Television has changed a great deal since the 1950's. But almost no one has been able to surpass the timeless comic genius of I Love Lucy.
Too many television shows are tied to the culture of their day in a way that makes them lose significance as the years go on. In fact, I have a great deal of trouble watching most comedies from the distant past. They are so sanitized and bland that I have trouble understanding why anyone found them funny and enjoyable.
Some say this was due to the censorship of the day. Because jokes couldn't be too risqué, writers had to be milquetoast about their characters. I think that this is false. And my argument against it is I Love Lucy.
At a time when you couldn't even use the word "pregnant" or have a married couple share a bed, Lucy still knocked it out of the park episode after episode. Edgy is not the same thing as funny. Shows like South Park and Family Guy will learn this in the distant future when the shock of their jokes is completely muted.
So why did I Love Lucy break through the time barrier to still be relevant today? I have a few ideas.
1. Universal. I Love Lucy touched on the timeless ideas of marriage, family, making ends meet, neighbors, social climbing, and all the other things that we encounter in life to this day. You could easily place yourself in their shoes in any number of situations. I can tell you that I had, like Ricky, emergency backup presents ready to go in case I forgot a special occasion.
2. Fantastical. But the show also put the characters into fantastic situations with celebrities or helicopters or song and dance numbers. The show was able to strike the perfect balance of not only seeing our own lives in the characters, but also having our wish-fullfilment fantasies in them. We are both Ricky and Lucy. We want to be the talented star that appeals to the audience but we see ourselves as always on the outside trying to get in.
3. Performances. The actors are genius comedians. Usually when they show clips from the show, they sample moments of overt-the-top emotion, like Lucy's face contorting from tears. But this belies the amazing physical comedy and fantastic line delivery that rivals nearly anything on TV today. Yes, sometimes the comedy is broad, but it works so well in that context. Watch Lucy's incredible body language at the end of her egg-tango with Ricky. And don't overlook his as well.
"Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her." (1x04)
This episode settles all of the characters into their main roles and we see how the typical misunderstandings lead to comedy gold. Lucy is reading a murder mystery and gets it into her head that Ricky is acting suspicious. So she begins to think he is trying to murder her (as the title says).
At this point you either buy into Lucy's insane imagination and how it leads to misunderstandings or you don't.
"The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue." (6x26)
This is the final episode of the series proper. The show continued on after this, but it was reworked into the Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour, which became much more about the guest star of the week. This was the last time the show really felt like the show we had known and loved for so long.
"Lucy Fakes an Illness" (1x16)
There are too many amazing episodes to count, scattered throughout the series. And there are too many amazing moments as well.
I still get emotional thinking of the episode where Lucy tells Ricky she is pregnant.
And then there is the scene where they rehearse taking Lucy to the hospital.
Of course there is the candy assembly line.
And there's the classic Lucy/Harpo moment.
And I could go on and on.
But the episode that made me laugh the most is without a doubt the one where Lucy fakes an illness. And then later Ricky gets an actor friend to diagnose her with a fatal disease. I laughed about this episode for days.
I wish I could express my absolute admiration for this show. I could also go into the technical innovation and marvel of I Love Lucy. But let me say that this show is aptly titles. Any fan of the show can honestly say that it imparts a deep and abiding affection so that we can all say collectively, "I Love Lucy."