Season 2 of I Love Lucy includes two of the most famous half-hours in television history. "Job Switching," originally broadcast mid-September of 1952, is the crazy, battle-of-the-sexes episode in which husbands Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and Fred Mertz (William Frawley) trade roles with wives Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ethel (Vivian Vance), culminating in the men making a shambles of domestic chores while Lucy and Ethel take disastrous work at a chocolate factory. That's right: This is the show where the ladies have a Chaplinesque experience with a too-fast factory conveyor belt, forcing them to hide candies in their mouths, in their hats, and down their blouses lest a tough forewoman fire them for incompetence. A half-century later, the scene is still so fresh and funny it would grace any current sitcom. "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," which received an amazing 71.7 rating on January 19, 1953, is the historic episode featuring the birth of Little Ricky and a load of wonderful slapstick. Other television series (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and movies (Nine Months) have tried to top Lucy's time-to-go-to-the-hospital shenanigans, but there's nothing like the sight of Ricky and Fred falling all over themselves or Ricky showing up at the maternity ward (direct from a voodoo-themed show at the Tropicana) in witch doctor makeup.
The other 31 episodes included in I Love Lucy: The Compete Second Season have choice moments, too. "Lucy Becomes a Sculptress" finds the ever-ambitious redhead falling for empty flattery at an art-supply store and commencing an ill-advised career working in clay. Ricky agrees to bless this new endeavor if an art critic says she has talent, but Lucy tries to increase her chances by posing as a bust of herself--resulting in mayhem, of course. The usual running themes in I Love Lucy--Lucy's misguided desire to be a part of Ricky's musical career, and her penchant for disguising herself to investigate something--are all over The Complete Second Season. "Ricky Loses His Voice" is a delightful piece in which Ricky's laryngitis inspires Lucy, the Mertzes, and an aging chorus line to put on a Tropicana spectacle, and "Ricky Has Labor Pains" finds Lucy and Ethel going undercover as male reporters to find out what happens at a stag party. Lots to enjoy here, and the special features include bloopers, information about the guest cast, and snippets from Ball's radio show. --Tom Keogh
I Love Lucy: The Complete Fifth Season finds Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) making an international mess out of husband Ricky's globe-trotting tour as an entertainer. Beginning with "Lucy Visits Grauman's" and "Lucy and John Wayne," the impulsive redhead risks Ricky's sanity in Hollywood by stealing a cement slab, from the famous entrance to Grauman's Chinese Theater, that contains the imprint of John Wayne's footprints and signature. In the tradition of superstars playing themselves on I Love Lucy, an exasperated (and very funny) Wayne gets into the act over and over and over again, making new imprints on multiple slabs because Lucy keeps messing up the results. After more shenanigans in Los Angeles (Lucy attends a ritzy party with a dummy substituting for her unavailable husband) and a disastrous train ride home, it's time to jeopardize Ricky's success during an interview show that ends disastrously.
Lucy's fifth season travel theme continues when Ricky and his band are booked on a European tour that does not include his wife or the Mertzes. Of course, that doesn't stop the determined Lucy (or Ethel), who schemes her way into Ricky's plans, only to have a number of snafus arise as she tries to leave the country. In the I Love Lucy tradition, entire episodes are written around such simple matters as trying to get a passport, or helping with Fred's fear of getting seasick while traveling. All this show's stars really need is a ridiculous, open-ended situation to exploit, and the comedy flows from there. "Bon Voyage" is a particularly funny episode in which Lucy gets left behind by the European-bound ship carrying Ricky and the others, and she has to find a way to get back aboard. The hilarious "Lucy and the Queen" finds her angling in London for a way to meet the Royal Family after Ricky is invited to say hello at the Palladium. From there, Lucy creates chaos in Scotland (this episode includes a memorable dream sequence in which Ricky appears as Scotty MacTavish MacDougal MacCardo), Paris (where she and Ethel plot to meet guest star and good sport Charles Boyer at an outdoor café), Rome (the outstanding "Lucy's Italian Movie" finds her dispatched to a vineyard, where she has to crush grapes--brilliantly--with her feet). Lots of special features, including a behind-the-scenes peek and bloopers. --Tom Keogh
The sixth and final season of I Love Lucy finds new laughs in some old formulas while also expanding the hugely popular show’s horizons with a change of scene. Things get off to a familiar start when Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) gets in the middle of husband Ricky’s business--in this case, disguising herself as a hot dog salesman at Yankee Stadium in order to get near Bob Hope. Hope, she believes, has ignored Ricky’s offer to be the first act at his new nightclub. But, in fact, Hope had already agreed; Ricky was just sitting on the information to keep Lucy from getting typically ditzy in front of one of his celebrity pals. Not surprisingly, mayhem follows when poor Hope finds his hand slathered with condiments and his noggin bonked by a foul ball. Other celebrity sightings include Orson Welles, who copes with Lucy’s aspirations as a Shakespearean actress, and George Reeves, television’s Superman, who shows up unexpectedly, in costume, at Little Ricky’s birthday party. Meanwhile, Lucy--who didn’t want to disappoint the tyke--stands in a makeshift Man of Steel outfit on a window ledge, in the rain.
A number of episodes concern Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux) now that he’s old enough to be a functioning character on the show. In "Little Ricky Learns to Play the Drums," the lad takes after his musician father and starts playing percussion, leading to some frayed nerves. A couple of episodes later, young Ricardo gets a bad case of stage fright at school, and Lucy suggests Ricky let him play the drums at the nightclub. (But then, of course, she has to figure out how to talk her son into performing.) A big change comes to I Love Lucy in the season’s second half, when the Ricardos decide it’s time to become homeowners and pull up stakes at their old Manhattan apartment. Moving to a nice, new house in Connecticut, they’re soon joined by Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance), and the season’s storylines take on a distinctly suburban flavor, with country clubs, barbecues, and gardens figuring into the comedy. With those developments, I Love Lucy came to a close after making television history as a much-beloved sitcom. Lots of special features, including multiple audio commentaries, flubs, lost scenes, and five episodes of My Favorite Husband, Ball’s radio show. --Tom Keogh
Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show
From Lucy-tormented Hollywood A-listers and bongo-propelled production numbers to archival goodies such as long-lost footage, there is much to love in this collection of all 13 episodes from The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (also known as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour). Following I Love Lucy's sixth and final season, these monthly (give or take) specials reunited America with Ricky and Lucy (and Keith Thibodeaux's adorable Little Ricky, still living the country life in Connecticut. The expanded, hour-long format allowed for celebrity guest stars and excursions to far-flung locales, such as Japan and Mexico. Not matter where they go, Lucy can always be counted on to act, in Desi's words, "a little crazy in the head," which is how she winds up masquerading as Ernie Kovacs' chauffeur in "Lucy Meets the Moustache" (an episode making its home-video debut), dangling Milton Berle from a construction crane in "Milton Berle Hides Out at the Ricardos," or sparking a uranium uproar in Las Vegas in "Lucy Hunts Uranium."
A highlight of this set is the first-ever home video release of the uncut version of "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana," a flashback episode in which Lucy meets Ricky on a "maiden voyage" to Cuba. She also meets future best friend Ethel (Vivian Vance) and her new husband Fred (a toupeed William Frawley), and goes overboard for her first celebrity sighting, Rudy Vallee. Because these episodes do not play as often in syndication, they seem fresher than their endlessly re-run counterparts. They are full of delights for movie, TV, and Lucy buffs, among them, Fred MacMurray getting "Uranium" fever, Maurice Chevalier singing "Yankee Doodle Boy" in the "Mexico" episode, prolific character actor Sid Melton as a bellboy in the "Alaska" episode, and a va-voom Vance decked out as maid and a dance hall girl, respectively, in the "The Celebrity Next Door" and "Milton Berle" episodes. Among this set's prodigious bonus features include 1951 color footage that an audience member surreptitiously filmed, rediscovered scenes that were cut from the original broadcasts, and a filmed presentation to Westinghouse, which sponsored the series. If you don't add this to your library, you have some 'splainin' to do. --Donald Liebenson