4/04/2014

TV on DVD Review: Here's Lucy - The Complete Series (1968-1974)


Now Available to Own   

  

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In one of the funniest episodes of Here's Lucy, the onscreen children of Lucille Ball's character Lucy Carter (played by her talented offscreen children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.) rehearse a school fight song in the living room set of the hit CBS series.

As Desi's Craig drums along the banister, Lucie's Kim practices her cheer routine, singing, "You gotta go, you gotta work, you gotta fight, fight fight," as their mother joins in, dancing along to the delightful hoots and hollers of the live studio audience on her exit out the door.


Yes, the generic lyrics of the catchy fight song may have been written with high school football in mind. However, because they sync up so perfectly with yet another reminder of her mother's knack for physical comedy and her willingness to do anything for a laugh, Arnaz might just as well have been describing one more reason why we love her mother Lucy so much – summing up the work ethic of Ball in a single cheer.

Ball's fourth series following I Love Lucy and its Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour spin-off, Here's Lucy was also her second solo sitcom after her divorce from Arnaz Sr., when she walked away from the smash success of The Lucy Show to venture into this family-centric outing.


Bringing Gale Gordon, who played her previous comedic foil along with her for this entirely new production, Here's Lucy (which was created by Bob O'Brien and Milt Josefsberg and executive produced by her second husband Gary Morton) ran for six successful seasons before wrapping up what would be for Ball roughly twenty-five years of working steadily on broadcast television.

Although Ball's trademark brand of physical comedy with plenty of slapstick remained, this series marked a welcome transition for the star from the far-too broad style of comedy and ditzy character she played on The Lucy Show. In fact, Ball does some of her best and most natural work in Here's Lucy, which was at its strongest the closer it kept to real, identifiable situation based comedy.


Quite experimental at times (especially early on), the series hit a few stumbling blocks with some pretty bizarre plotlines involving everything from spies and accidental diamond smuggling to out-there travel episodes that found our favorite redhead joining the Air Force, marrying an Indian and rafting down the Colorado River.

Fortunately when it found its footing, Here's Lucy turned into a true gem that's usually overlooked in Ball's impressive career. Vastly superior to The Lucy Show which hasn't held up very well at all given the dated humor and Ball's struggle to leave the slapstick world of Lucy Ricardo behind, in this, my first experience with Here's Lucy, I found myself consistently mesmerized by this underrated series.

Much like the Ball's work in Yours, Mine and Ours (which preceded the series), Here's Lucy illustrates her growing talent as an actress vs. a stereotypical comedienne best known for pratfalls and funny faces.

Digitally remastered and lovingly transferred to DVD in a series spanning box set collection of twenty-four discs, the recent MPI Home Video release includes a treasure trove of television museum worthy behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, episode introductions, featurettes and commentary tracks.

While Here's Lucy took some of its cues from the tried-and-true I Love Lucy formula playbook by filling its seasons with big name guest stars, movie star cameos and multiple musical numbers which proved that the Arnaz children had inherited their father's talents for song and dance, overall Here's Lucy is a first-rate family sitcom.


From the first standout episode "Lucy, the Process Server" up through the sixth season ensemble British stage comedy approach utilized in "Lucy is N.G. as an R.N." Here's Lucy remains consistently good.

Admittedly, even her children would be the first to admit that at the beginning they weren't given much to work with in terms of their characters whom Desi Jr. (who left after three seasons) likened to more comedic, broad versions of themselves.


However both grow more at ease in front of the camera as the series progresses, stealing several scenes away from A-list guest stars as well as their mother in one of several "Let's Put on a Show" style set-ups that were devised in its 144 episode run.

Yet as delightful as the variety show-like episodes are, I was particularly taken in by the unbelievable hilarity that the staff writers and series actors derived from the most deceptively simple premises.

And this is on display throughout, as evidenced in one memorable first season outing when an attempt to fix a lamp accidentally destroys an entire wall in "Lucy, the Fixer" that reminded me of a similar cat-in-the-wall gag used on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Taking one idea and then running with it to the extreme (similar to way that gags were built on top of gags in some of I Love Lucy's most famous episodes) spins what could've been a predictable plotline into Here's Lucy comedy gold.


Whether it's when Kim teams up with Uncle Harry (Gordon) to try and scare off Lucy's questionable boyfriend in "Lucy's Punctured Romance" or in any number of misunderstanding based episodes, the ingenuity of the core cast and crew is on full display when humor is mined from universally identifiable situations.

Obviously for fans of another series for which Ball paved the way, the annual visits from Carol Burnett are a comedic thrill and Burnett contributes to this collection by providing commentary to bring us behind-the-scenes of the top ten ratings hit.

Likewise I Love Lucy devotees are sure to enjoy the rare but welcome appearance of Vivian Vance who guest-starred roughly once a season after generating huge laughs from her series debut as a prospective date for Harry in "Lucy, the Matchmaker" which found staff writers addressing the contemporary idea of computer dating in an attempt to change with the times.


The last successful series starring Ball whose mid-80s return to television (along with a then-retired Gale Gordon) in Life With Lucy failed to find an audience, Here's Lucy, which has since achieved something of cult status after appealing to new generations of fans on Nick at Nite is also one of the icon's best.

Undoubtedly crafted in 1968 as a television love letter to her children, Here's Lucy is fittingly served up to audiences forty years after its final episode aired in 1974 in this gorgeous presentation by Ball's children as a DVD love letter to their talented mother.

For whatever her last name was from Ricardo to Carmichael or Carter, Lucy's ever-growing fanbase will now be able to continue loving Lucy for years to come, making the hardworking woman whose legacy lives on in the characters she played something to cheer for once again.


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