2) Lucy Does a TV Commercial (I Love Lucy)

I got some messages during the course of this that I didn’t put enough Lucy on here, some of which were probably accurate. Hurt feelings compelled me to put a bonus one on here earlier, but I’m not really going to count it for the purposes of this review. Mostly because I wrote the rest of this before doing the new addition. But after writing this paragraph. Crazy.

ILoveLucyTitleThis is the second I Love Lucy episode on this list… and are any of you actually surprised? It’s I Love Lucy. The show has been re-run consistently for 50 years. People still love it. I wouldn’t have felt like I was making a huge mistake if I’d given it 20 spots on the list, I just realized that most of the episodes are pretty similar. I almost put on the episode with Lucy telling Ricky she’s pregnant, just because the look on his face singing “We’re Having a Baby, My Baby and Me” is priceless. If you ask me to watch a random episode of this show or watch basically any reality show, I’d say “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!” To those of you who want to point out that Ricky never actually said that: I DON’T CARE.

ILoveLucyCastQuick Recap: The show had a pretty general premise. Lucille “Lucy” Esmeralda McGillicuddy Ricardo and Enrique “Ricky” Alberto Fernando y de Acha Ricardo III (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are married and they live in an apartment in New York, where they frequently interact with their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Ricky is a popular bandleader and singer at a club. Lucy is a housewife who dreams of stardom, despite her complete lack of talent, leading her to do things that usually are described with “Hijinks Ensue.” Also, credit to her, Lucille Ball’s greatest talent is her incredible ability to play someone without any talent whatsoever.

ILoveLucyMyFavoriteHusband.jpgMost people don’t know, however, that the show was actually supposed to be an adaptation of the radio show My Favorite Husband, which Ball had been on for several years. Originally, they wanted her to switch to TV with her radio co-star Richard Denning, but she requested that her husband on the show be her real-life husband Desi Arnaz. When CBS said they didn’t think that people would buy her being married to a Cuban (despite the fact that she actually had been married to one for 10 years by this point), she and Arnaz made a vaudeville act that they toured around which became a hit. So, CBS decided to take a chance on Ball. At the same time, My Favorite Husband ended, so Ball managed to get the writers of that show to come to write for I Love Lucy. And greatness was born.

ILoveLucyFCCThis episode was done to get around the censors. Back in the 1950s, the FCC had pretty strict rules on what could go on TV compared to today. They could ban any scenes which contained either “obscene” material, like nudity, and, during the times children would be awake, “indecent” material, like showing a married couple sharing a bed. The show had already shown that the Ricardos had twin beds, and would later get around the ban on the word “Pregnant” by using other words, including “enceinte.” However, this episode had to get around something bigger: The ban on showing drunkenness on camera. And their solution was amazing.

SUMMARY

ILoveLucyTV.pngThe episode starts with Lucy doing what she does best: Failing. Specifically, failing at darning socks to the point that she sewed the top up. Ricky receives a phone call saying that he has to pick a girl to do a commercial for one of the sponsors of his band’s upcoming television special. Lucy immediately tries to convince him to pick her, but he refuses and leaves for rehearsal. Fred comes over and agrees to help Lucy pitch a commercial to Ricky. When Ricky comes back, Lucy appears within the TV re-enacting one of the Phillip Morris ads that usually appeared on the show.* Lucy proceeds to try to go through the entire ad, but Ricky decides to plug in the TV, which causes a small explosion from the TV. Lucy leaves the TV, and upsets Ricky by revealing that she disassembled the TV so she could get in… despite the fact that the TV would have slid out of the frame easily.

The Next Day, Ricky asks Fred to wait for the call from the girl he picked so that he can tell her where to go to film the ad, but Lucy convinces Fred to let her answer the phone. Naturally, she tells the girl who calls that the show is cancelled and decides to go herself.

Okay, so, the next scene is how they got around the censors. The show cuts to the set of the commercial, where the commercial film crew is talking about the product, a health tonic named:

ilovelucyvitameatavegaminsign-e1520887607844.jpg

Truly the greatest title ever given to a product. Suck it, Pocket Fisherman.

ILoveLucyCoughSyrup
Who needs the FDA?

While discussing the tonic, the script clerk begins to read off the ingredients as the director walks away. “It’s got everything in it. Meat, vegetables, minerals, vitamins,” then, after the director leaves, “alcohol 23%.” This makes Vitameatavegamin stronger than the US allows for fortified wines.

Lucy arrives, using her maiden name “Lucille McGillicuddy” to avoid anyone associating her with Ricky. The Script Clerk leaves without telling anyone about his discovery of the ingredients, and Lucy does a dry run of the commercial, which is fast-paced and contains a lot of alliteration, including taking a tablespoon of the tonic (which tastes awful, by her expression).

ILoveLucyTaste

The director makes her go through several more takes, each time having Lucy take another spoonful of the tonic. Ricky then shows up and sees Lucy preparing for the commercial. The Director says it’s too late to find another woman, so Ricky agrees to let her appear in the commercial. After Ricky leaves, Lucy runs through several more takes, slowly getting more and more intoxicated (without anyone knowing what’s happening).

ILoveLucyDrunkGif.gifLucy then runs through the commercial over and over again, completely botching it as she unintentionally gets completely hammered. Since it’s Lucille Ball, she proceeds to go over-the-top crazy with the performance to the point that it’s basically every drunk person every screaming “I’m fine, I swear, I’m fine” trying to deliver a very complicated speech. And it is beautiful. It’s genuinely impressive that Ball can so believably say all of the spoonerized lines so quickly. Then, finally, she breaks all pretense of acting and just starts chugging the bottle until the director sends her to a dressing room to lie down.

Ricky returns to host the show, and starts to perform his opening musical number, when Lucy stumbles back onto the set of the commercial. She then sees Ricky performing and, as most women were in the 1950s, finds Ricky damned sexy when he’s singing in Spanish. Lucy, too drunk to remember that Ricky is on live TV, or at least too drunk to care, decides to join him and starts singing, badly, when he tries to carry on with the show. If you’ve ever played “Livin’ on a prayer” at a wedding, it’s like the people singing along with that. Finally, a plastered Lucy starts to deliver her commercial monologue, before Ricky desperately carries her off stage.

ILoveLucyCarry

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, why is this episode so great?

Lucille. Désirée. Ball.

Look, no description is going to really do this episode justice. Lucille Ball was one of the best physical performers to ever grace the screen. She studied clowning to master the faces, only she didn’t wear the horrifying make-up or the stupid pants. Her timing is almost supernaturally good when she gets going, and it turns out that having to pretend to be a drunk was basically the best set-up you could give her.

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Wouldn’t you buy from her?

When I first watched this, I compared it to the “$99,000 Answer” from The Honeymooners, but the message is actually more tragic and therefore more comical. In the “$99,000 Answer,” Ralph Kramden’s humiliation comes from the fact that he focused so hard on the end that he stumbled at the start. Here, Lucy’s dreams of stardom aren’t dashed due to her own failings. Sure, she had to act a little unethically to get the part, but, really, that was just to counter the fact that Ricky refused to ever give her a fair chance. When it came down to it, she was actually doing the commercial pretty much the way that it was supposed to be done. The Director even convinced Ricky she was doing a great job. She didn’t know, or have any reason to suspect, that there was a ton of alcohol in the tonic. She did everything right, it just happens that she was being sabotaged without her knowledge. More than that, she was being sabotaged without anyone’s knowledge. Her aspirations were destroyed by bad luck. Objectively, what you’re watching was a tragic occurrence.

ILoveLucyDrunkGif2The core of comedy is being able to subvert the sad and the tragic, and this is someone actually using the very thing that’s causing their downfall to create humor. And since most of it is derived from physical comedy and spoonerisms, it is basically universally funny. It’s the perfect clowning performance.

When this first aired, 68% of the television audience at the time watched it. Yeah, there were only four channels, but that was more than 15% higher than the lead-in, and more than 30% over the following show Life with Luigi, so you can’t just pretend that this was a normal occurrence. Vitameatavegamin basically became shorthand for the show. For example, to celebrate Lucille Ball’s 100th Birthday, Lucy look-a-likes gathered under a sign for the fake company. That’s how much this episode stood out, even among the other great episodes of the show.

Best episode of probably the most famous show of all time. I guess that’s really the TL;DR here.

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NEXT – 1: The Mary Tyler Moore Show

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*This is a moment for a brief aside: Phillip Morris Cigarettes, while they are mass-killing monsters who spent billions of dollars trying to get children addicted to nicotine, were also the only sponsors of I Love Lucy for the first few seasons. They also were probably one of the only sponsors who would have agreed to allow the show to be recorded on film (in exchange for $1000/week out of Lucy and Desi’s pay), which is the reason why the show was able to be re-run at full quality, which basically re-shaped television forever. Doesn’t make up for all the cancer, but history is complicated, I guess.

Reader Bonus: Lucy’s Italian Movie (I Love Lucy)

ILoveLucyDollSo, I had 5 people complain about there not being enough I Love Lucy on the list, and specifically bringing up this episode. What’s weird is that this wouldn’t even be the episode I would consider to be the third best episode of the show. I actually rate it fourth. But, I will concede that everyone loves this episode, including me. It’s considered to have the third most memorable scene in the show (the other two are on the list), was picked as the episode that CBS liked enough to later “colorize,” and it was Lucille Ball’s favorite episode. Apparently, not considering this third makes me the minority. Well, I’ll accept that.

What’s odd is that, up until researching this entry, I actually thought the title of this episode was “Bitter Grapes,” the title of the movie that Lucy is making during the episode. And, really, I think that’s a better title, but I suppose they didn’t care that much back then, since the re-run was a new concept.

Season 5 of I Love Lucy would probably now be considered when the show jumped the shark, but it’s I Love Lucy, so it’s also still beloved. This season, as well as the sixth, were notable for having a ton of guest stars, as well as exotic locations (which were, for the most part, in California), which now are considered obvious signs that the show is running out of ideas. But, again, beloved.

ilovelucysimpsons.jpg
It happens to the best of them

Here’s a recap of the show: The show had a pretty general premise. Lucille “Lucy” Esmeralda McGillicuddy Ricardo and Enrique “Ricky” Alberto Fernando y de Acha Ricardo III (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are married and they live in an apartment in New York with their son Little Ricky (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), where they frequently interact with their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Ricky is a popular bandleader and singer at a club. Lucy is a housewife who dreams of stardom, despite her complete lack of talent, leading her to do things that usually are described with “Hi-jinks Ensue.” Also, credit to her, Lucille Ball’s greatest talent is her incredible ability to play someone without any talent.

ILoveLucyCast

In the season, prior to this episode, Ricky had obtained a European tour booking for his band, and Lucy, as well as Fred and Ethel, follow after him. This let the show film throughout multiple famous locations. The episode before this had the four arrive in Italy. And we’re off to the races.

SUMMARY

ilovelucytrain.jpg
13 Hours of this

The episode starts with the four heading towards Rome via a very cramped train ride (Fred wanted to save money). During the trip, Lucy encounters film auteur Vittoria Felipe (or Phillipi, both seem to be used by different sites) (Franco Corsaro), who is looking to cast people for his new film. Lucy first tries to impress him with her acting, which somehow doesn’t drive him off. Instead, she gets offered a role as an American tourist in his new film, which he says would be called “Bitter Grapes” in English.

ILoveLucyStageDoor.jpgOnce again, it’s amazing how good Lucille Ball is at playing someone who cannot act at all. I didn’t know until now that the line she delivers, “the calla lilies are in bloom again,” are a reference to the movie Stage Door in which Lucille Ball got her big break. In that movie, Katharine Hepburn delivers the line repeatedly, and Ball was a huge fan of hers. Fun facts, people. They keep me going.

Lucy, believing from the title that the movie will be about winemaking, decides that she needs to know firsthand about the wine industry in Italy. Ricky warns her that it’s a bad idea, for multiple reasons, including that she’s supposed to be an American tourist. She asks a bellboy where they make wine, and heads to the nearby town of Turo, which does not exist. Also, this entire episode was filmed in California.

ILoveLucyGrapeStomp1.jpgWhen Lucy gets to Turo, they allow her to work in the vats, stomping grapes, because her feet are “as big as large pizzas.” Lucy gets sent into the vat with an Italian woman (Teresa Tirelli) and begins to stomp the grapes. At first, she loves stomping on them, and has a lot of fun playing around in the grapes, goofing around. Then, after a little bit, she starts to get tired, and decides to leave the vat. Since they have a quota, and she needs the help, Teresa tries to grab Lucy’s arm to get her to keep working. Lucy shakes her off and ends up pushing Teresa into the grapes in the vat. Thus, the great Grape War starts.

ILoveLucyGrapeFight2

As with many parts of I Love Lucy, nothing can truly describe this scene. You just need to watch it below. But, I will say the following:

IT WAS REAL.

ILoveLucyGrapeFight1

Yeah, see, the woman Lucy is fighting is an actual Italian Opera Singer/Actress. She didn’t speak English. They were able to explain that she was supposed to fight Lucy, but they didn’t explain to her that it was just supposed to be an act. Instead, they just got across the basics that she and Lucy were going to fight. Then, Ball pushed her harder than she expected, which angered her, so… she pushed Lucy back harder, and everything just kind of escalated. It’s not like Tirelli was ever really trying to kill Ball, but she definitely wasn’t pulling punches. The fight actually went on longer than made it into the episode because of it.

ILoveLucyGrapeFightColor.jpg
IN TECHNOWONDERCOLOR

ILoveLucyChocolateSlap.jpgWhat’s really interesting is that Lucy had already done this a few times on the show with other actresses who she thought wouldn’t really make the hits look real, including the famous fly scene in the chocolate factory episode, where one of the actresses wouldn’t hit Ball solidly in the face, so Ball just slapped her. That woman suffered for her art.

Lucy returns to Rome now covered in grape juice and stained purple. The director sees her and tells her A) the title was metaphorical, and there is nothing about winemaking in the film, and B) she can’t have the role since he thinks she’s going to be stained purple. He ends up giving the role to Ethel, which makes Lucy make some remarks in Italian that have to be censored by the editors.

ILoveLucyGrapeEnd.jpg

END SUMMARY

Okay, this episode is just comedy gold. I’m not going to say it’s highly sophisticated, even to the extent of the other episodes that actually made the list, but it’s still brilliant. It’s mostly expressed through looks and pantomime, which makes it all the more impressive. The fact that the fight is real doesn’t make it any less hilarious (because no one was hurt), and, in traditional Lucy fashion, it’s turning something tragic (like Lucy losing her role in the movie) into something funny. The only reason I think this is less impressive than the other episodes is that Lucy is actively disregarding good advice when she decides to go grape stomping, which makes it a little more karmic when she loses the role. That makes it a little more of a tragedy than just tragic, because the end is derived from a fatal flaw, and I think that’s easier to turn into a comic moment, since the audience already feels justified in watching the tragically-flawed protagonist suffer.

I do kinda regret not putting this on the list proper, but since I rated it fourth among Lucy episodes, I’d have to put the one I rated third on there, and this one is basically funny for the same reason as the two episodes already on here: BECAUSE LUCY IS HILARIOUS. So… whatever, what’s done is done. I’m glad I added this, though.

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38) Job Switching (I Love Lucy)

Lucille Ball sold more televisions than anyone else in history. I Love Lucy was so popular in the 1950s, people went out and bought their first television sets in order to watch it. That’s a record that will almost certainly last forever. Or until Holo-screens start coming out.

ILoveLucyJob-2IronMan
Like they’ve been teasing us with for a while.

Okay, so, getting it out of the way now, the premise of this episode hasn’t exactly aged well within society. It’s based on swapping gender roles, and nowadays those aren’t as strictly defined as they were in 1952. It also has some lines based on the idea that women can’t handle money, which… well, they didn’t age well. To its credit, this episode does depict a number of working women, from line workers to supervisors. It’s only Lucy and Ethel that are depicted as incapable of working a “normal job.” Similarly, there are lines about male cooks and housekeepers in the show, so it’s only Ricky and Fred that are somehow so incompetent at basic “home economics” skills that they manage to destroy much of the house. The depiction of other members of both genders being able to switch roles successfully is probably attributable to the fact that the episode was actually written by a male-female writing team (Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr.). Still, it’s going to bug a modern audience a little bit. Let’s just go ahead and say that both stereotypes are played up just for laughs, recognize that this show made a woman the most famous comic in the US, and consider the implications no further.

Don't think about it.jpg

The show had a pretty general premise. Lucille “Lucy” Esmeralda McGillicuddy Ricardo and Enrique “Ricky” Alberto Fernando y de Acha Ricardo III (Ball and Arnaz) are married and they live in an apartment in New York, where they frequently interact with their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Ricky is a popular bandleader and singer at a club. Lucy is a housewife who dreams of stardom, despite her complete lack of talent, leading her to do things that usually are described with “Hi-jinks Ensue.” Also, credit to her, Lucille Ball’s greatest talent is her incredible ability to play someone without any talent.

ILoveLucyJob-3Cast
Granted, there was a ton of talent on this show.

While she and Ricky were portrayed as deeply in love, her antics still had a tendency to get on his nerves, usually denoted by him breaking out into rapid-fire Spanish. Lucy also frequently was irresponsible with money and time, something that usually caused friction between the two. Ricky, meanwhile, sometimes indulged in the nicer side of being a popular bandleader at a burgeoning nightclub, which made Lucy want celebrity all the more, which, in turn, led to more antics.  This episode focuses mostly on their marriage.

ILoveLucyJob-4Band
It was a fun band to lead.

SUMMARY

When Ricky finds out that Lucy has bounced a check, he snaps at her for being irresponsible. Lucy and Ethel try to downplay the issue, but Ricky and Fred both respond by mocking their wives for sitting home all day while the men go to work. I assume this happens in the episode because the men already slept in separate beds from their wives, so they weren’t planning on ever getting laid again. Otherwise, mocking your wife is considered a bad idea. But, Lucy and Ethel respond with a challenge. The men and women will switch places for a week.

Splainin

At first, Ricky tries to one-up Lucy with a fabulous breakfast in bed, only for Lucy to discover that he just bought it at the corner diner and carried it upstairs. Ricky and Fred don’t fare much better at any of the other things their wives usually do. They break dishes, ruin most of the clothes trying to do laundry, and manage to destroy the kitchen trying to make dinner. Ricky even falls over his own rice and injures himself… which wasn’t part of the script. Desi Arnaz actually fell on accident, and the audience loved it, so he did it again on purpose. He also apparently bruised himself badly doing it, but it’s funny nonetheless.

ILoveLucyJob-5Slipping.gif

Meanwhile, Lucy and Ethel go to an employment agency, and, out of a long list of unattainable potential jobs, they blatantly lie to get jobs at a candy factory. Hopefully, after reading that sentence, every one of you now remembers this episode. If not, hopefully you have time to watch the video below. Lucy and Ethel each get assigned to various jobs around the factory, failing spectacularly at all of them, while being yelled at by the ultra-strict foreman. Finally, they’re put on the chocolate-wrapping assembly line, and the pair are told that, if even one piece of unwrapped candy makes it all the way down the line, they’ll be fired. At first, the chocolate coming down the conveyor belt is at a reasonable pace, and the two manage, but it quickly speeds up to the point that the pair are unable to wrap, and can only grab chocolates from the belt and hide them. Despite this, the foreman congratulates them on not letting any unwrapped chocolates get to the end… and tells them that now they’re going to have to do it at high-speed. As the chocolates come careening down the line, the two completely abandon any attempt at wrapping and instead just stuffing the chocolates in their clothing or eating them.

LucyGif.gif
Ironically, they both were terrible at Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Arriving home later, the pair are sick from all the chocolate they ate. The ladies see a note telling them not to go into the kitchen, but Lucy’s curiosity overtakes her. She immediately starts screaming and comes out rambling about how there’s a mess all over the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. The men come home and ask to end the bet, conceding that they’ve lost, while the women confess they also didn’t fare well on the job market. The men apologize for thinking that running a house is easy, and offer the girls a gift… of 10 pounds of chocolate.

END SUMMARY

This episode is remembered for a few reasons. The first is that it contains some amazing physical comedy. Lucille Ball studied clowning for years before she got this show, and it paid off in spades. Her expressions during most of the scenes are so over-the-top that you can’t help but find them funny. While the conveyer belt scene is the best known, I honestly recommend that you watch the episode in its entirety, because the physical humor goes beyond just that one scene. I didn’t even remember the near-silent scene in which Lucy is pretending to copy a professional candy dipper with all the skills of a chimpanzee. She has such enthusiasm for it, however, until the fact that she’s screwing it up finally starts to hit her. Then, she swats a fly on a woman’s face, causing the woman to hit her back, covering Lucy in chocolate. Ball, afraid the other woman wouldn’t hit her hard enough to be funny, intentionally hit the other woman much harder than they had rehearsed, so that her reflexive response would daze Lucy. That’s how you suffer for your art. Vance, Arnaz, and Frawley are no slouches, either, each managing to hold their own against Ball in every scene they’re in.

The second reason is that the candy factory is basically the best representative of employment problems on film (aside from maybe Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”). When Lucy and Ethel go to the employment agency, they are qualified for literally no jobs, because all of them require some form of training or education. So, they lie in order to get a job. Then, when they show up at that job, they’re given no form of training, and immediately put into a wide variety of positions, with no introduction. Eventually, they end up on the conveyor belt, with everything coming at them too fast. They manage to cope with it well enough, which just leads to a massive increase in workload to the point that they can’t handle it, at which point they’re fired. Almost every step in the employment process is needlessly complicated and done wrong. At some point in your life, you’ve probably been on that conveyor belt being inundated by tasks at a pace that you can only barely handle, only to find out that, congratulations, because you handled it, you’re going to get more. And all to get slap-dash candy out to the consumer.

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When the joke goes back to black and white TV, is it still funny?

Either for the subtext or the slapstick, it’s always worth watching I Love Lucy.

Here’s the scene you’re all waiting for:

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