Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'M LOVING LUCY!

"I have seen you in a bathing suit. You look like a spider on a hunger strike."

That's the funniest women who ever lived (Lucille Ball) dissing the second-funniest woman who ever lived (Carol Burnett) on a 1970 episode of Here's Lucy (see the video below). This past weekend I finally got around to watching my four-DVD compilation of select episodes of Lucille Ball's 1968-1974 sitcom after five years of putting it off.

What was I waiting for? Like everyone else, I love Lucy, though I've actually seen very few episodes of Lucille Ball's first sitcom, I Love Lucy. Her second weekly series, The Lucy Show, which ran from 1962 to 1968 was the one I grew up with, watching the reruns in syndication every day after school. In general, when it comes to sitcoms from before I was old enough to watch the first-run episodes, the joke isn't funny anymore. As much as I enjoy reruns of Bewitched, I Dream Of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch, they don't exactly make me fall on the floor in fits of uncontrollable guffaws.

To be honest, neither does my Here's Lucy DVD set, but my laughter has been pretty consistent. Which is why I am so pleasantly surprised. Now I know where Fran Drescher got so much of her The Nanny shtick. Lucille Ball was well into her 50s when she launched the series, but she was as stylish, fit and trim as an actress half her age. Her character, widow Lucy Carter, was at once the smartest and the dumbest person in the room. Legend has it that Lucille Ball was a taskmaster and kind of a bitch on wheels, but her demanding work ethic was for a good cause -- and it was effective. And she didn't hog all the best bits (again, see the video below). Her kids, Lucie and Desi Jr., playing her kids, Kim and Craig, are attractive and appealing, and Gale Gordon, as Lucy's boss Mr. Carter, is as funny, and somewhat more likeable, as I remember him being as Lucy's boss Mr. Mooney on The Lucy Show.

Then there are the celebrities. Before Will & Grace took the idea of celebrity stunt casting and drove it into the ground (There's Madonna! There's J. Lo! There's Demi Moore! There's... zzzzzzz), Lucy was inviting A-listers of the time who were not known for comedy -- Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Shelley Winters, Helen Hayes, etc. -- on her show and actually getting them to be funny.

Imagine what she would have done with Jack and Karen. I'm falling on the floor in a fit of uncontrollable guffaws just thinking about it.

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