Here's how it all began-the classic episodes that started America's long-running love affair with everyone's favorite madcap redhead, Lucille Ball. Plus the rarely seen pilot episode that sold the I Love Lucy series. By the end of its initial season, I Love Lucy was TV's first bona fide smash-hit-the very first program seen in more than 10 million homes. America just couldn't get enough of this stunning new comedy talent-Lucy as a less-than-poised would-be ballerina in "The Ballet," Lucy battling the world's longest loaf of bread in "Pioneer Women," and Lucy in her greatest performance, as the health tonic-guzzling TV pitchwoman for "Vitameatavegamin" in "Lucy Does a TV Commercial." ("And it's so tasty, too!") Fall in love all over again, with the wild and wacky series that changed TV forever!
Unless one takes the time to stop and focus, it's easy to take things for granted when they become ubiquitous, and overlook their greatness. This includes what transpires in the heavens above, the loved ones in our lives, and classic works of art and entertainment. Although I haven't watched an entire episode since I was young child in the late '70s, 'I Love Lucy' has always been on. Not a week has gone by since it began its six-season run in 1951 and then moved into syndication, that is hasn't aired in Los Angeles. With the release of Season 1 on Blu-ray, I have been fortunate to revisit the series and rediscover why it is held in such high esteem.
After some success in movies during the 1930s and 40s, Lucille Ball became the star of a hit radio show for CBS called 'My Favorite Husband'. The network wanted to bring the series to television; however, instead of continuing with co-star Richard Denning, who played her husband, Ball wanted her real-life husband Desi Arnaz to join her, in part so they could spend more time together since Arnaz was a touring bandleader. Ball was met with resistance, which unfortunately isn't surprising considering interracial marriage was still illegal in some states and would be until the Supreme Court ruled on it in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia), but the executives finally relented. Ball brought along her 'My Favorite Husband' producer/writer Jesse Oppenheimer and writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. to serve the same function on 'I Love Lucy'.
The series centers on the lives of Lucy Ricardo and her husband Ricky. He was a bandleader at the Tropicana nightclub and she was frequently trying to get into a show business, as seen in several of the 35 episodes of Season 1. They lived together in a New York apartment and became good friends with their landlords, Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Many stories saw Lucy and Ricky at odds and one-upping each other while a few others saw the ladies and the men go at it. They were never mean and things always worked out in the end.
What may be the most well-known episode of the entire series is in the collection, "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," where Lucy works as a spokesmodel for Vitemeatavegamin and proceeds to get drunk on the product as she rehearses the commercial. Ball's metamorphosis is hysterical. "Breaking the Lease" finds the Ricardos and Mertzes battling, although it's hard to believe things get so heated between them, but then 'I Love Lucy' is a show where belief needs to be suspended frequently as a laugh is the most important thing. For example, you can't wonder how Lucy has access to all the wigs, costumes, and make-up she uses.
A few episodes feature bits repeated in sitcoms that followed. In "Men Are Messy" the Ricardos run a line down the apartment to divide it because Ricky is so messy. In "The Benefit" Lucy is unaware she is babysitting a pair of terrible twins. "The Ballet" features the famous Vaudeville routine "Slowly I Turned" where a man goes into a rage when a certain word is mentioned. Also famous is the scene in "Pioneer Women" that finds the foursome trying to live like the olden days and Lucy makes a large loaf of bread.
The show is a great blend of comedy and music. Ball shatters the idea that women can't be funny because she excels at both verbal interactions and physical comedy. She is also much better at singing and dancing than Lucy is supposed to be, although Lucy is offered a contract in "The Audition". Arnaz was already known as a singer before the show, so it's no surprise how well the musical numbers go, but he also reveals a gift for comedy, which is on display as he handles straight-man duties setting up Ball and, at times, Frawley.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount/CBS presents 'I Love Lucy' on six 50GB Blu-ray discs in an oversized keepcase housed in a slipcover. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Episodes are available with the familiar "heart on satin" opening or can be viewed as originally broadcast with sponsor Phillip Morris featured in the opening credits and in promos. There are also 13 episodes that when originally rerun during Season 2 while Ball was out on maternity featured new elements that set up the episode with "remember that time when…"
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.33:1. Throughout the collection, there's a great representation across the gray spectrum. Also, whites are bright and blacks are rich. The image looks very clean, free from damage and wear for the most part, especially when compared with commercials seen in the original broadcast versions.
A natural amount of film grain can be seen. Focus is frequently sharp, and textures on garments and objects come through very well, but mostly with objects in the foreground. Items in the background tend to be slightly softer, which narrows the depth. Dissolves look great, and don't lose any clarity during the transition.
Aliasing can be seen on occasion in places such as the Ricardos' kitchen shutters and clothing with patterns. During "The Séance," one camera shot loses focus and grain increases, but it returns to normal when they cut to another camera. There is also a discolored line running down the right side of the frame as Mr. Merriweather leaves their apartment. In "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" there is some flicker and white scratches during a transition in Chapter Five.
The audio is available in Dolby Digital Mono. The track sounds free of hiss and damage. Dialogue is always understandable, even Ricky's accent. The singing is clear and not overwhelmed by the orchestra's music has comes through with very strong. That music demonstrates the loud end of the dynamic range while quiet talking demonstrates the soft end. Different types of laughs can be made out in the audience's responses.
I did find one flaw in "The Benefit." At approximately 10:28, the audio briefly slips out of the center channel and appears in the front right.
Although they're still airing on TV somewhere, 'I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1' is a prize for anyone's collection. The show remains one of the all-time classics over 60 years later. The high-definition upgrade offers a great-looking image and satisfying audio. And there are so many extras to explore, it's a shame I couldn't give that category more than five stars. This is highly recommended.