The Ten Best HERE’S LUCY Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best of Lucille Ball’s third half-hour television series (fourth series altogether), Here’s Lucy (1968-1974, CBS), which starred Ball, Gordon, and her two real life kids, and began production following the sale of Desilu and conclusion of The Lucy Show (1962-1968, CBS). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.

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Widowed Lucy Carter works as a secretary at a Los Angeles employment agency for her stern brother-in-law, Harry, all the while caring for her bemused daughter, Kim, who constantly feels the fallout of her mother’s meddlesome ways.

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Here’s Lucy stars LUCILLE BALL as Lucy Carter, GALE GORDON as Harry Carter, LUCIE ARNAZ as Kim Carter, and MARY JANE CROFT as Mary Jane Lewis.

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The fifth season of Here’s Lucy is the year in which Lucille Ball begins to embrace — ever so slightly — the changes in situation comedy that have secretly been brewing (mostly on CBS’s Saturday Night line-up). I don’t mean that she takes up feminism or has screaming political battles with Kim; it’s not the stories so much, as the way the stories are told. Logic has re-entered the scripts, and anytime a character behaves without said logic, the results are glaringly inferior. Additionally, the show becomes less a star vehicle for Ball (by 1972, we know she’s great — she’s Lucy!), and starts expanding its ensemble — allowing for other regular and recurring players to develop personalities and have funny moments of their own. Some of this has also been ascribed to an off-camera tragedy, Lucille Ball’s broken leg, which necessitated that several episodes have her bed-ridden, sitting down, and later, in a leg cast. As a result, everyone else was forced to step up their game while Lucy recovered. Truthfully, the broken leg is given too much credit among the Lucy fanbase for its positive impact on the series. While the opening episodes of the season establish a nice continuity, they’re are not unanimously hilarious — it’s hit and miss. What begins to come after those installments, however, really deserves mentioning. Thus, the obvious elevation of quality should be attributed to the writers, Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Davis, who, as they did upon their official return last season, continue to strengthen the series’ humor by making the relationships between the leading players (chiefly Lucy and Harry) more realistic. Through navigating a star’s limited activity, trying to make Lucy’s interactions with the ongoing parade of guest stars fresh and believable, and spreading around the humor, the series is finally in a place where it doesn’t look unfavorable when compared to the other shows of the TV season. (And this was no small feat!) So, 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.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode of this season is directed by Coby Ruskin.

 

01) Episode 99: “Harrison Carter, Male Nurse” (Aired: 09/25/72)

Harry’s forced to care for Lucille all by himself when all of her other friends and relatives come up with excuses.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis

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In this, the third episode of the season, Lucy returns home from the hospital and is sequestered up in her bed. Her friends all agree to take shifts caring for her, but when they each back out at the last minute, Harry must rise to the occasion and care for his sister-in-law himself. This episode belongs to Gale Gordon, who really makes all of the comedy in this episode work. Meanwhile, it’s very satisfying to see Harry sort of punished for his past treatment of Lucille, and the softening of their relationship — which really began last season, but is even more pronounced here — is vital in restoring the series’ heart and brains.

02) Episode 100: “A Home Is Not An Office” (Aired: 10/02/72)

Still wheelchair bound, Lucy is miffed when Harry decides to bring the entire office into her living room.

Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs

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Like the three preceding episodes, this installment uses a host of assorted characters to compensate for Lucy, who is now semi-mobile (but strictly wheelchair bound). However, Lucy does get one physical moment in which to relish, involving her wheel chair and a file cabinet. The premise finds Harry, in desperate need of his secretary’s return, setting up the entire office in her living room. Now, Lucy must scheme to get him out. The highlight of the installment is the female a cappella group, which gives a hilariously mangled rendition of “Camptown Races.” Very funny!

03) Episode 103: “Lucy, The Other Woman” (Aired: 10/23/72)

The milkman’s wife threatens Lucy after she’s led to believe that the redhead has been fooling around with her husband.

Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs

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It’s unfortunate how little of comic Totie Fields is accessible to today’s modern audiences. A large woman with a throaty bellow, she’s really a hoot. This episode, in which Fields makes her sitcom debut, is a personal favorite. The story — of Lucy being accused of adultery — is certainly a first for the series, and though it’s all written and played rather one-note, the fast pace allows the novelty to stick throughout the episode. Meanwhile, though Fields’ over-the-top characterization may be a bit polarizing to 2014 audiences, she lands and deserves all of the (big) laughs she earns. Wish the episode had a tighter ending, but it nevertheless manages to be a great showcase for a great comic.

04) Episode 110: “Lucy And The Group Encounter” (Aired: 12/18/72)

Mary Jane suggests that Lucy and Harry attend a group encounter session to help fix their tempestuous relationship.

Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs

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This delightfully bizarre episode features a slightly modern premise, but an expectedly broad and typically Lucy execution, which results in a uniquely amusing balance. When the arguing between Harry and Lucille reaches a crescendo, Mary Jane suggests that the pair attend a group therapy session. There the duo are forced to engage in several bizarre (and frankly, hysterical) exercises culminating in a satisfying and delightfully self-referential office role reversal that leads to a happy ending. Though the comedic climax occurs during the group encounter, this episode is fun and solidly silly throughout.

05) Episode 111: “Lucy Is Really In A Pickle” (Aired: 01/01/73)

Lucy’s broken leg threatens to hamper her chances of appearing in a television commercial for pickles.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis

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There are lots of shades of Lucy Ricardo in this installment which again finds humor in presenting the character as a frustrated performer. Additionally, it’s impossible not to recall Ball’s initial reaction to Vitameatavegamin in “Lucy Does A TV Commercial” during the scene in which Lucy tries one of the sour pickles she’s set to promote. A very funny moment, Ball still knows how to work an audience. The musical spot, with Lucy and Kim dressed as pickles is excellent, and though I’m not as bowled over with this episode as most fans seem to be, I appreciate its comedy and agree it’s definitely a highlight of the season.

06) Episode 112: “Lucy Goes On Her Last Blind Date” (Aired: 01/08/73)

After an awful date with Harry’s boring cousin Ben, Lucy is shocked when he becomes a millionaire over night.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis

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For television fans, it’s a major delight to see Lucy on a date with Don Knotts (who was currently in between Fife and Furley, but probably closer to Furley). Knotts is absolutely perfect as the utterly odd and out-of-touch Ben, a cheapskate wannabe swinger who suddenly becomes a millionaire. Lucy’s disdain for him is justified and hilarious, as is Uncle Harry’s determination to see the two married off. With a lot of small moments and funny bits, though this isn’t one of the series’ most brilliant excursions, it is one of the more memorable.

07) Episode 114: “Lucy Goes To Prison” (Aired: 01/22/73)

To collect a reward, Lucy goes undercover in a prison, hoping to draw information from her loony cellmate.

Written by Fred. S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs

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There are several appealing things about this episode. In addition to a change of scenery, a lot of the laughs are deferred to a guest star — a rare occurrence on this (or any) series. Here, it’s the supreme Elsa Lanchester (who played the potential axe murderess that Lucy and Ethel hitchhiked to Florida with in a brilliant sixth season I Love Lucy episode). This time, she’s afforded an even kookier character, a daffy crook whose memory only functions when loaded with alcohol. So, to get the information needed, Lucy must get her cellmate plastered! Excellent comedy here.

08) Episode 117: “Lucy And Uncle Harry’s Pot” (Aired: 02/12/73)

When Lucy breaks a handmade vase with sentimental value from Harry’s former secretary, she’s determined to gift him with one of her own.

Written by Bob O’Brien

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Another episode that does a lot to support the welcome evolution of the Lucy and Harry relationship, this installment is surprisingly sweet, without becoming cloying. After breaking a vase that Harry’s former secretary personally made for him, Lucy feels so bad that she goes to a pottery shop to make him one of her own. Naturally, this results in a meaty block of physical comedy involving Lucy, a hunk of clay, and a rotating pottery wheel. The results are predictably (and amusingly) bad, but Harry recognizes the sentiment behind Lucy’s motivations, and the episode ends on a wonderful moment between the two. Very well rendered excursion.

09) Episode 118: “The Not-So-Popular Mechanics” (Aired: 02/19/73)

An auto repair class proves fruitless when Lucy and Mary Jane are forced to repair Harry’s classic car after Lucy forgets to take it into the mechanics.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis

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As the Mary Jane character once again became more prominent, the writers — mostly Bob and Madelyn, of course — slowly allowed her to really become, like Ethel/Viv, a sidekick to the Lucy character. And of all the installments this season, that’s most noticeable in this excellent episode, in which a story involving Lucy and Mary Jane’s decision to take a class in auto repair melds beautifully with a story about Lucy’s absentmindedness regarding a promise she made to Harry. After forgetting to take his vintage car to the mechanics, Lucy and Mary Jane are forced to work on the car themselves. After all, they know what to do, right? Adding to the fun is Robert Rockwell (yes, Connie Brook’s former paramour, Philip Boynton), who plays the girls’ teacher (and Lucy’s new boyfriend). Flawless installment.

10) Episode 119: “Goodbye, Mrs. Hips” (Aired: 02/26/73)

Lucy, Mary Jane, and Vanda all embark on a diet together, but when Harry comes by to store some food in Lucy’s refrigerator, things get dire.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis

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Vanda, who, like Mary Jane, had a recurring function in the fifth season as one of Lucy’s best gal cohorts, is, for the first and only time in a Lucy series, given the chance to play — really play — alongside Lucy and Mary Jane as a comedy trio. The story, in which the three women attempt to mutually diet, naturally lends itself to comedy, and the use of Harry’s broken refrigerator as a means to ratchet up the carbohydrate temptation is a smart one. Lots of laughs in this installment, though not as many huge ones. It’s a rather simple episode: few sets, limited cast members, nice interplay among the performers.

 

Other notable installments that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Lucy’s Big Break” and “Lucy And Eva Gabor Are Hospital Roomies,” which take place almost exclusively in Lucy’s hospital room where she’s recovering from her broken leg, and despite not being laugh riots, each have several amusing moments, “Dirty Gertie,” in which Lucy (once again) agrees to go undercover to bust some criminal activity, “My Fair Buzzi,” which is a problematic episode, but features a nice musical sequence and affords Lucy the chance to do a riotous Texas Guinan impression, “Lucy And Her Genuine Twimby,” which sees Bob Cummings return as a potential suitor (albeit, with ulterior motives), “Lucy And The Professor,” which is another problematic episode lacking in logic, but actually features several big and deserved laughs, “Lucy And The Franchise Fiasco,” a large physical show that should be much funnier than it actually is, and “Lucy And Harry’s Memoirs,” the clip show that ends the season (initially intended to end the series, until Lucy agreed to return once more) and features some funny wraparound moments for Lucy and Gale.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Here’s Lucy goes to…..

“The Not-So-Popular Mechanics”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday!

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