Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My Top 10 Favorite "I Love Lucy" Episodes

Let's have a little fun today.  On Friday night, CBS did another sweeps event and showed two episodes of "I Love Lucy" in prime time.  Unfortunately, they colorize them and the result is borderline circus clown optics.   Nevertheless, you have to salute CBS for getting ratings with episodes that are over 60 years old.

But, then again, it is "I Love Lucy."  The greatest sitcom in television history and that's for those of you who think "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" were all that.

So, in honor of this TV hallmark, I'm going to attempt the impossible today.   I will try to rank my top 10 favorite Lucy episodes of all time.  As I completed this herculean task, I was shocked to see the results.   Most of the episodes were produced within a three season span of the show.   Indeed, that goes to prove that the writing in those years set in Hollywood, Europe, and Connecticut were perhaps the pinnacle of creativity for this program.   Kudos, of course, to all involved and especially friends, the late Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr..

And here we go in descending order.  These are the top 10 ILL episodes I can never turn off.
#10   "Job Switching" first aired on 9/15/1952.

Better known as the "Candy Factory" episode.  Indeed, this is the only show from the first years that makes my list.   Many folks consider this the best episode of the series.   It was the second season premiere and yes, it's hysterical.  Truth be told, I thought the first season of ILL was good but way too unrealistic for me.  As the series got older, the writing and the premises got much more sophisticated and grounded.   But, the "Candy Factory" was still sheer brilliance for slapstick.  You have to love Lucy and Ethel putting those bon bons down their dresses.  And this plot was dreamed up by Bob and Madelyn while they were on lunch break at LA's Farmers Market and they watched some candy dippers doing their work.   As a matter of fact, one of them was actually hired for this episode.
#9   "Lucy Does the Tango" first aired on 3/11/1957.

This one makes my list based on sixty-five seconds.   Yep, the longest single recorded laugh in television history when Ricky smashes the eggs hidden in Lucy's blouse.   It was all real and you saw the yolk dripping out of her.  When you next watch this episode, keep your eye on Vivian Vance.  Her look of dread during the infamous tango makes the whole stunt work.  I will repeatedly mention Vance on this list because she was the unsung hero of the series.
#8  "Bon Voyage" first aired 1/16/1956.

By the fifth season of ILL, the show must have been making so much money that they started sinking it into enhanced production values.   So, Desi Arnaz having a mock-up of a cruise ship built on a sound stage in front of a live audience was a no-brainer.  This is perhaps the most intricate of all ILL episodes as there were shots done in a helicopter and lots of stock footage of an ocean liner at sea.   Lucy missing the boat was a plot that was hatched in base reality and that makes it work.    My favorite line was when Ricky called the dock agent.  "Hello, Doc."
#7   "Lucy's Italian Movie" first aired 4/16/1956.

A couple of years ago, CBS colorized this episode and you finally got to see what Lucy looked like soaked in purple grape wine...or juice.  Frankly, it was better to imagine it in black-and-white.  Regardless, more great production values as Desi Arnaz was never one to say "no" to his writers when they came up with an idea.   Rumor has it that the woman Lucy fights in the grape vat took her fisticuffs a little too seriously.  At least, that's what Lucille Ball used to say. Allegedly, the other gal tried to hold her head under grape water.
#6  "The Tour" first aired 5/30/1955.

The "Ricardos Go to Hollywood" storyline was sheer perfection.   This episode was the last episode of the fourth season and serves as a great example of the wonderful run these writers were on at the time.   Now these tour buses are still running rampant all over LA, so the plot is still timely as Lucy and Ethel do their tourist thing.   Watch for the location shot where they get off the tour bus in Beverly Hills to pick a grapefruit off Richard Widmark's tree.   The location is the side street right next to the Arnaz home on Roxbury Drive.  My favorite line is uttered by Lucy on the tour bus.  "And I hear she wears nothing but black laced lingerie...what are you doing?"
#5  "The Star Upstairs" first aired 4/18/1955.

More Hollywood hilarity as Lucy sneaks into a hotel room to get a glimpse of Cornel Wilde, whom I'm thinking nobody even remembers today.   This episode is virtually stolen by two co-stars.  Bobby Jellison as the hotel bellhop in a few of the LA shows is brilliant as he tries to divert Wilde's attention.   And, when Lucy climbs down a cord from the terrace above to the terrace below, watch for Vivian Vance's comedic prowess as she views in horror Lucy dangling outside while Ricky is totally oblivious.   Incredibly masterful.   My favorite line comes from Ricky.  "Oh, she's probably hanging around the hotel some place."
#4  "Lucy and John Wayne" first aired 10/10/1955.

The second part of the two-parter that opened ILL's fifth season.   You know it well.   Lucy and Ethel have vandalized the footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater and must enlist the aid of John Wayne to get them out of their jam.   Again, the plot was totally plausible but taken in directions that were magical. Wayne displays good comic chops here.   And the scene where Lucy and Ethel struggle to get curlers out of their hair in front of Wayne is terrific.   My favorite line from Lucy:  "When your motor conked out, my motor conked out right along with it."
# 3  "Lucy Visits Grauman's" first aired 10/3/1955.

The first part of the John Wayne storyline is even better.   I mean, it does somehow seem logical for Lucy and Ethel to try and steal John Wayne's footprints on this "routine souvenir hunt."  The way in which the plot unfolds is pure precision.   And, to this day, whenever I have to take out-of-towners to see the footprints on Hollywood Boulevard, this is invariably somebody there standing on Wayne's slab and proclaiming "John Wayne's block is loose."
# 2  "Return Home from Europe" first aired 5/14/1956.

Here's how good ILL's fifth season was.   The Grauman's episode was the season opener and this one, more commonly known as the "Cheese" episode, was the closer.  Indeed, it was almost the series closer as well.   When you watch out, check out Ricky's final speech in the customs office.   It's almost as if he was tying a bow around the premise of the whole series.   Ultimately, they came back for one more year of half-hour shows.   From what we were told by the writers, Bob Carroll Jr. once tried to bring a similar piece of cheese back from Italy.   I doubt he disguised it as a twenty-five-pound baby.  There is a great mock-up of an airplane interior here and perennial Lucy guest star Mary Jane Croft makes the scenes with Lucy and the faux baby work.  The very best line actually comes from Ricky.   "I am not the father of that cheese."
# 1  "LA at Last" first aired 2/7/1955.

This is my desert island ILL episode.   If I'm allowed to watch just one for the rest of my life, it would be this one when they land in Hollywood.  At the beginning, there are some location shots of them pulling into a hotel entrance.   That hotel actually exists about four blocks from my home in LA.  You'd be lucky to get one perfectly crafted scene in a sitcom episode.   In this one, we get two.    The scene with William Holden in the Brown Derby is hysterical, especially when Ethel uses the sewing scissors to cut the spaghetti dangling out of Lucy's mouth.  But, then, we get the closing scene...
...where Lucy's putty nose catches on fire.   Now, this is a scene that Lucille Ball tries to tell us that the smoky nose was an on-set accident.  Um, nope.   We were lucky enough to be shown the actual script and it's written there in the action, which Ball used to call "the black stuff."  It was all planned and rehearsed.   Whatever the case, I've seen this ILL episode perhaps 100 times and I plan to do it again another 100 more.

Sure, there are some episodes I have left out that get honorable mention.   The one where Lucy pulls the emergency cord on the train ("Did you stop this train?"). The one where they're in the rickety motel on the way to California. The show where Lucy and Ethel accidentally knock out the talent agent from Hollywood and, as Ethel combs his hair, she puts the comb in front of his nose to make him look like Adolf Hitler.   Or the classic scene where a pregnant Lucy needs to get to the hospital.   But the above are my top ten and I'm sticking to it.

What are yours?

Dinner last night:  Hot dog at the Grove.

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