Ask your doctor, or just read this.
Life with Lucy was savaged by the critics after getting what was probably too much of a buildup before its first episode even aired. It was verrrrrry big news that The First Lady of Television was doing a new series in the era of The Golden Girls and Cheers. The expectations were set high, after all, this was Lucille Ball. Forget the fact that none of her previous comebacks to TV ever pleased audiences as completely as the original I Love Lucy.
Life With Lucy turned out to be an ABC ”TGIF”-type confection along the lines of Full House and Family Matters inasmuch as this was never going to be as bawdy as Golden Girls (that was not Lucy’s style), nor was it going to crackle with Frasier wit. It was going to be grandmother Lucy and grandpa Gale Gordon.
If you’ve always loved these two, this is for you. If you can forgive human beings for becoming old, and applaud their spirit at such an advanced age, there you go. Ball and Gordon are the consummate TV pros of all time and this was their last fling before the TV public. They may have slowed, but the power of their talent had not dimmed. The best scenes are the smaller, more intimate comedy bits, when they’re trying to do something simple that gets out of hand, like using “Wacky Glue.” Their presence on this series reminds one of how much both are dearly missed.
It’s also nice to see Lucy play to her senior years as a loving grandma rather than than make her fake a much younger age. Because Ball’s biggest success came after she passed the age of forty, she was always older than the sitcom character she played (this was also true of her lead role in the Broadway show Wildcat). Prepare yourself for lots of audience “awwws” for the cute kid moments, but Ball also does some nice work with them, as well as with her teevee daughter and son-in-law, played by Ann Dusenberry and Larry Anderson, whose talents were never given a chance to shine because the show didn’t last long enough (it was much easier for Donovan Scott, in the “funny guy” role, to get more opportunities).
ABC cancelled Life with Lucy before all thirteen episodes got a chance to air. One opinion might be that it wasn’t worth the effort, another might be that it might have helped save it—as many shows have gained audiences over summer reruns (and Lucy is the Queen of Reruns).
Now the the entire series is a complete rerun, out of the context of 1986 without other surrounding shows and tastes for contrast and comparison, suddenly it falls into The Lucy Canon alongside The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. It might has well have been made in 1970, really, and it doesn’t matter anymore. Just enjoy it if you want to see the episodes that were rarely seen by the public before (the back-payment cost of which must have been considerable, perhaps explaining the relatively high DVD price).
And don’t forget all those other classic TV performers who guest starred, like Audrey Meadows, Peter Graves John Ritter and Dave Madden, as well as character actors Dena Deitrich, Reva Rose and many others . And Eydie Gorme belting out the theme song.
One suggestion: start with the second episode with John Ritter and save the pilot for much later. The pilot is extremely broad (not that any Lucy episode is Proust) with too much of “everything” and may be what put some people off the series in the past. There is a marked difference between the pilot and the other twelve shows.
Amazon has Life with Lucy: the Complete Series here. The bonus features are a three part Hour Magazine interview with Ball and Gordon, a perky Entertainment Tonight segment and two short ABC promos. That’s above average for CBS Video, which sometimes adds no extras.