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I Love Lucy—The Complete Sixth Season [DVD Box Set]

(1956) *** 1/2 Unrated
713 min. CBS.

The alpha sitcom of the fifties and forever more, I Love Lucy went out, without ceremony, at the top of the ratings heap. Never scoring less than third overall in a season's rankings, I Love Lucy beamed into an massive number of homes and remains a perennial in syndication and cable airings. The sixth season betrayed a bit of restlessness, but otherwise made no acknowledgement of closing up shop. The series finale is business as usual, except for the bit of trivia that it's the only episode in which real-life "Little Ricky" Desi Arnaz, Jr. makes a (brief) appearance.

I Love Lucy, of course, starred Lucille Ball and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz, a Cuban-American bandleader, as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (also a Cuban-American bandleader); their adversarial but loving dynamic usually involved Lucy wanting to get in on Ricky's act, or otherwise getting herself into wacky jams, causing Ricky to become humorously exasperated. The pair shared love and laughter with their friendly neighbors: growly softie Fred Mertz (James Frawley), a tightwad, and Lucy's loyal friend Ethel (Vivian Vance), who had a healthy appetite.

For the fourth season, and part of the fifth, the show's iconic quartet of characters lived in Hollywood. Though Lucy had long ago resettled in New York, Ricky's show-business job—now as host of his own "Club Babalu"—continued to mean regular contact with celebrities. The season opener "Lucy and Bob Hope" found Lucy wrangling her way to the pointy-nosed comic and eventually into a baseball-themed song-and-dance trio with Bob and Ricky. The writers predicated "Lucy Meets Orson Welles" on a mix-up between Welles' iconic talents: Shakespearean acting and magic (Lucy intends to prove her skill in the former, though Welles intends to peform the latter).

"Lucy and Superman" memorably brought a unique celebrity—the superheroic star of The Adventures of Superman—to the Ricardos' apartment for Little Ricky's birthday party. To preserve "Superman"'s Santa-like mystique, guest star George "Superman" Reeves is never referred to by his real name, though the script cleverly acknowledges Reeves as a mortal ("Superman" has to take a plane, for reasons kids may find arcane but adults will understand). Reeves' entrance is breathtaking, and he proves as good a sport as any guest star Lucy ever hosted: Lucy's mixed-up shenanigans find her out on a third-story ledge in a Superman costume, where Reeves hops out to save her. (Other sixth-season guests included Elsa Lanchester, Claude Akins, George "George Jetson" O'Hanlon, Madge "Aunt Harriet" Blake, and jockey Johnny Longden.)

Two writing teams were responsible for all twenty-seven episodes of Season Six: Madelyn Martin (Madelyn Pugh Davis) & Bob Carroll, Jr. and Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf. The four writers had learned to develop story arcs to fuel multiple episodes (a trip to Florida, for example) and to craft ingenious sitcomedic variations on a basic formula (famous last words: "I have a plan"). Traditional gender roles (the women are obsessive shoppers and Lucy often a crying, meddling handful; the henpecked husbands demand to lay down the law but only end up undermined) also made room to acknowledge the women's ambitions and creativity, and the men's bashful sensitivity.

Above all, the writers maintained the illusion, however unlikely, that Lucy's adventures were actually happening once a week, making Lucy a part of the fabric of viewers' lives. In the sixth season, Lucy and Ricky decided to buy a house in Connecticut ("You realize how many times I'm going to have to sing 'Babalu' to pay for that house?!") and move out of their New York apartment, spelling emotional consequences for the four fast friends; the problem is happily resolved when the Mertzes, too, relocate to the rural suburbs for fresh adventures.

Equally essential to the show's success were the stars. Ball's well-tuned character and genius for physical comedy never failed to deliver laughs, and her underrated partner squeezed every laugh out of his straight-man role, layering a musical accent to his mildly off-center English (lest we forget, Desi was also a rare exception to the treatment of minority performers). Vance and Frawley (who infamously hated each other in real life) predict Everybody Loves Raymond's Frank and Marie, expertly trading bone-dry insults (Ethel: "You know how I get on water. I'll be hungry and thirsty and cranky." Fred: "What's your excuse on dry land?"). Season six also benefitted from the new energy of adorable, six-year-old drum prodigy Keith Thibodeaux—then billed as "Richard Keith"—as the miraculously grown Little Ricky.

Season Six's most memorable episodes, aside from the aforementioned celebrity-themed shows, were the simply well-written and executed scripts "Lucy Misses the Mertzes" and "Lucy gets Chummy with the Neighbors," and the sight-gag driven "Visitor from Italy" (under pressure, Lucy attempts to make pizza), "Deep Sea Fishing" (a farce involving two 100-pound tunas), "Lucy and the Loving Cup" (stuck on her head), "Lucy Does the Tango" (with a blouse full of eggs), and "Lucy Raises Tulips" (and havoc on a runaway lawnmower). Though the series ended in 1957, the Ricardos and Mertzes would reunite for specials, and Ball returned to the airwaves—often with Vance—in the long-running hit sitcom The Lucy Show, a.k.a. Here's Lucy.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Street date: 5/2/2006

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

Paramount's stellar black-and-white transfers of I Love Lucy keep the nearly fifty-year-old episodes looking their best, with plenty of useful chapter stops. Extras are extensive: each disc includes cast lists, airdates, text-based production notes, and "Flubs" pointed out from several of the sixth season episodes (some are further illustrated with attendant video clips). Each disc also has each show's original openings, sponsor spots, and other long-lost bonus footage not seen in syndication; Paramount thoughtfully gives the option to watch the episodes either with the now-customary heart-on-satin opening sequence, as seen in syndication, or the original animated openings.

Furthermore, each disc includes audio extras—five episodes in all of I Love Lucy's radio precursor My Favorite Husband and an audiobook excerpt from Jess Oppenheimer's memoir Laughs, Luck,...and Lucy—and a variety of other bonus features are spread across the four-disc set: audio commentaries on "Lucy and Superman" (actors Doris Singleton, Keith Thibodeaux, and Steve Kay—learn why Lucy almost always wore white collars), "Lucy Does the Tango" (writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Schiller), "and "Country Club Dance" (actor Barbara Eden discussing her pre-Jeannie guest spot); talent bios of the commentary participants and others; a variety of other special footage (like an four minutes of excerpts from the I Love Lucy cast's appearance-in-kind on Bob Hope's The Chevy Show, and colorized footage from CBS's 1989 rebroadcast of the "Christmas Show"); and a thirteen-image slide show for Season Six.

Lucy fans should rest satisfied in the knowledge that they have a reasonably definitive edition in I Love Lucy—The Complete Sixth Season.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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