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.
When not working at a Los Angeles bank for the cantankerous Mr. Mooney, widowed Lucy Carmichael pals around with her daffy neighbor, Mary Jane. Lucy’s schemes, often involving local celebrities, usually place herself and Mr. Mooney in all sorts of strange predicaments.
The Lucy Show stars LUCILLE BALL as Lucy Carmichael, GALE GORDON as Theodore J. Mooney, and MARY JANE CROFT as Mary Jane Lewis.
Season Five is the shortest half-hour season of any Lucille Ball series (save the ill-fated Life With Lucy), producing only 22 instead of the usual 26 episodes. The reason for this reduced total was due to a special Lucy did for CBS on location entitled Lucy In London. Technically not a part of The Lucy Show series, the special has since been made available on DVD, along with the complete collection of 22 episodes — 21 of which have been released into the public domain. It’s rather unfortunate that of all seasons, this was, for the longest time, the only season of this series available on DVD. The truth is — Season Five is the WORST season of The Lucy Show. By 1966, the series had evolved into a parade of largely mediocre guest stars, and the stories became stupider than ever. You all know that I love Lucy, but, honestly, this is just NOT a very good season. (Surprisingly, Lucy won her first post-I Love Lucy Emmy or this lackluster season of work.) Like Season Four, I couldn’t pick ten good episodes. It was still difficult, but I managed to pick eight episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start (once you get around to this unfortunate season). For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the eight best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that each episode this year was directed by Maury Thompson.
01) Episode 113: “Lucy, The Bean Queen” (Aired: 09/26/66 | Filmed: 06/30/66)
Lucy plans to refurnish her apartment by capitalizing on a bean company’s deal to give double refunds upon dissatisfaction.
Written by Phil Leslie
This installment works because Lucy is portrayed as intelligent and crafty. Furthermore, she’s given real integrity. The plot was lifted from a Fibber McGee and Molly script, but is Lucy-fied with a bit that allows the redhead to run amok on a forklift. Ultimately, a satisfying installment.
02) Episode 115: “Lucy And The Ring-A-Ding Ring” (Aired: 10/10/66 | Filmed: 07/07/66)
When Lucy gets Mooney’s expensive ring stuck on her finger, she takes tranquilizers to try and relax.
Written by Milt Josefsberg and Ray Singer
This gag is old hat (and will be even more so when Lucy meets the Burtons in 1970), but Lucy is such an expert physical comedienne, that she makes it worthwhile for us to put aside our story qualms and simply appreciate her showmanship. She and Gale work very well together here, and this one is good for a few laughs.
03) Episode 116: “Lucy Flies To London” (Aired: 10/17/66 | Filmed: 09/15/66)
Lucy enters a jingle writing contest and wins a free trip to London. But when she misses her plane, she ends up next to Mooney on a commuting flight.
Written by Bob O’Brien | Special Material by Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr.
This episode was adapted from a superior skit from The Victor Borge Comedy Theatre in which Lucy and Gale both appeared earlier in the decade. Nothing spectacularly fresh is added here, but the show is predictably funny and the performers do well.
04) Episode 117: “Lucy Gets A Roommate” (Aired: 10/31/66 | Filmed: 07/14/66)
Mary Jane and Lucy try to loosen up the latter’s shy new roommate.
Written by Bob O’Brien and Elroy Schwartz
Carol and Lucy have great chemistry together, and since Lucy lets Carol be the zany one, there are quite a few laughs. In fact, this is one of the simpler episodes of the season, with an emphasis on character. Incidentally, the majority of the episode takes place in Lucy’s apartment.
05) Episode 124: “Lucy’s Substitute Secretary” (Aired: 01/02/67 | Filmed: 11/10/66)
Lucy cancels her vacation plans to spy on the beautiful temporary secretary, whom she thinks has designs on her job.
Teleplay by Bob O’Brien | Story by Vic McLeod and Bob O’Brien
This episode features a reasonable premise, a well-cast guest star in Ruta Lee, and a generous helping of laughs. Mooney not recognizing Lucy in disguise is such a contrivance, but the episode is too funny for us to care. Comedy trumps everything else in this painful season, and this episode gets an A+ for laughter.
06) Episode 125: “Viv Visits Lucy” (Aired: 01/09/67 | Filmed: 11/17/66)
Vivian comes to visit, and she and Lucy end up on the Sunset Strip in an attempt to track down a mutual friend’s delinquent son.
Written by Bob O’Brien
It’s thrilling to see Viv back, even though this script is beneath her talents. The ladies have a great, natural chemistry together, and the continuity addressed through her appearance is refreshing. There are a few laughs, but by and large, this episode is most notable for reuniting our favorite comedy duo.
07) Episode 129: “Lucy Meets The Law” (Aired: 02/13/67 | Filmed: 01/06/67)
Lucy is mistakenly arrested for shoplifting, but she believes her charge is simply littering.
Written by Alan J. Levitt
Characters getting arrested was “sitcom” even before sitcoms existed. Lucy’s interactions with her over-the-top cellmate easily take the cake as the most enjoyable from the episode, but the confusion between Lucy and the officers is actually pretty amusing too. Lucille is very good here.
08) Episode 132: “Lucy Meets Sheldon Leonard” (Aired: 03/06/67 | Filmed: 01/20/67)
Producer Sheldon Leonard wants to shoot a pilot in Mooney’s bank, but Lucy thinks he’s a gangster, and employs Mary Jane to help her catch him.
Written by Milt Josefsberg and Ray Singer
This is a classic misunderstanding, and one of the funniest episodes of the season. Many fans tout this episode as one of the few times that Mary Jane legitimately fills the Vivian void, but aside from joining Lucy in pretending to be a scrub woman, she still functions as a lesser factor. Leonard doesn’t get to do much, but it doesn’t matter — this is Lucy’s show, after all.
Episodes that were above subpar but didn’t make the above list include: “Lucy And George Burns,” which is a smart and well-constructed episode but isn’t very funny, “Lucy Gets Caught Up In The Draft,” which is one of the show’s sillier episodes, and “Lucy And John Wayne,” which sees the Lucy character at perhaps her most annoying. For unfunny, but musically pleasing installments, look to “Main Street U.S.A.” and “Lucy Puts Main Street On The Map.”
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of The Lucy Show goes to…..
“Lucy’s Substitute Secretary”
Come back next week for the best from the (much improved) final season! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Wildcard Wednesday post!