Disclaimer: I have not yet watched the recent biopic Being the Ricardos. As a lifelong diehard fan of I Love Lucy, I was excited when I first heard about the film…but that feeling quickly faded when I realized who they had cast as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. While it’s not always wise to judge a book by its cover or a movie by its trailer, I simply have no interest in seeing Nicole Kidman be Lucille/Lucy or Javier Bardem be Desi/Ricky—I will instead take this as an opportunity to share some of my favorite episodes of the aforementioned iconic show (which, you know, changed television forever).
“Lucy Does a TV Commercial”
The Vitameatavegamin episode is one of the best-known, and for good reason. Lucy is, as usual, trying to prove to her husband that she does have a place in the ever-elusive “show business”—this time, by being in a commercial for a miracle product that contains vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals…and lots and lots of alcohol. While she does a stand-up job with her lines at first, things start to go south when the director asks her to take a spoonful of the medicine each time she rehearses, resulting in a hilariously drunk Lucy mixing up her words and losing her sense of professionalism.
“Lucy Does the Tango”
The famous tango scene is the culmination of a few episodes preceding it—in the sixth season of the show, the Ricardos and the Mertzes have moved to the country and one of their recent adventures is raising chickens, and subsequently selling eggs; but thanks to a series of shenanigans, Lucy and Ethel have hidden some eggs in their clothing to keep Ricky and Fred from knowing their latest scheme. In the same episode, Ricky and Lucy have been rehearsing a tango sequence to perform at Little Ricky’s school…and of course, Ricky wants to practice right after Lucy has stuffed fragile eggs down her blouse. The inevitable crushing of the eggs during the passionate dance led to the longest recorded laugh in the show’s history, lasting a whopping 65 seconds that had to be trimmed down before airing.
“Off to Florida”
What’s not to like about this episode? Lucy and Ethel are forced to hitch a ride to Florida with a stranger (Elsa Lanchester). During the trip they endure a series of mishaps, from not having any food with them to mistakenly believing that their driver is an escaped hatchet murderess. The highlight of the episode, however, is one in which the driver makes them change a flat tire—something that neither Lucy or Ethel have ever done before.
“Lucy Visits Grauman’s” & “Lucy and John Wayne”
These classic episodes from the Hollywood arc of the show go hand-in-hand. During the Ricardos’ stay in California, Lucy has been obsessively collecting souvenirs to show off to her friends back in New York. And when she realizes that the cement slab with John Wayne’s footprints and signature at the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is loose, the obvious answer is to steal it as the ultimate keep-sake. This backfires horribly (or does it??) when the slab breaks into hundreds of pieces and Ricky feels obligated to ask the Duke himself to make a new set of footprints/signature.
Usually when I’m talking to someone about I Love Lucy, the chocolate scene comes up in the conversation (that, and the smashing of the grapes in Italy). After betting their husbands that they are perfectly capable of holding a job and bringing home the bacon, Lucy and Ethel try their luck working in a chocolate factory. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us), they are woefully unprepared for the speed at which the factory expects them to perform. The result? A hilarious scene in which they are trying, and failing, to wrap chocolates coming down a conveyor belt.
Bonus: “Breaking the Lease”
There are so many episodes that deserve to be included here, but I’ll limit myself to just one more. When I was a kid, the “El Break-o the Lease-o” dance was the funniest thing—and it still holds up years later, especially after living in various apartments and having annoying neighbors. In an attempt to break their lease from the Mertzes, Lucy and Ricky throw a raucous party late at night and stomp as hard as possible on their floor to annoy the crap out of their downstairs neighbors…the Mertzes themselves.