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I Love Lucy - Ultimate Season 1 (Blu-ray)


TITLE: I LOVE LUCY - ULTIMATE SEASON 1 (BLU-RAY)


Info:

DVD Release Date: May 6, 2014 (CBS Home Entertainment)
Color / 1951-1952
MSRP: $129.98†
Number of Discs: 6
Number of Episodes: 35
Running Time: Approx. 908 minutes
Running Time of Features: Over 500 min
Audio: English and Spanish mono
Subtitles and Captioning: English and Spanish Subtitles†
Special Features: Original and Rerun Versions of Episodes; Original Pilot; CBS Pilot Special; Audio Commentary (2 episodes); On Set Home Movies; Costume and Makeup Tests; Radio Episodes of My Favorite Husband; Flubs; Guest Cast Bios; Production Notes; Photo Galleries


Introduction:

I Love Lucy has had a long successful run in syndication, and has also been prominent in home media, with releases on VHS, DVD, and even a LaserDisc release. Now, of course, the newest home media format is Blu-ray, and CBS is releasing, for the very first time, the first season of the series on Blu-ray, in I Love Lucy - Ultimate Season 1. The six disc set contains all 35 episodes of the first season of the series, along with a ton of special features. Unlike those previous releases, though, Ultimate Season 1 gives viewers the opportunity to watch the series in perhaps the best quality it has ever been presented, along with all of the original opening credits, closing credits, commercials, and the special features included on the previous DVD releases... and some new ones.


Episodes:

The series begins with "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub," where the women and men are celebrating separately for the Mertzes' anniversary. Lucy tries to rekindle her romance with Ricky in "Be a Pal." In "The Diet," Lucy finally gets to be in the show... but she has to lose some weight first. Lucy thinks Ricky is about to off her in "Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her." In "The Quiz Show," Lucy is forced to introduce Lucy to her long lost husband in order to win a contest. Lucy auditions for a show that Ricky tries to keep her away from in "The Audition." In "The Sťance," the Ricardos and Mertzes have a bit of trouble when two ghosts show up at what was supposed to be a phony sťance. Lucy divides the apartment into two halves to keep Ricky and his sloppiness in his half in "Men Are Messy." A fur coat that arrives for an act at the club causes a lot of trouble when Lucy gets ahold of it in "The Fur Coat."

Lucy gets overworked by a gossip column in "Lucy is Jealous of a Girl Singer." In "Drafted," Lucy and Ethel are convinced that their husbands have just been drafted into the military. Lucy takes dancing lessons with an instructor who has more than just dancing on his mind in "The Adagio." In "The Benefit," Lucy goes above and beyond to be the star of a show that Ricky is doing for Ethel's women's club. Lucy becomes a babysitter to earn money for a new dress in "The Amateur Hour." Bea Benadaret guest stars in "Lucy Plays Cupid," where Lucy gets into the matchmaking business. Lucy learns a valuable lesson when she pretends to be sick in "Lucy Fakes Illness." In "Lucy Writes a Play," Lucy wants to get Ricky to star in her show, but when he refuses (and later changes his mind), not all goes as planned. A friendship and living arrangement could be crashing to an end in "Breaking the Lease." Lucy decides to train as a ballerina in "The Ballet." In "The Young Fans," Ricky is dealing with a young teenage girl who adores him, but Lucy's plan to match her with a young teenage boy leaves Lucy with her own problem. Lucy thinks that the new neighbors are plotting a perfect murder in "New Neighbors."

A spat between Fred and Ethel causes Lucy to have her own marital spat with Ricky in "Fred and Ethel Fight." Lucy manages to glue a white beard to her face with permanent cement in "The Moustache." The guys are out to prove that the women are bigger gossipers than men in "The Gossip." In "Pioneer Women," Lucy and Ethel are out to prove that they can live just as their ancestors did. Lucy is convinced that her marriage license is invalid in "The Marriage License." In "The Kleptomaniac," Ricky and Fred think that Lucy has been on a crime spree. Jealous takes over Lucy (as usual) in "Cuban Pals." In "The Freezer," Lucy and Ethel buy a walk-in freezer, which causes more problems than convenience. Lucy plugs Vitameatavegamin in "Lucy Does a TV Commercial." In "The Publicity Agent," Lucy goes out of her way to show that Ricky has fans around the world. Lucy's gets Ricky booked as a contestant on a radio quiz show in "Lucy Gets Ricky on the Radio." In "Lucy's Schedule," Lucy decides to teach Ricky a lesson after he puts her on a tight schedule. Lucy decides to help treat Ricky's hairless in "Ricky Thinks He's Getting Bald." The season ends with "Rick Asks for a Raise," where Lucy convinces Ricky to demand a pay raise... and he promptly loses his job.

The episodes on the set are unedited, which is a great starting point. But this set goes above and beyond just unedited episodes. They've included at least two versions of each episode: the unedited syndicated version (as we would see on TV today if aired uncut) and the version as it aired on TV originally, with original sponsor opening and closing credits. But that isn't all. They even include all of the original commercials, and while they're not all perfect, they even put great effort into restoring all of these elements to perfection, something not even seen when the episodes originally aired, complete with the one and only sponsor: Philip Morris and their new "healthier" cigarettes (they're actually serious, which is why this set rightfully puts anti-smoking disclaimers at the beginning of these versions of the episodes). In particular, many episodes have an announcement regarding the "most important disclosure ever" about cigarettes. No, it isn't a warning from the Surgeon General. Instead, it is an announcement about how much smoother and less irritating Philip Morris cigarettes have become. Times certainly have changed since 1951!

If that isn't enough, they also have rerun versions of some of the episodes, which had some changes (such as a season one episode that reared in season two, with a new scene to introduce the flashback). This set perhaps qualifies as the most complete episodes ever. There is one minor annoyance with the rerun versions of the episodes, though. There is brief on screen test that describes specific changes made for the rerun versions that plays before the episode. Unfortunately, the text only stays on the screen for about seven seconds, and if you blink, you miss it, because it can't be paused, fast forwarded, or rewinded through. But it isn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

Runtimes for every version of every episode as presented on this set are as follows:

Disc 1:
1. "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub" (23:45)
- Original Version with Commercials (30:14)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:25)
2. "Be a Pal" (23:22)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:25)
3. "The Diet" (23:56)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:34)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:32)
4. "Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her" (23:34)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:32)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:26)

Disc 2:
5. "The Quiz Show" (23:53)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:34)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:31)
6. "The Audition" (23:50)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:47)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:30)
7. "The Seance" (23:23)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:39)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:28)
8. "Men Are Messy" (23:37)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:37)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:35)
9. "The Fur Coat" (23:26)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:27)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:33)

Disc 3:
10. "Lucy is Jealous of a Girl Singer" (24:56)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:29)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:28)
11. "Drafted" (23:32)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:31)
12. "The Adagio" (25:18)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:29)
13. "The Benefit" (26:25)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:18)
14. "The Amateur Hour" (26:26)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:28)
15. "Lucy Plays Cupid" (26:14)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:32)

Disc 4:
16. "Lucy Fakes Illness" (26:47)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:29)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (30:50)
17. "Lucy Writes a Play" (26:07)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:30)
18. "Breaking the Lease" (26:07)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:30)
19. "The Ballet" (26:04)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:22)
20. "The Young Fans" (26:11)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:31)
21. "New Neighbors" (25:58)
- Original Version with Commercials (30:19)

Disc 5:
22. "Fred and Ethel Fight" (26:12)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:13)
23. "The Moustache" (26:00)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:27)
24. "The Gossip" (25:22)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:30)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:14)
25. "Pioneer Women" (25:20)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:30)
26. "The Marriage License" (25:18)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:29)
27. "The Kleptomaniac" (24:08)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:17)
28. "Cuban Pals" (24:24)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:24)

Disc 6:
29. "The Freezer" (24:28)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:34)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:21)
30. "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" (25:06)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:28)
- Rerun Version with Commercials (29:32)
31. "The Publicity Agent" (24:55)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:29)
32. "Lucy Gets Ricky on the Radio" (24:45)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:28)
33. "Lucy's Schedule" (25:24)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:31)
34. "Ricky Thinks He's Getting Bald" (25:00)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:24)
35. "Ricky Asks for a Raise" (25:07)
- Original Version with Commercials (29:30)


Packaging:

There isn't anything particularly special about the packaging for this set, but that doesn't mean that there are any problems with it. For some reference, the first season has had three unique DVD releases, and all three of them have featured different photos of Lucy holding the Vitameatavegamin bottle. This one is no exception, but what distinguishes it from the others is that this one appears to be an actual photo (as opposed to the comic book art look of the most recent DVD release of the first season) with a yellow background. On the back of the outer packaging is several snapshots from episodes, along with a listing of special features. The set is packaged in a standard multi-disc Blu-ray case with an outer sleeve (both have the same artwork). Inside the case, you'll find a printed listing of the episodes, which is actually a little difficult to read through the dark blue case. There are six discs in the set, all of which have the series logo on a blue background (not gray, as is the standard for DVD releases from CBS).


Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus on the set are very nicely designed, and take advantage of the capabilities of Blu-ray menus. The main menu has the theme song playing on it, with various series related images and videos floating in the background. Options include Episodes, Set Up, and Special Features. Episodes (which you can access while you are watching any episode or from the main menu) gives a Play All option, along with a list of episodes. When you go through the episodes on the list, you also get a small snapshot from the episode, along with the original air date and even the date that the episode was filmed. Once you actually select an episode, you get an option of playing the episode as it would air in syndication (i.e. with the heart opening/closing/transition effects, but uncut) or the original broadcast version. Almost half of the episodes even have a third option, to watch it as it aired as a rerun on CBS. It's so nice that they included so many options, although I doubt anybody but the most serious Lucy fans will have time to watch each episode 2 or 3 times! Set Up allows you to change the language between English and Spanish, and also gives subtitles options for both English and Spanish. Finally, Special Features is (what else?) where you will find all of the special features on the set.


Video and Audio Quality:

I'm willing to go out on a limb here and call the video quality of the episodes on this set absolutely perfect. There really is nothing at all wrong with the video. CBS did an excellent job of cleaning this up and restoring it to looking better than it has ever looked before. Typically with these older shows, there are at least some grain and debris issues, but not here. Everything is about as perfectly clean as one would hope, but what really surprised me is that CBS did an excellent job cleaning up almost all of the commercial footage and restoring it to something that looks better than it ever did even when it originally aired. The audio sounds about as good as it can sound, considering the limitations of a series from the '50s. It is a sort of dull sounding mono, but I'm sure that there was really nothing else that could have been done about it. Each episode is presented in English and Spanish, and there are subtitles in both English and Spanish as well.


Special Features:

First up, on Disc 1, is "I Love Lucy Costume and Makeup Tests." There are two versions, one hosted with commentary by Robert Osborne (9:56) and one that is just raw footage (11:03). Basically, here we have a behind-the-scenes look at Lucy and Desi preparing some their on-screen appearance for the pilot episode. Mostly, it is a lot of dress up and looking at the camera, to practice how they are going to do the real thing. It is almost unbelievable that they were able to find this footage, and to top it off, make it look so great, but it is all here for fans to enjoy.

"I Love Lucy: The Very First Show" (48:02) is a special that aired on CBS in 1990 and hosted by Lucie Arnaz. To some extent, it is exactly what it sounds like: a presentation of the unaired pilot of the series. But there is a little bit more to it. It also includes some archival interviews with Lucy and Desi, and a few (short) reflections from Lucie Arnaz. The special as included on the DVD is a newly digital remastered version of that original special, which I'm assuming was created using the footage on the DVD. Outtakes (16:49) is a collection of very rough looking footage that features 1990 interview segments with writers Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis.

While we're on the subject of the original pilot, it is also included in it's unadulterated form on the set, both as the original kinescope and in a remastered version. While the DVD producers consider it among the episodes, it is really more of a special feature since it was unaired, so we prefer to include it here. The runtime of it is 34:47.

"1951 Promo" (0:21) is a very basic promo from the very early days of the series, where Lucy and Desi introduce themselves by appearing inside of the CBS eye.

"Before and After" (2:12) gives fans a side-by-side view of how the series, particularly promotional footage, looked before and after restoration. The "before" doesn't look that terrible (aside from being full of grain and debris), but you can see a definite improvement in the "after."

"Behind the Scenes (Audio Book Featurette)" is a featurette that gives several clips from the audiobook version "Laughs, Luck... and Lucy," by Jess Oppenheimer. You won't get a whole lot from these few clips, though, as it is mostly a promo to encourage you to purchase the actual book. More of this audiobook can be found on Disc 6.

On Disc 2, we begin with "Color Home Movies" (3:19), which is just footage of the episode "The Audition" in color. Basically, the backstory is that somebody brought a camera into the show with color film and "secretly" managed to record portions of the episode."

"The Sunday Lucy Show" (4:21) gives us a glimpse of reruns in the pre-syndication days. Beginning in 1955, CBS began airing reruns of older Lucy episodes on Sundays, but unlike today, where it would have just been called I Love Lucy, the airings were retitled to The Sunday Lucy Show. Here, we get to see the opening credits, some of the transition effects used, the closing credits, and other pieces of an episode run under this format. And if you're sick of Johnny calling for Philip Morris, you'll be pleased to know that this (or at least for the elements of the episode they've shown) was sponsored by Etiquet Cream Deodorant and Lysol, among other products. The quality of this is rather rough compared to the rest of the set, but it is not a big deal.

"Meet Marc Daniels" is a text biography of Marc Daniels, who directed episodes in the first season.

Disc 5 has one small special feature not found on other discs, "Clowning Around," which isn't really much at all. It is basically just two photos of Jess Oppenheimer wearing a Harpo Marx-style wig. It really could have just been included in the photo gallery, although there is a small story behind it that is given here.

On Disc 6, "Fancy Editing" has two segments, one from "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" (1:49) and the other from "Lucy Gets Ricky on the Radio" (1:07). Basically, this shows the difference between the original and syndicated versions of small clips from those episodes, one where the original commercial was included and the other where it was removed.

Throughout the set, there are two commentary tracks... but they were NOT produced specifically for this DVD. In fact, they were produced in 1991 for inclusion on the I Love Lucy LaserDisc from the Criterion Collection. It's a little odd to listen to these, because when we hear DVD commentaries, we're used to commentaries from the past 10 years or so, not commentaries made in 1991 when nobody knew what a commentary was, so they're quite different from modern day commentaries and seem a bit more scripted. The first one had little to do with the actual episode at hand, but the second one is more focused on the episode for which it is included. Also, as is suggested by the fact that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are included, a lot of the commentary was not actually a "live commentary," but rather material about the series in general just pulled from other sources, including telephone conversations. Essentially, the format is mostly Bart Andrews (a TV historian who was known as one of the biggest Lucy experts at the time) hosting an audio version of something like the Biography series, introducing the individual commentators. To make things even more strange, the first "commentary" is a lot longer than a traditional episode, so CBS decided to do some weird looping of the episodes (i.e. replaying them, but editing parts out in the replay) to extend the episode to the length to fit the commentary (it is important to note that this is NOT an issue on the non-commentary versions). It's all a little weird, but none of this is really a complaint, because I'm glad that they included everything that they could include! The episodes and commentaries are as follows:

"Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her" (59:35) - Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh Davis, William Asher, Jerry Hausner, Doris Singleton, Mary Jane Croft, Herb Browar, Bart Andrews

"Lucy Does a TV Commercial" (29:28) - Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh Davis, Herb Broward, Jerry Hausner, Ross Elliot, Bart Andrews

Now we dive into the features that can be found on every disc. There are several "Lucy on the Radio" segments to be found on the set. These are episodes of radio series "My Favorite Husband," which served as the inspiration for I Love Lucy, and the ones that are included on this set are typically episodes that were rewritten to become I Love Lucy episodes. The episodes included are listed below (each one runs approximately 30 minutes; exact runtimes were not easily accessible for each one):

Disc 1:
"The Wills"
"Iris and Liz's Easter"

Disc 2:
"Anniversary Presents"
"Numerology"
"George is Messy"

Disc 3:
"Valentine's Day"
"Liz Has the Flimjabs"

Disc 4:
"Liz Teaches the Samba"

Disc 5:
"The Marriage License"

Disc 6:
"Selling Dresses"
"Quiz Show"
"Time Budgeting"
"George Tries for a Raise"

"Flubs" gives viewers a look at some of the mistakes that were made throughout the episodes. As many fans know, the series typically kept the cameras rolling when a mistake was made, and any bloopers remained intact. We get to see all of these bloopers in one convenient place on each disc here. The runtimes for each disc are as follows: Disc 1 (3:11), Disc 2 (0:42), Disc 3 (0:28), Disc 4 (0:58), Disc 5 (1:36), Disc 6 (0:45).

"Guest Cast Profiles" gives a brief text biography of all of the major guest stars that you'll find throughout the set.

"Sponsor Talent" gives even more brief text biographies, this time of Johnny Roventini (the "Call for Philip Morris" guy), John Stephenson, and the other actors who participated in the pro-smoking campaign on the series. Most of these are repeated on each disc,

"Production Notes" give small trivia tidbits about small things in the episodes that you may not have noticed in just watching the episodes, or some small behind the scenes details about the episodes. One of my favorites here is about the episode "The Fur Coat," where the original script had a seemingly funny (but perhaps inappropriate for the time) scene where Ricky turned the heat on full blast to try to get Lucy to take off the fur coat, but she had her own plans to deal with the heat: by taking off all of her clothes and wearing nothing BUT the fur coat. You'll find plenty of small and interesting tidbits throughout these notes.

Finally, what classic TV set with a ton of special features would be complete without the obligatory photo galleries? Well, they can be found on this set as well.


Final Comments:

When CBS calls this release "The Ultimate First Season," they aren't exaggerating. They've released I Love Lucy on DVD numerous times, and those releases became progressively better over time, but this release of I Love Lucy on Blu-ray is perhaps the best release of any classic sitcom on Blu-ray ever. Image certainly did have some great Blu-ray releases with The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show, but as great as those were, I think this set still has those beat. The reasons should be obvious after reading this review, but if not, they are pretty simple: CBS has gone out of their way to include practically any special feature that they could possibly include on here, they've gone through an amazing restoration process to make these episodes look better than they ever have before, and to top it all off, we can see every episode from the first season exactly as it appeared on television over 60 years ago, for that entire half hour, with original commercials included... and they even took the effort to restore those original commercials as best as they could.

My only complaint is that after going through the set so many times for this review, I honestly became very obnoxious hearing Johnny screaming "Call for Philip Morris" all the time and hearing about the new "healthy features" of Philip Morris cigarettes, but it was the early 50s, so what can you expect? And I really don't even want to call THAT a complaint. I'm certainly glad that they included those for historical purposes. This set takes the whole idea of "unedited releases" to the extreme.

This is one of, if not the, best home media releases of a TV series ever. Without seeing this release, I would have simply thought that the DVDs of the series were good enough (and they were very good), but for anybody who owns the DVDs, you'll definitely want to upgrade to the Blu-ray releases for this series. I'm hopeful that sales for this go over well and that we receive the entire run released on Blu-ray, but for now, there is plenty to enjoy here, and I can't think of anything about this set that will disappoint fans.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 5/5†
Audio Quality: 4.5/5†
Special Features: 5/5†
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5†
Overall: 5/5†

-- Reviewed by skees53 on 05/13/14

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http://www.sitcomsonline.com/boards/showthread.php?t=324696


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