As much as I enjoyed discovering The Mary Tyler Moore Show in our Nick At Nite episode, there was a clear winner in the Classic TV Comedienne category, a clear consensus pick — and that’s Lucy.
In my eyes, Lucille Ball is one of the greatest entertainers of all time, if not the greatest. And I Love Lucy is the ultimate sitcom, still as funny as it ever was 70 years later. It happens to be my ultimate pop culture comfort food — a reliable black-and-white security blanket, something I can always turn to to lift my spirits a bit. There are moments when nothing else will do, but I Love Lucy never fails me.
So does it hold up? Yeah. It holds up.
Nick At Nite’s Lucy Tuesdays were an important rite of passage for me. Whether or not it was a healthy one is debatable. It marked the first time I thought of a television series as something you could track and complete. These were the days before Wikipedia, of course, when you could find the name and details around every episode of TV you’ve ever watched. There were no DVDs yet. But there was a book I checked out from the library, one that provided a synopsis of every I Love Lucy episode. Thanks to Block Party Summer playing six episodes back-to-back every week, it became possible to imagine watching every single episode. (Though, with 179 episodes, the complete series would span longer than just one summer.)
It’s unusual to think of a classic sitcom in a serialized fashion. Up until the late 90s, most TV series aimed to be episodic, so viewers could tune in or out at will every week without losing track of a big season-long arc. Even back in the 50s, though, I Love Lucy had certain arcs — her groundbreaking pregnancy, the birth of Little Ricky, trips to Los Angeles and then Europe, and a move to the Connecticut country — that made differentiated the seasons. My interest in I Love Lucy also predicted an interest in pop culture that was created long before I was. It was likely my first major foray into black-and-white, my first exposure to timeless classic comedy that would later lead me to appreciate screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s and early physical comedians like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Part of what made I Love Lucy interesting to think about in terms of independent episodes was that so many of those episodes were such classics. People still know episodes like “Lucy Does A TV Commercial” and “Job Switching,” even if they probably refer to them as “Vitameatavegamin” and “the one in the chocolate factory.” It’s pretty crazy that 70 years later, single episodes of a sitcom are still widely recognized. I’m in awe of the talent behind this show — mostly Lucille Ball, of course, but also Vivian Vance, William Frawley, Desi Arnaz, showrunner Jess Oppenheimer, and writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. It’s one of those moments I like to think that we, as a culture, got incredibly lucky. TV wouldn’t have been the same without Lucy as its pioneer.