Blu-ray Review: I Love Lucy (Ultimate Season 1)

There’s a sadness when someone brags that they’ve never seen an episode of I Love Lucy as if it was a badge of cultural enlightenment. Maybe they feel superior because they’ve avoided one of the most popular sitcoms ever. However this isn’t the same as explaining why you refuse to tune into Duck Dynasty or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. There’s nothing cool about claiming to miss out on I Love Lucy. Besides being one of the best written sitcoms, the premise was not a safe subject. Plenty of Americans in 1951 weren’t happy with Lucy being married to a foreigner. This was an edgy show for its time. I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 brings an even greater clarity to the legendary sitcom thanks to the power of Blu-ray.

While it’s easy to assume that everyone knows I Love Lucy, there might be a few readers who have yet to experience the show for various reasons. Perhaps they recently moved here from Albania or they were raised in a town so remote that their cable package didn’t have TBS. The show revolves around Lucy (Lucille Ball) and her husband Ricky Richardo (Desi Arnaz). They have a mixed marriage since he’s from Cuba and has a little trouble with English. She doesn’t really speak Spanish. Since Cuba wasn’t yet communist, there’s nothing political about the location. It’s just a faraway island with its own culture. Ricky is a successful nightclub performer with a steady gig in Manhattan. He is the king of the Cuban beat. Lucy aspires to become part of Ricky’s act. But since she can’t sing and her dancing is rather offstep, she must be the stay at home wife. But Lucy dreams and schemes with the help of her landlady Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance). The twosome are often getting into trouble. Helping Ricky in surviving his wife is the landlord Fred Mertz (My Three Sons‘ William Frawley). Many an episode features Rickey and Fred clinging to each other to survive Lucy and Ethel.

The first season of I Love Lucy has quite a few of the most memorable episodes. “The Girls to Want to Go to a Nightclub” has an anniversary night go completely wrong when each gender picks a celebration that’s not much fun for all. “The Quiz Show” predicts the scandal about to hit the TV genre. Lucy learns the answers for a show she’s doing with Ricky. Is she going to cheat and win all the big bucks? “Breaking the Lease” has Lucy and Ricky feuding with the Mertzs over noise in the apartment. Will they really move out of the building? “Cuban Pals” has Ricky’s old dancing partner arrive to help with the show. Can she handle her man dancing and singing to another woman? “The Freezer” is what happens when the girls try to save money on meat with a “free” freezer for the basement. “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” is the classic time when Lucy gets to pitch “Vitameatveamin” during a TV show. Little does she know that the secret of the elixir will make her more entertaining with each take.

I Love Lucy started out great. Ricky’s musical moments expose his great passion and playful nature instead of merely kill time with a hopeful hit. The real joy of watching the episodes repeatedly is the genius of William Frawley. He owns the screen as Fred Mertz. He gets to double up his frustrations. Ricky only gets flustered by Lucy. Fred gets constantly smashed between his own wife and Lucy. The higher resolution allows all the lines in Fred’s face to be prominent during his near meltdown. Even if you don’t love Lucy, you’ll embrace the Zen of Fred. Don’t try to act hip by claiming to never watch I Love Lucy. You’re only exposing your poseur status.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The 1080p transfers are what the Cult of Lucy has been praying to view. The black and white images are so crisp and detailed that you can almost see Lucy’s hair as red. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Things sound fine as Lucy goes into her crying noise. The episodes are closed captioned.

“I Love Lucky: The Very First Show” (48:02) is the pilot that was finally shown in 1990. They even include the CBS promo for this big event. There’s a lot of background detail before the pilot They feature the couple’s battle to show their love on the small screen. There’s a surreal feel to the action. Ricky’s pajamas are wild. While there’s no Fred and Ethel, the plot features Lucy trying to sneak into Ricky’s show. There are outtakes featuring writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr.

1951 Promo (0:21) has the cast squeeze into the CBS eye.

Audio Commentaries are from the previous Criterion laserdisc. They have audio clips from Lucille Ball, Deis Arnez, director William Asher and others on “Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Going to Murder Her” and “Lucy Does a TV Commercial.” TV historian Bart Andrews hosts.

Lucy on the Radio has a few episodes of My Favorite Husband, the radio version of the series. The episodes include “The Wills,” “Iris and Liz’s Easter,” “Anniversary Presents,” “Numerology,” “George is Messy,” “Valentine’s Day,” “Liz Has the Filmjabs,” “Liz Teaches the Samba,” “The Marriage License,” “Selling Dresses,” “Time Budgeting,” “Quiz Show” and George Tries for a Raise. Richard Denning plays her husband Ricky Cooper. She’s Liz. Gale Gordon guest stars on an episode.

The Sunday Lucy Show (4:21) is the openings from when the show reran in an early time slot for the kids. Mel Blanc pops up.

On-Set Color Home Movies (4:21) is what happened when an audience member snuck a 16mm camera into the stands. This has color footage of the nightclub and apartment.

Costume & Makeup Tests (9:56) is final presentation of them testing out their outfits on camera. Desi is making out with Lucy has they pose for the camera. TCM’s Robert Osbourne hosts the segment. He reads lips and mentions how the couple used their own clothes to save on the wardrobe budget.

Behind the Scenes
features audio book excerpts from Jess Oppenheimer’s autobiography about creating I Love Lucy.

I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1 is the ultimate. Devoted fans who’ve watched the series for over 60 years on TV will be amazed at the picture clarity. Lucy’s antics are captured in a higher resolution so you can truly enjoy her performances. Thrill to her drunk face. The bonus features explore each episode including the original openings. Blu-ray is the right way to love Lucy.

CBS DVD presents I Love Lucy: Ultimate Season 1. Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley and Vivian Vance. Boxset Contents: 35 episodes on 5 Blu-ray Discs. Released: May 5, 2014.

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