Welcome to another Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re starting our series on the best episodes of The Lucy Show. This was Lucille Ball’s third situation comedy. (I’m counting The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour as a separate series, even though it was essentially a reformatted continuation of I Love Lucy.) Every single episode is available on DVD.
Lucy Carmichael, a widow with two children, lives with her divorced best friend, Vivian Bagley, and her son. Lucy’s schemes lead the two friends into various predicaments — all with comic complications.
The Lucy Show stars LUCILLE BALL as Lucy Carmichael, VIVIAN VANCE as Vivian Bagley, JIMMY GARRET as Jerry Carmichael, CANDY MOORE as Chris Carmichael, RALPH HART as Sherman Bagley, and DICK MARTIN as Harry Conners.
After a two year absence in which she got divorced, starred in a Broadway musical, remarried, and filmed two movies with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball returned to television with The Lucy Show, a sitcom designed to last a single season and generate revenue for Desilu, which she was still running with her ex, Desi Arnaz. (In fact, Arnaz served as executive producer for the first 15 of Season One’s 30 episodes.) Lucy brought back four of the five writers who worked on I Love Lucy and coaxed the also remarried Vivian Vance out from Connecticut to star as her cohort. Though it was decided to make Lucy a widow, Viv was the first regular divorced character on American television. Up to their old hijinks again, Lucy and Vivian truly made some more magic in this first season — the only full post-Ricardo season which I can honestly say hits highs with the same frequency as I Love Lucy. In fact, several of Ball’s best television moments come from this collection of episodes. I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season One. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that each episode this year was written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf. Each episode this year was directed by Jack Donohue.
01) Episode 7: “Lucy Is A Kangaroo For A Day” (Aired: 11/12/62 | Filmed: 08/30/62)
Lucy takes a secretarial job to buy Jerry a bicycle for his birthday.
This episode is most appealing because it takes a simple and motivated premise into unexpected territory — providing Lucy with SEVERAL bits of excellent physical comedy. In addition to the trauma of the typewriter, Lucy’s bout with the water machine is hilarious. And while the final bit is so crazy with Lucy showing up to the restaurant in a kangaroo suit, it at least makes some sense, and Ball sells it incredibly well.
02) Episode 9: “Lucy Puts Up A TV Antenna” (Aired: 11/26/62 | Filmed: 09/20/62)
Lucy and Viv decide to put up their own TV antenna.
This is one of both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance’s best television moments. The scenes on the roof are unbelievably hilarious — incredibly brilliant. My absolute favorite bit occurs when Lucy gets stuck in the chimney and Vivian tries to use the ladder to teeter-totter her out. Vivian sits on her end of the ladder and it breaks in half! I’m laughing just thinking about it.
03) Episode 11: “Lucy Builds A Rumpus Room” (Aired: 12/10/62 | Filmed: 09/27/62)
Lucy and Viv both promise their dates a home-cooked meal, but neither is willing to share the kitchen.
I thought this was one of the strongest scripts from the first season. It arises from a very logical premise — both women have promised their dates a home cooked meal. What to do? Though that takes up most of the episode, the story lives up to its title when they follow neighbor Harry’s suggestion to build a rumpus room. Another great bit of physical comedy occurs when the ladies glue themselves to the walls just as the coal man makes his delivery.
04) Episode 12: “Lucy And Her Electric Mattress” (Aired: 12/17/62 | Filmed: 11/08/62)
Lucy buys Vivian an electric mattress for a surprise.
This episode, again, gives Lucy SEVERAL bits of physical comedy to do. Everyone recalls the part where Lucy walks on stilts to get to the top of the bunk bed, but my favorite scene is actually Lucy on the crazy vibrating bed. The moment where she uses the mop to try a row herself back to the cord so she can unplug it is hilarious. Vivian also shines in the bunk bed scene with Lucy.
05) Episode 13: “Together For Christmas” (Aired: 12/24/62 | Filmed: 10/18/62)
‘Tis a season full of folly when Lucy and Viv decide to spend Christmas together.
I’m not a sucker for holiday shows because I never prefer sentimentality over comedy. Fortunately this episode has plenty of comedy and a surprisingly fresh story. Lucy and Viv decide to stay in Danfield this year and spend Christmas together — but they soon learn that they have VERY different traditions. The scene with the dual Christmas trees is SO reminiscent of “Lucy And Ethel Buy The Same Dress,” and fortunately the build-up is just as motivated.
06) Episode 15: “Lucy’s Sister Pays A Visit” (Aired: 01/07/63 | Filmed: 10/26/62)
Lucy tries to patch up a squabble between her sister and brother-in-law so she can plan a “real” wedding.
Lucy does her drunk bit for the third time on one of her primetime series, but this time — Vivian gets to join in on the action as the two disastrously try to ice the wedding cake. It never quite reaches the level of “Lucy Does A TV Commercial,” but it definitely is on par, if not better, than the scene with Ann Sothern in the Cuban jail in “Lucy Takes A Cruise To Havana.” Incidentally, this episode was produced the week of the Cuban missile crisis!
07) Episode 16: “Lucy And Viv Are Volunteer Firemen” (Aired: 01/14/63 | Filmed: 11/29/62)
Lucy organizes an all-female volunteer fire brigade.
This is a very talky episode — never a bad thing in my book, especially if it’s funny. Fortunately, it is funny, and there are several physical bits to supplement the action. The first has Lucy regular Carole Cook coming down the fire pole with a look of hysterical fear. The second — and the best part of the episode — occurs at the end with all the girls in the firetruck going to save Grandma Sutton’s cat.
08) Episode 18: “Lucy And Viv Put In A Shower” (Aired: 01/28/63 | Filmed: 12/13/62)
Lucy and Viv try to install a shower after Lucy insults the plumber.
This is one of those episodes that, if you haven’t seen it, but are a Lucy fan, you’ve probably heard about. Like “TV Antenna,” this episode gives Lucy and Viv a big block of “home repair” style physical comedy. In later years, Lucy liked to tell the story of how Vivian saved her from drowning during the filming of this episode. Production notes aside, it is one of the series’ strongest and funniest installments.
09) Episode 20: “Lucy And Viv Become Tycoons” (Aired: 02/11/63 | Filmed: 01/10/63)
Lucy, Viv, and Viv’s boyfriend, Eddie, decide to market Viv’s special caramel corn.
This episode features a story that keeps trucking along. Lucy and Viv go into business selling Viv’s caramel corn. (Remind anyone of “Aunt Martha’s Old-Fashioned Salad Dressing”?) The last scene is the funniest with the cop coming by to see if they’ve been violating the zoning laws by conducting business out of the home. Lucy sitting on the popcorn machine while it was popping is just classically funny. It’s a solid entry.
10) Episode 30: “Lucy Buys A Boat” (Aired: 04/29/63 | Filmed: 03/28/63)
Lucy and Viv’s new boat makes up in leaks what it lacks in sails.
This is another, along with “TV Antenna” and “Shower,” that really should deserve to be classified among the ladies’ best sitcom work. Though the entire episode is funny from start to finish with several excellent beats, the script builds to the scene with Lucy and Viv trapped on the boat — arguably the funniest of the episode. Great, great, great physical comedy.
Several shows that deserve honorable mention from Season One include: “Lucy Digs Up A Date,” which finds Lucy and Viv hard-up for dates to an upcoming dance, “Lucy, The Music Lover,” which continues the Lucy is “man-hungry” theme, “Chris’s New Years Eve Party,” which has Lucy doing a Chaplin impersonation, “No More Double Dates,” which features a solid script but little chemistry between the girls and the boys, “Lucy And Viv Learn Judo,” which gives Lucy and Viv some nice physical stuff, “Lucy Is A Soda Jerk,” which is solid, if not stellar, and “Lucy Is A Chaperone,” which is the most delightfully ’60s episode of the season.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of The Lucy Show goes to…..
“Lucy Puts Up A TV Antenna”
Come back next week for the best from Season Two! And remember to tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Pingback: BIRTHDAY BASH: The Redhead’s 103rd | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Today on DECADES TV they are showing a marathon of The Lucy Show. Included are my 3 favorite episodes that are mentioned above
Lucy And Her Electric Mattress
Lucy And Viv Put In A Shower
Lucy And Viv Put Up A TV Antenna
Hi, Jay! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Good choices! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my coverage on the five remaining seasons of THE LUCY SHOW, along with Ball’s other sitcoms.
You did a great job on the top ten, although I am not a fan of any of the fire department episodes (loud and dated). I am curious what you think of Lucy Waits Up for Chris. I always thought it played well off of Lucy being an overprotective mother and gave really logical reasons for Lucy entering and exiting the house on a trampoline. The whole trampoline bit was a great piece of sustained humor, IMO.
Hi, Scott! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think “Lucy Waits Up For Chris” is a solid outing, and as you pointed out, the script does back up the shtick with logic. But I’ve always been turned off by the production itself because the performances are a little too try-hard and the show’s tone is still nebulous (perhaps not surprisingly, given that it’s a premiere). Yet more importantly, comedically, Season One features so many other offerings that I think are stronger, and that weakens this one’s individual appeal.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our remaining THE LUCY SHOW posts!
I completely agree with all of your choices of the best top ten episodes of The Lucy Show Season 1. I have always been a big fan of this series, especially the first 3 seasons with Vivian Vance. I liked this series almost as much as ” I Love Lucy.” I especially love the Lucy Puts Up a TV Antennae episode, and I remember watching that one when it first aired and I was just 7 years old, and really enjoyed it. Thank you for remembering all these great episodes. I enjoyed reading about them.
Hi, Larry! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Be sure to check out my favorites from the other years of THE LUCY SHOW, if you haven’t already!
There was a very funny episode from season 3 where Lucy and Viv are watching Mr. Mooney’s pet bird and they have to go up on the roof to get it down. The roof looks very different from season 1 when they put up the TV Antenna. In the episode Viv says ” I vowed I wouldn’t come up here again after we put up that Antenna. In season 1 when Lucy and Viv made the caramel popcorn was another very funny episode especially when they hid the popcorn popper in the closet and forgot to unplug it, and when the policeman opens up the closet door, tons of popcorn came out. Lucy and Viv were at their funniest when ever they were together doing physical comedy. The first 3 seasons with Vivian Vance were so much funnier than the last 3 seasons after she left the show and Lucy worked as a secretary for Mr. Mooney at the bank. But I did read that the show was always in the top 10 for all 6 seasons.
I too prefer the Danfield years to the California ones. As for “Lucy Gets The Bird,” I don’t think it’s at all in the same league as “Lucy Puts Up A TV Antenna.” (If you check out my picks for the best episodes from Season Three, you’ll see that the installment did, however, make my honorable mentions.) Meanwhile, the aforementioned popcorn episode is among my favorites for this year — “Lucy And Viv Become Tycoons.”
Hi – I can tell that you love and appreciate Lucille Ball as much as I do. Where can I find your picks for the best episodes from season 3? I loved the episode from season 6 of The Lucy Show called ” Lucy And Viv Reminisce “. It should have been a 1 hour episode because they could have included so many more great film clips. In the film clip where Lucy walks on stilts to get into the bunk bed, the clip ends just after Lucy gets into the top bunk. They should have let the clip continue to where the mattress sinks.
Here’s a link to access my selections for the best episodes from the third season of THE LUCY SHOW: http://jacksonupperco.com/2013/11/05/the-ten-best-the-lucy-show-episodes-of-season-three/
Given how many topics we’ve covered on this blog, using the search bar in the upper right corner of the home page can actually be labor intensive. However, I try to throughly “tag” each post, so if you click on the one for “the lucy show”, you’ll be able to find every single post that discusses this series! When all else fails, Google has actually been wonderful for this site, keeping us one of the most accessible pages for sitcom discussion. (For instance, a simple search for “best lucy show season three” will yield the above link on the first page of results.) Let me know if you have any difficulty!
And because you mentioned “Lucy And Viv Reminisce,” you can find my picks for the best from Season Six (my favorite of the California years) here: http://jacksonupperco.com/2013/11/26/the-ten-best-the-lucy-show-episodes-of-season-six/
Hi – Thank you for sending me the links to the posts for The Lucy Show. I look forward to reading them. Jay
My pleasure! Be sure to check out my HERE’S LUCY favorites as well, if you haven’t already!
I see that you are 5 hours ahead of me. I love ” Here’s Lucy “. I was lucky to have watched that series during the original run from 1968 to 1974. I have so many favorite episodes. The ones that come to mind are the ” Gone With The Wind Episode “, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Donny Osmond, Dinah Shore and Lucy on the ski lift.
Yes, it was an interesting series to discuss. Hope you enjoy!
I totally agree with your choices for season 1; however, I am a dissenter regarding Season One being the best. Agreed it is better than season 2 and 3, I find the final 3 seasons to be far superior to the first three seasons. While many disagree with that statement, I am not alone. The final three seasons are the most critically acclaimed by peers of the era, garnering many Emmy Award nominations and a couple of wins for Ball. It is also the highest rated and ranked of the series in the weekly and year-end ratings. As for season one, Vivian Vance is often completely unlikable, and the kids (except for Jerry) are completely unbelievable and wooden. The crew seems to be trying hard to live up to I Love Lucy, and, of course, they fall way short. In the latter seasons, the Lucy Show develops its own flavor and flair, often capitalizing on the abstract quality of the show’s premise and title, the Lucy show, just a showcase for Lucy without bothering with trite scripting or needless weekly continuation of character and premise. It is rather brilliant really, throwing out continuity and locked-in characterizations in order to allow Lucille Ball to clown. The show really becomes a true hybrid of a variety show and paves the way for the acclaimed Garry Shandling shows several decades later.
Hi, Greg! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I appreciate these discussions and debates! Your argument supporting the series’ latter three seasons’ superiority is one I’ve heard before, and although you already know I disagree with this subjective thesis, I can often understand the basis — particularly when the discussion is pointed toward the show’s evolving utilization of Lucy’s individual skills as a clown, which strengthened, naturally, when the show had no other lingering assets beyond its beloved star. But I think you corrode your own argument in several key areas.
First, I’d caution that while total viewership can indeed be associated with contemporary popularity, there’s never a correlation between popularity and quality, so this is not a claim that carries figurative weight in this type of discussion. (Also, I already know that people agree with you; reinforcing this point, even if we presuppose a connection to quality, doesn’t persuade me.) Additionally, the allocation of awards is certainly not a science — it has as much to do with the quality of a specific body of work as it does with politics, competition, timing, and other situational factors at play. Unless there’s a consistency in every single variable, there’s no way to definitively cite one winning body of work as having a greater merit than another non-winning body of work — especially when they weren’t in direct competition.
In other words, the fact that Ball won her only awards for this series in ’67 and ’68 doesn’t mean that her work here was better, or even considered better, than her work in ’63 and ’64; it only means the Academy decided to award her in ’67 and ’68 after not awarding her in ’63 and ’64 (years, it must be noted, in which there was no specific category for Leading Actress in a Comedy Series). Again: awards have no bearing on quality and, given the many additional considerations at play, remain a difficult metric to use persuasively.
But where I think your argument falls apart is in attempting to disassociate THE LUCY SHOW from the situation comedy — “needless weekly continuation of character and premise” (almost a definition of the sitcom) — for while there was indeed a change in the particulars of the storytelling based on the structure of the redesigned fourth season premise, the scripts were still crafted around situationally comedic occurrences anchored by a sustaining character… without any intentional attempts to break the integrity of this fiction (which is why I think your IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW, covered here last month, connection really doesn’t land and is damaging to your thesis).
And, even though the California setting gave the show license to employ a glorified “guest star of the week” template in which celebrities played themselves (nothing new or revolutionary, by the way — just check out our current Wildcard Wednesday coverage of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, for one), the audience was still expected to believe Ball was always Lucy Carmichael, while the guests’ musical numbers were always diegetic (explained by the action — even if it was part of a “show”), and the entertainment remained primarily derived from the humorous situations into which the character found herself. It was no more a variety series — or “hybrid” of a variety series — than THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW or THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW, two of the decade’s earlier multi-cams.
You see, a genre differentiation between this show’s two premises is a tough sell (even when labeling the second era a “hybrid”), and I think in forcing the series to be viewed through an ambitious and unsubstantiated lens — one in which the sitcom, as THE LUCY SHOW actually identified itself, is too easily undervalued — only ends up mitigating the charms of both eras (not just the one you consider of a lesser quality). Also, at the very least, in calling the sitcom format “needless” and “trite” you reveal that you’re holding the entire series to a standard that will not only forever exist radically different from mine (and thus make any persuadable argument impossible), but one that’s also opposed to the series’ own defined objectives.
Now, these, maybe, are semantics; I think I get your core point, which is the one that I’ve always found to be the strongest argument in favor of your cause: the second “format,” which was admittedly less rigid and not as character-driven as its predecessor, was better crafted to display Ball’s abilities as a comedienne and clown, thus making it, for you, the far more rewarding era. I think this is a valid point and, again, I understand it.
For what it’s worth, however, my issues with the last three seasons can’t be assuaged by Ball’s (as far as I’m concerned) always brilliant work (which I don’t find unique to these three particular years), for they stem from the routine lapses in narrative logic, most of which come as the result of a shifting and ill-defined protagonist, who doesn’t drive the overly convenient (and gimmick-heavy) stories, but finds herself being driven by them: a stark contrast to the I LOVE LUCY days and, to these eyes, indicative of inferior writing — regardless of whether we’re discussing a sitcom or a recurring variety sketch.