Monday, January 17, 2011

Why They Loved Lucy

Recently, I overheard a teenager wondering what was so great about Lucille Ball?

I've been thinking about that, and it just so happens that today is the anniversary of a classic episode from I Love Lucy that really makes my point for me. But I'm going to elaborate on it, anyway.

Last month, I wrote about the "jumping the shark" episode on Happy Days and pointed out that TV producers who want to give a fading TV series a jump start will often resort to bizarre plots. In the case of Happy Days, it was an episode where Fonzie, wearing his trademark leather jacket, jumped a shark on water skis while the Happy Days gang was on the West Coast.

It wasn't really new in the 1970s, though. Even in January 1955, TV producers were doing that, and, as iconic as I Love Lucy has become, its producers were trying to shake things up a little.

In the episode that aired on this night in 1955, the Ricardos and the Mertzes made their "First Stop" on their cross–country trip from New York to Los Angeles, where Ricky was to appear in a film version of the Don Juan story.

After spending a long day on the road, the four were tired, and they stopped at a run–down place for some food and a bed. But the food was nothing special — and overpriced at that — and the beds weren't any better.

And that is what makes "First Stop" an episode that so delightfully illustrates how great Lucy was. No one could do physical comedy as well as she could.

"First Stop" was kind of a challenge for Lucy and the gang. I've been told it was the first time they left their studio — their comfort zone — for a shoot.

Lucy made everyone around her better.

Like the exchange she had with Ethel after watching Ethel put Fred to bed in the sunken mattress. "You do that every night?" Lucy asked.

"Yeah," Ethel replied, "but it took years of practice."

It was just good, honest humor.