Welcome to another Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing 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. And, as always, PLEASE CONTACT ME AND I WILL HOOK YOU UP WITH ACCESS TO ANY EPISODE.
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 to the chagrin of cantankerous banker Mr. Mooney.
The Lucy Show stars LUCILLE BALL as Lucy Carmichael, VIVIAN VANCE as Vivian Bagley, GALE GORDON as Theodore J. Mooney, JIMMY GARRET as Jerry Carmichael, CANDY MOORE as Chris Carmichael, and RALPH HART as Sherman Bagley.
Season Three will always be known as the last year that featured Vivian Vance as a regular. The actress had spent the last two years commuting back and forth between LA and her home in Connecticut, where she lived with her husband. She was coerced into joining the series in 1962 by a large salary and the promise of more creative equality. Lucy herself never intended the series to last longer than a year. When it became a huge success, she “reluctantly” agreed to continue for a second season. Near the end of production on the 1963-1964 year, Lucy announced the show’s cancelation, but things were still uncertain. A misunderstanding erupted over the last script of the season, and Lucy’s writing staff (which had been with her since the days of radio) walked out. Somewhere during this period Lucy decided to continue another year after all and quickly hired a new head writer — Milt Josefsberg. But his job was primarily script tightening; there was no staff of four (or five) like there’d been on every prior Lucy season.
Many felt the lack of a permanent staff (or the general lack of writers of the caliber of the ones she’d had previously) led to the series’ incredible decline in quality. And while that will eventually be the case, the truth of the matter is that Season Three is an improvement over Season Two. Let’s face it: Lucy’s staff writers were tired. So Season Two had an enormous amount of middling episodes as they were running out of fresh ideas. This season does have a few clunkers, but overall, with new writers, the scripts are more memorable and less blah. Are the highs as high? That’s up for debate. Certainly, the kids are used way less frequently, and Vivian, though only featured in 20 of the 26 episodes, gets less and less to do in the episodes she DOES appear in. This is partly because Vivian wants time off, and partly a gradual shift in the writing to which Vivian was not imperceptible. Disappointed with the series’ declining quality (after the first season and even more so after the original writers left), Vivian made financial and creative demands. One of which was a clause that would allow her to direct for the first time. But there were egos involved and a deal never came to fruition. Viv announced her departure halfway through the season’s production, but just before the season premiered. Ann Sothern filled Viv’s shoes in three of the six episodes the latter was absent from, and Lucy once again considered ending the show. At the last minute, she changed her mind and went forward without Viv but with a whole new concept. (But that’s for next week’s post on Season Four!)
So choosing this list was actually difficult. There were many episodes that made me laugh quite frequently. But, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments as a whole. 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 Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
*Note that each episode this season was directed by Jack Donohue.*
01) Episode 59: “Lucy, The Good Skate” [a.k.a. “Lucy And The Good Skate”] (Aired: 09/21/64 | Filmed: 05/14/64)
Lucy gets stuck in a pair of skates on the night of a big dance.
Written by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall
The big physical block at the end of the episode — Lucy on skates at the dance — is fun, but nothing extraordinary. The real strength of this episode lies in the build-up, which is incredibly funny, particularly in the scene at the shop where Lucy and Viv both try to flirt with the salesman. Every step is motivated (the script was written by two Dick Van Dyke writers) and there are frequent laughs. It’s a very strong opening to the season, indicative of fresh creative blood.
02) Episode 61: “Lucy And Winter Sports” [a.k.a. “Lucy Tries Winter Sports” and “Lucy And The Winter Sports”] (Aired: 10/05/64 | Filmed: 05/28/64)
Lucy tries to learn to ski to impress her athletic boyfriend.
Written by Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat
Lucy on skis opens itself up to numerous possibilities. You know she is going to beat up on poor Mr. Mooney when he tries to give her a lesson. Like John Ritter, who also did an episode of Three’s Company with a similar premise, Lucille excels with scripts that put emphasis on large physical bits. As long as her character is allowed to behave with logic, the metaphorical leap audience members must take with her is worth it. It’s worth it here.
03) Episode 62: “Lucy Gets Amnesia” (Aired: 10/12/64 | Filmed: 06/25/64)
Lucy attempts to feign amnesia to get a loan from her old boyfriend.
Written by Leonard Gershe
You’d expect this to be a really trite and hackneyed episode given its premise. But the surprise is… it’s hilarious! Again, the build-up is superb with several excellently funny running gags. Lucy and Viv have great chemistry in this episode and the bantering about the rabbit’s fur is a highlight. The idea of having Lucy actually GET amnesia after she and Viv have planned for her to fake it is not original, but it makes the episode so much better than it wold have been otherwise. This episode is consistently funny and very enjoyable.
04) Episode 63: “Lucy And The Great Bank Robbery” (Aired: 10/19/64 | Filmed: 06/04/64)
Lucy and Viv’s new boarders are bank robbers.
Written by Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf
The two Bob’s that joined the staff during I Love Lucy‘s fifth season and stayed on until the end of the previous year, came back and wrote four scripts this season as a favor to Lucy. This one has an I Love Lucy feel to it, as Lucy and Viv take in a pair of boarders during the World’s Fair, who just happen to be bank robbers. It’s an unoriginal premise, but it allows for some funny bits. This is a fan favorite, but I should like to note that it’s nowhere near the excellence of the standout episodes of Season One.
05) Episode 66: “Lucy Makes A Pinch” (Aired: 11/09/64 | Filmed: 08/20/64)
Lucy goes to Lover’s Lane with a detective hoping to catch a stickup man.
Written by Bob O’Brien and Vic McLeod
This is a highly underrated episode. Continuing from the previous week where Lucy gets a job as a meter maid, Lucy is chosen to go on a Lovers Lane stakeout with a detective to whom she’s attracted. It’s always enjoyable to see Lucy act feminine and have men off which she can play. The real treat is when Lucy bungles the operation and persuades Viv to come out and be her date, as they try to catch the bandit themselves. Hijinks ensue, and there are many laughs.
06) Episode 68: “Lucy’s Contact Lenses” (Aired: 11/23/64 | Filmed: 08/27/64)
Lucy loses one of her new contacts in the cake she made for a bake sale.
Written by Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf
This is another fan-favorite, albeit with another pedestrian sitcom premise. Lucy loses something, she needs to get it back. (That literally happens at least three other times this season.) This time it’s a contact lens, and this time she’s lost it in a cake. The ridiculousness of Lucy and Viv tearing apart fifteen cakes makes for a very funny episode, as does there sneaking into Mooney’s house through the doggy door. It’s definitely a classic.
07) Episode 74: “Lucy And The Ceramic Cat” (Aired: 01/11/65 | Filmed: 11/05/64)
Lucy and Viv try to replace a gift Mr. Mooney is giving to his wife after they accidentally break it.
Written by Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat
This is another fan favorite, as Lucy accidentally breaks a ceramic cat that Mooney was planning on giving his wife. Lucy and Viv’s attempts to retrieve the object lead to Lucy’s masquerading as a robot in a store window. It actually works better than it sounds, and Lucy does a great job interacting with the amorous robot. By this point in the season, however, the scripts are beginning to appear very formulaic, and the once fresh blood seems to be getting stale.
08) Episode 75: “Lucy Goes To Vegas” (Aired: 01/18/65 | Filmed: 11/12/64)
Lucy and Viv pose as big money gamblers in Vegas.
Written by Bob O’Brien
This episode benefits from many laugh-out-loud lines. Lucy and Viv are in Vegas and they decide to masquerade as a pair of big time gamblers — Pamela Pettibone and Penelope Poopendorf. The quality of the jokes are on par with the ones often found in I Love Lucy. And while there’s no big physical bit for Lucy, it’s actually quite welcome, as the episode relies on laughs from the characters and their interactions. Once again great chemistry between the ladies.
09) Episode 77: “Lucy And The Countess” (Aired: 02/01/65 | Filmed: 11/19/64)
Lucy and her friend, Countess Framboise, get drunk at a wine tasting.
The first Lucy Show episode with Ann Sothern happens to be quite a riot. Forget that the series is not only redoing a bit it did with Lucy and Viv in Season One, but also redoing a bit that Lucy and Ann had also already done on the first Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, because the drink bit is just as hilarious here as it had been in the past. In fact, it might even be better here than it was in the Comedy Hour. The only episode, in my honest opinion, that shows Sothern as viable replacement for Vance, this one is not to be missed.
10) Episode 78: “My Fair Lucy” (Aired: 02/08/65 | Filmed: 12/03/64)
Lucy masquerades as a scrub woman to help the Countess kick off her new charm school.
Written by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall
The second of four episodes with Ann Sothern, this is the funniest. Sothern is Lucy’s best companion, next to Vivian, Desi, and Bill, and her presence usually elevates an episode. But most of the good stuff goes to Lucy in this episode. This particular script is a takeoff on My Fair Lady. While not an uncommon sitcom story, it’s jam-pakced with many laughs — mostly from Lucy as the scrubwoman, Liza Lumpwhomper. Plus, any episode with Reta Shaw automatically gets extra points.
Other standout episodes from the season include: “Lucy And The Plumber,” which features Jack Benny and a cameo appearance by Bob Hope, “Lucy, The Camp Cook,” which gives Lucy and Viv the chance to wreak physical comedy havoc in a kitchen, “Lucy Gets The Bird,” which puts Lucy and Vivian back up on the roof for more hijinks, “Lucy, The Coin Collector,” which culminates in Lucy and Viv rooting around in the sewer, “Lucy And The Missing Stamp,” which would be great if the story didn’t feel so predictable and repetitive, “Lucy, The Stockholder,” which is the season’s silliest episode, but features a hysterical scene where Lucy and Viv are mock hypnotized into regressing back to their childhoods, and “Lucy, The Disk Jockey,” which lets Lucy do some great, if unmotivated, physical comedy.
For a largely unfunny, but musically satisfying episode, go to “Lucy And Arthur Godfrey.” Vivian shines in her number, seen here in a poor quality clip. THIS IS NOT MY VIDEO.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of The Lucy Show goes to…..
“Lucy’s Contact Lenses”
Come back next Tuesday as Lucy and Mooney move out to L.A. in Season Four of The Lucy Show! And tune in tomorrow for a whole new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Having just finished this season, I’m curious as to what stopped you from putting Lucy the Camp Cook and Lucy the Coin Collector on the list. I especially loved Harvey Korman’s guest spot in the camp episode.
Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Both of these episodes made my honorable mentions section, indicating that they could have been fodder for the list were I to choose more then ten. With regard to both, I think they each suffer in the moments that aren’t reserved for the big block comedy sequence. I think “Lucy, The Camp Cook” is the significantly better of the two, and were I to expand my list by just one or two episodes, this would be a likely addition. It’s an installment I truly enjoy (not simply for Korman’s performance, but also for the work of our dynamic duo) and watch on occasion. As for “Lucy, The Coin Collector,” I really think it’s only notable for the physical sequence at the end of the second act. The rest I find fairly forgettable, so I’m not sure I would ever change my mind about it being among the year’s best!
If you go on to watch the last three seasons, be sure to check out my corresponding thoughts! (And find one of our Wildcard posts from December 2015, which features extensions of two of the lists…)
Maury and Tommy Thompson actually saved the series for Ball. They put together the treatment for the format the final three seasons would take on and pitched it to her. She read it, laughed and called Bill Paley in NY to let him know she’d be back in the fall.
Though the Connecticut seasons (1-3) were stronger creatively overall, I actually like the Hollywood seasons (4-6) more.
Hi, TV Talking Heads! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, we have the Thompsons to thank (or blame, depending on your vantage point) for the direction of the final three seasons. As I’m sure you know — or will soon know — my preference between this series’ two formats is different than yours, but many Lucy fans do find the actress better served in the final seasons. (It’s an opinion to which I don’t subscribe — I think the rise in illogicalities serves no one — audience or actress…)
Stay tuned for more Lucy coming up on the anniversary of her birth this August — some exclusive rarities ahead…