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I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 85 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 23 2014 - 02:48 PM

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I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 Blu-ray Review

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.


Cover Art


Studio: Paramount

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-ray

keep case with leaves in a slipcover

Disc Type:

Region: All

Release Date: 05/06/2014

MSRP: $129.99




The Production Rating: 4.5/5

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.

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



Video Rating: 4/5  3D Rating: NA

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.



Audio Rating: 4/5

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.



Special Features Rating: 5/5

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.

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.



Overall Rating: 4.5/5

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.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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#2 of 85 ONLINE   Steve...O

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Posted April 23 2014 - 06:59 PM

Thanks, Matt!  A very thorough and well written review. 

 

The high price of this is turning me off, but this does look tempting.  From a video quality standpoint, how would these compare to the Twilight Zone BDs?  I have those and they look stunning for the most part.

 

Are you getting the Honeymooners to review?  That series may be the one I get given that it will be a "complete series" release and it will be a major upgrade from the DVDs.

 

Before and After (2:12, HD): a comparison to the quality of these masters to previous incarnations of the show available on 16mm.

 

I had to laugh when I read this.  Naturally this will look better than 16mm so not sure what their point is.  A comparison to the previous masters used for the DVDs might have been more meaningful although not as dramatic an improvement. 


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#3 of 85 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 23 2014 - 07:06 PM

I began work on The Honeymooners tonight.

 

I would say The Twilight Zone may be half a step up in quality from these I Love Lucy transfers, but it's really too close to call. Also, I haven't watched my Twilight Zone Blu-rays in some time.



#4 of 85 OFFLINE   Brian W.

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Posted April 23 2014 - 07:10 PM

Thanks for the review, Matt.  (Strangely, I just posted this and hit "add comment," and it didn't post, so I'll repost again.)

 

Do you mean the actual full-length Philip Morris commercials are included, not just the Philip Morris segues into commercials?  Previously only the Criterion laserdisc had the full-length Philip Morris commercials included as part of the episodes.



#5 of 85 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 23 2014 - 07:12 PM

Thanks for the review, Matt.  (Strangely, I just posted this and hit "add comment," and it didn't post, so I'll repost again.)

 

Do you mean the actual full-length Philip Morris commercials are included, not just the Philip Morris segues into commercials?  Previously only the Criterion laserdisc had the full-length Philip Morris commercials included as part of the episodes.

 

Yep, full length commercials. Some of the episodes run over 30 minutes each.


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#6 of 85 OFFLINE   Brian W.

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Posted April 23 2014 - 07:15 PM

OMG, more than I ever dreamed of.   So when they say "night of broadcast" presentation, they really mean it.  Wonder if they'll do the same for "Andy Griffith," which is supposed to also have the "night of broadcast" option.  Thanks, Matt!



#7 of 85 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 23 2014 - 09:33 PM

Matt, thank you for the review.

 

I own all these episodes on DVD.  I am also ignoring this set

due to its outrageous pricing.  In a year to three it will be dirt

cheap on Amazon.  I can wait till then.

 

Happy to learn the set lives up to expectations.


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#8 of 85 OFFLINE   Larry.P

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Posted April 23 2014 - 10:11 PM

 

 

I had to laugh when I read this.  Naturally this will look better than 16mm so not sure what their point is.  A comparison to the previous masters used for the DVDs might have been more meaningful although not as dramatic an improvement. 

The before and after comparison is relevent as it demonstrates the cleanup that was done on the original broadcast elements that were 16mm.  This includes the original openings and flashback segments, among others.  It is not a comparison of the 16mm to 35mm.  35mm elements of this footage are not known to exist

 

Clarification on the pilot.  The pilot is not offered in both kinescope and 35mm formats.  The previous DVDs used a 16mm kinescope print, thought to be the only surviving copy.  However, the pilot was shot on 35mm film (still a kinescope - from a TV monitor).  CBS recently discovered they had the original 35mm negative of the kinescope.  This newly remastered print is what is presented.  This print was also inserted into the remastered version of "The Very First Show" special.  Final note: the pilot looks great (much better than released before), but don't expect it to look like the filmed episodes because it is still a kinescope.  It is wonderful that the opening few seconds which were missing from the 16mm are intact on the 35mm neg.



#9 of 85 OFFLINE   Larry.P

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Posted April 23 2014 - 10:17 PM

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 I am also ignoring this set

due to its outrageous pricing.  In a year to three it will be dirt

cheap on Amazon.  I can wait till then.

 

Happy to learn the set lives up to expectations.

I can completely understand the point about the price.  However, when you think that people spend hundreds of dollars on EBAY for just one 16mm film of an original network print....   it seems like a bargain (at least for a collector) to get 45 full network broadcasts looking glorious (35 + 13 rebroadcasts), plus the pilot, plus the bonus features.


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#10 of 85 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 23 2014 - 10:31 PM

Larry,

 

I understand the reason for the pricing.

 

However, with everyone knowing how Amazon price reductions work, and

the fact many already own these episodes on DVD, it certainly is more beneficial

for most to wait for a better bargain.....

 

....that is, if they are willing to wait for it.


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#11 of 85 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted April 23 2014 - 11:18 PM

I can completely understand the point about the price.  However, when you think that people spend hundreds of dollars on EBAY for just one 16mm film of an original network print....   it seems like a bargain (at least for a collector) to get 45 full network broadcasts looking glorious (35 + 13 rebroadcasts), plus the pilot, plus the bonus features.

 

I was one of those people who paid for individual TV episodes on 16mm. I even managed to score a few that were uncut, and even some network prints of The Mary Tyler Moore Show before it began its slow, agonizing crawl onto DVD (I will have a heart attack if it ever reaches Blu-ray). They weren't cheap, and they started to add up. I even have a couple I Love Lucy prints, but they're from Viacom prints that happened to escape being cut. CBS network prints went for three-digit sums back then, and I could never afford one.

 

At first I was up in arms about the price, but then I thought about it. We complain about the price of this set in comparison to the DVDs, but this really is a step up in the presentation of the original broadcast versions. Some of the reinstated material from season 6 and the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour looked like they were taken from VHS dubs. And to have a "night of broadcast" version on some of them makes it all the more enticing. I'll get the set, but I'll wait for the sale. If only every studio was willing to go the extra mile, but they're still not willing to sacrifice profit margins for a greater volume of sales. The cost of Blu-ray mastering is substantially more than that of DVD. That's why Shout! Factory only released Leave it to Beaver on DVD and not Blu-ray although they remastered it in HD: IIRC they said it was 3-5 times more expensive. The retail price of that is $200, so to maintain the same profit margins, Shout! would have to charge anywhere between $600 to $1000 between them. And who would pay $1000 for a Blu-ray of anything?


Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then.


#12 of 85 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted April 24 2014 - 12:20 AM

EDIT: repost


Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then.


#13 of 85 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted April 24 2014 - 01:01 AM

I am in the wait mode too regarding this release due to the pricing.


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#14 of 85 OFFLINE   McCrutchy

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Posted April 24 2014 - 01:26 AM

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I don't mean to disagree with anyone here, but some of the comments on the pricing of these sets are very deflating to me. The same thing happens with the BD sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

 

First of all, it's worth noting that with a few exceptions, Paramount/CBS are the only ones releasing classic serialized TV remastered on Blu-ray. Other labels have taken a shot at it, but most have concentrated on newer TV material that is HD ready, and even many of these shows are largely unreleased on Blu-ray.

 

Now, with their sets, Paramount/CBS have produced high-quality encodes, with not just remastered HD video, but lossless audio, AND new bonus materials (often in HD). The cost before replication alone must be massive, and it speaks to the fact that only the most popular shows have been released or are slated for release.

 

This Lucy release, for example, appears to be over 15 hours of content, which is basically  between 7-9 average-length movies, The list price is $130, which is less than $9 per hour of newly remastered content, and that is before extras are considered. Amazon have discounted the set to less than $75, which translates to less than $5 per hour of newly remastered content. To me, it is hard to argue the Amazon price, especially not if it were to drop to about $60, which the TNG Blu-ray editions did just before release.

 

The problem here is not that the Blu-ray set is expensive, it is that we are now frankly spoiled by how dirt cheap the DVD versions have become. I didn't follow the Lucy sets on DVD, but I know TNG DVD sets, which required far less effort than the Blu-ray versions, were regularly sold for around or over $100 each. I can't imagine that the Lucy sets were much different, back before DVD became the lowest common denominator. And I have been able to get all five of the now released TNG Blu-ray sets for approx $60 each on release, and I consider that a massive bargain.

 

With all the effort and expense that goes into these releases, I would think that fans would have a really hard time saying no to these Blu-ray editions at current prices, especially when so many wax rhapsodic about Twilight Time, which charges at least $30 + shipping for what is often one film. Hell, I am inclined to buy this release, and I am not even a fan of the show, as I have only seen bits and pieces of episodes.

 

i am sure that in a year, this set will be maybe $40 or less, which saves the thrifty all of $35 if the current pre-order price holds, However, if nobody buys this set on release, do you really think you can count on seeing the rest of the series released on Blu-ray? Because I certainly don't. It still honestly amazes me, that CBS/Paramount can even afford to produce these releases period, when we have been told time and again that so much film and TV material would be impossible to justify for remastering on Blu-ray. 


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#15 of 85 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted April 24 2014 - 02:42 AM


 

McCrutchy wrote: "I don't mean to disagree with anyone here, but some of the comments on the pricing of these sets are very deflating to me. The same thing happens with the BD sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation...."

 

 

 

 

I think Next Generation is a different case. There they are rebuilding the episodes from scratch, and in some cases redoing the fx for HD. That justifies that premium price imho.

 

For I Love Lucy they are scanning and cleaning up something that already exists. Putting Star Trek pricing on this seems a stretch to me.

 

The pq on the DVDs of Next Gen were truly terrible, maybe in letter grades something like a "D." Now they are an "A."

 

The pq on the DVDs of I Love Lucy, however, was already good, probably a "B-." Even if the blu-rays are an "A," and I imagine they are, that's not as big of a jump as with Next Gen.

 

Just my 2 cents.

 

I approve of your general point that we need to buy shows we love to keep them coming, but the pricing on this still seems out of line to me. Little House on the Prarie, with an MSRP of $40 and a street price of half that seems closer to a price the average person can afford for an old TV show. Maybe that's on the low side, but $130 is out of line for anything but Star Trek imho.



#16 of 85 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted April 24 2014 - 04:01 AM

I can see charging/paying $75-ish for Star Trek: The Next Generation because they've had to go back to the original negative, they've added CG effects and because they know that Trek fans are willing to spend money. However, what is it about this set that has caused it to be so much more expensive than The Twilight Zone or The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Prisoner or Little House On The Prairie?

 

I understand that compared to a movie this set is fairly inexpensive and that poor sales could stall the series but when this sells terribly (and it definitely will not sell at $75), Paramount will have to realize that the massive price tag is the biggest cause and hopefully bring the MSRP to a non-Star Trek price so they can then actually sell copies of the rest of the seasons.

 

All that being said, this set sounds great, I can't wait to pick it up once the price comes down to planet Earth and I totally envy the people willing to spend the money to get it now. :)



#17 of 85 OFFLINE   JohnMor

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Posted April 24 2014 - 08:43 AM

However, what is it about this set that has caused it to be so much more expensive than The Twilight Zone or The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Prisoner or Little House On The Prairie?


I'll probably pick this up, but I paid practically this same price for the ENTIRE Dick Van Dyke Show series on Blu-ray. That makes it a bit hard to swallow.
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#18 of 85 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted April 24 2014 - 09:12 AM

I'm willing to pick up the first season at the current price - I'm really curious to see how the results look.  But at this price, I can't imagine picking up every single season either.



#19 of 85 ONLINE   Rob_Ray

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Posted April 24 2014 - 10:03 AM

Trouble is, the first two-thirds of season one contain the weakest episodes (Drafted, The Young Fans) of the entire series.  I know some diehard Lucy fans who detest season one as a whole, even though it contains several classic episodes (Lucy Does a TV Commercial, The Freezer, Lucy's Schedule).

 

However, I've had it preordered from day one mainly because of the original broadcast materials and the unique repeat broadcast footage, of which I've been told more has been found since the DVDs were released.



#20 of 85 OFFLINE   Russell G

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Posted April 24 2014 - 11:21 AM

This set sounds amazing, but seeing as I'm only on season 2 of the complete DVD set I picked up last november for $50, I wont be buying any of the blu-rays anytime soon.

 

This should of been sold as a complete series.







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