Thirteen years before One Day at a Time’s Anne Romano and over twenty years before Kate & Allie, there were Lucy and Viv. Sporadically shown in syndication and on Nick at Nite, the first season of The Lucy Show finally receives the complete DVD releaseit has long deserved.
Nearly two years after the demise of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (the hour-long episodes of I Love Lucy that replaced the groundbreaking half-hour series) and a short, though notable stint on Broadway in Cy Coleman’s Wildcat, Lucille Ball returned to network television with The Lucille Ball Show … later shortened to The Lucy Show. With her, she brought the writers from I Love Lucy, executive producer Desi Arnaz, and (perhaps most importantly) Vivian Vance. Bonnie Franklin’s Anne Romano of One Day at a Time has long been credited as network television’s first lead female divorcée, but that credit truly goes to Vance’s portrayal of Vivian Bagley on The Lucy Show.
Premiering in 1962 and based on Irene Kampen’s novel Life without George, The Lucy Show revolves around the misadventures of Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley, a widow and a divorcée who move in together to share expenses and raise their families. Though perhaps not quite as memorable as I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show is still grounded in credible family reality, raised to almost operatically ludicrous heights of hilarity. Stand out episodes include Lucy and Viv installing a TV antenna, the culture clash of two families trying to agree on the proper celebration of Christmas, and of course, the classic scene where Lucy and Viv install a shower. Just sit back and watch two pros go to work.
Though this series may be seen as a continuation of I Love Lucy without the men, the dynamic between Ball and Vance, though so familiar, is colored with a true feeling of equality that was not seen in I Love Lucy. Lucy and Viv are contemporaries in this series, roughly the same age, as opposed to the May/December Lucy/Ethel characters.
Front and center, though, is the importance of family and friendship. Also front and center is the brilliance of Lucille Ball as an actress of sublime truth and physicality. There is simply no one better. Watch Lucy Carmichael as she attempts to take on a part time job to afford a bicycle for her son, hide an illegal candy corn production line from the police or take on the role of Charlie Chaplin to entertain at her daughter’s New Year’s Eve party. For every episode that falls short and appears dated or corny, there are far more which stand the test of time.
Absent from this first season is the brilliant Gale Gordon, who would go on to play Mr. Mooney in subsequent seasons. In his place is the stoic Mr. Barnsdahl, played by Charles Lane, veteran of countless classic TV shows including Bewitched, All in the Family and Soap and who appeared in many I Love Lucy episodes and as an extra and in bit parts in several Lucille Ball movies. Lucy always provided work for old RKO and MGM pals.
The lack of the dynamic Gayle Gordon, however, lets the family situation comedy prevail, as later years of the series would write out the entire supporting cast, leaving only Ball and Gordon and an endless parade of celebrity guest stars (including Joan Crawford) stumbling through more and more surreal situations. Also appearing in the first season is Dick Martin, of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
This first season is The Lucy Show at its best: two years before it would be deserted by Vivian Vance and its best writers, who would go on to write for All in the Family. The Lucy Show, which has long languished in obscurity, is well deserving of a second look, both for its non-traditional family dynamic and the always brilliant teaming of Ball and Vance.
The Lucy Show: The Official First Season DVD collectionincludes new interviews with Lucie Arnaz, series regular Jimmy Garrett, and many other DVD bonuses. Also available next month for the first time on DVDis the first season of Here’s Lucy ... but that is for another article; please stay tuned!
The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera is by James Jaeger, Los Angeles based actor and resident television critic of Movie Dearest.