucy, Desi, the writers, and other staff members hosted by Bart Andrews which play over the combined episodes #5 and #2. The other is also hosted by Bart Andrews and is more specific to the most famous episode of the season #31.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
Wardrobe and Makeup Tests (9:56, HD): TCM host Robert Osborne comments about Lucy and Desi during these silent tests.
I Love Lucy: The Very First Show (48:02, HD): the 1991 CBS television special broadcast after the pilot had been found after being thought missing for so many years. Hosted by Luci Arnaz.
1951 Promo (0:21, HD)
Audio Documentary (59:35): pieced together from interviews with all of the major participants in the program, this gives the entire story of the show’s creation.
Before and After (2:12, HD): a comparison to the quality of these masters to previous incarnations of the show available on 16mm.
Flubs (HD): each of the set’s six discs describe in text and show on video the on-air mistakes made during filming which remained in the broadcast version of the episode.
Lucy on Radio: thirteen episodes of My Favorite Husband which were later adapted into episodes of I Love Lucy are presented.
Behind the Scenes: thirteen selections from Jess Oppenheimer’s autobiography which relate to his years on I Love Lucy are read aloud with occasional video reference to moments from the shows he’s describing.
Slide Shows: a montage of stills from the pilot and from “Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying to Murder Her.”
Guest Cast Profiles: each disc offers brief text profiles of guest cast members for the episodes on that disc.
Sponsor Talent: actors who appear in the original commercials for the broadcast are given text profiles.
Production Notes: each disc presents behind-the-scenes notes on many of the episodes on the disc with an occasional surprise video reference as well.
Photo Gallery: stills from many episodes available in step-through fashion.
On Set Color Home Movies (3:19. HD): home movies shot during production are intercut with the scenes from the episodes themselves.
The Sunday Lucy Show (4:21, SD): the animated introduction to the episode reruns CBS ran on Sundays.
Meet Marc Daniels: the director of the first season’s episodes is given a text profile of his life and career.
Fancy Editing: examples of small edits made in episodes from the original broadcasts to the syndicated versions to cut out direct references to Philip Morris cigarettes.
As hard as it may be to believe, I Love Lucy didn’t win any Emmy Awards during its first season (Red Skelton’s variety show won in both categories where it was pitted against Lucy. In accepting his comedy performance award, Skelton graciously acknowledged that the Academy had given the honor to the wrong redhead). Nevertheless, here in glorious high definition is the first season of one of television’s true landmark situation comedies I Love Lucy. It will be up to each individual fan to determine if the stuffed content of this set justifies the price CBS/Paramount is asking for it.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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