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DVD Review: I Love Lucy -The Complete Sixth Season

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I Love Lucy is generally regarded as one of the best comedies in television history. Lucille Ball remains one of the funniest comediennes ever to grace the small screen. As I Love Lucy entered its sixth season on CBS in 1956-57, the show was number one in the ratings and a financial success.

However, strife within the cast and crew was casting a dark shadow over everything. The marriage of Lucy and Desi, strained for years, had finally collapsed beyond repair, the always contentious relationship between William Frawley (Fred Mertz) and Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz) was so bad the two actors refused to do scenes together that required them to touch. To top it all off, the series creator/producer Jess Oppenheimer had left the show after season five, with the belief that the best days (and script ideas), for I Love Lucy were gone. Since Oppenheimer did a lot of work with character development and punched up dialogue whenever required, his loss is notable.

After a majority of season four had been set in Hollywood and season five had split time in Hollywood and Europe, season six finds Lucy and the gang back in New York—for the most part. Ricky has finally achieved his dream, purchasing the Tropicana and renaming it Club Babalu.

It is a pretty well known fact that when shows are struggling for plotlines inevitably their response is to add a new character, preferably a cute kid, to the cast to try and mix things up—think Cousin Oliver during the last season of The Brady Bunch or Sam during the last couple years of Different Strokes. Little Ricky was not a new character. In fact, his birth back in 1953 had been one of television's biggest events, coinciding with the birth of Lucy and Desi’s real life son, Desi Arnaz Jr. Since Little Ricky’s birth he had been seen sparingly, brought in briefly usually to set up a joke for his parents. With the start of season six, Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux) had magically morphed from a toddler to a five-year-old. Cute and precocious, the tyke was now a much more important part of Lucy and Ricky’s storylines. Adding to the package, Thibodeaux was a drum prodigy who could meld well with his TV father’s entertainer persona.

While Thibodeaux is very cute and an incredibly talented drummer, he is a pretty bad actor; he is clearly not comfortable in front of the camera. If you watch the episodes in which Little Ricky is prominently featured, you’ll notice that Thibodeaux frequently stares straight at the audience or at other things on the set when people are talking to him. Keith shines most when the show was working to show that Little Ricky was just like his dad, by playing the drums. In “Little Ricky Learns to Play the Drums,” he does just that. In “Little Ricky Gets Stage Fright,” he learns what “scared,” “nervous,” and “stage fright” mean while getting ready for hid first music school recital. In “Little Ricky’s School Pageant,” he stars in a kindergarten production of "The Enchanted Forest". The Little Ricky experience runs a little thin in episodes like “Little Ricky Gets a Dog,” and “Lucy and Superman," though it is neat to see guest star George Reeves, television’s original Superman, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1959.

George Reeves continued an I Love Lucy tradition of having famous guest stars on the series, which had begun during season three with singer Tennessee Ernie Ford (“Sixteen Tons”). Hollywood stars enjoyed dropping by and the show's producers knew the appearances sent ratings through the roof. Season six began with an appearance by Bob Hope. In “Lucy and Bob Hope,” Lucy comes up with one of her harebrained schemes to get the legend to perform at the opening of Club Babalu, not realizing that Hope has already committed to the gig. In “Lucy Meets Orson Welles,” the redhead mistakenly believes that the actor/director wants her to perform Shakespeare with him at a charity event. In reality, Welles wants her to assist him with a magic act.

One of the gems of this DVD set is the inclusion of “Christmas Show.” Originally aired on December 24, 1956, the episode was never seen in reruns or syndication because of the Christmas theme. The Ricardos decorated their Christmas tree and reminisced about their past adventures via flashbacks. “The Christmas Show” didn’t air again until CBS ran it as a holiday special in 1989, just months after Lucille Ball died in May of that year.

Halfway through the sixth season, the Ricardos decided to move to Westport, Connecticut. The Mertzes came along too, moving into the Ricardos' guest house. While Lucy still provides the laughs, it’s clear from these episodes that I Love Lucy was running out of steam. Lucy is up to her usual tricks but sometimes the plots seem repetitive and the cast seem bored with their characters. As it turns out, season six would be I Love Lucy’s last. While season six wasn’t the series at its best, it’s still funny stuff.

The DVD is full of special features. Some of the more notable ones include: “The Flubs,” featuring mistakes made on each of the episodes, and “Original Openings,” which gives the viewer an opportunity to see how the show opened as it aired originally in 1956-57. The famous I Love Lucy satin heart wasn’t added until syndication came along. Instead ads for the show's sponsors were featured. Episode commentaries and behind the scenes documentaries provide a historical look into the workings of the final season of I Love Lucy. This four-disc set is a definite must have for any fan of television history.

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