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The 1950’s classic sitcom ‘I Love Lucy’ has long been considered the hallmark of how America and the rest of the world view are the 50’s and the societal clique of that age. The 50’s in themselves marked the end of the Second World War and television was hailed as the medium to project a utopic view of what ‘America’ could be like. The notion of ‘perfect families’, ‘perfect homes’ and ‘perfect people’ was widely promulgated by sitcoms, and ‘I love Lucy’ probably leads the forefront in – what was back then -considered the ‘good ol’ fashioned American way of life.
Episode: Men are Messy
This particular episode highlights not only Lucy’s ‘neat freak tendencies’ but also the 50’s theme of ‘perfect home keeping’ as Lucy and Ricky end up arguing over cleaning up the apartment. After being accused by Lucy of being a ‘message, Ricky insists that he has as much a right to live the way he wants to as she does. The apartment is therefore divided into two sections to help Lucy prove her point. Although when Ricky’s agent Kenny Morgan organizes a publicity spread, Lucy in a fit of fury turns the apartment into a complete pigsty just to prove her point. That is until she realizes that the photographer actually belongs to ‘Look magazine’…
The opening scene of the show sets the theme that recurs throughout the narrative, that of ‘keeping up appearances. It seems the ’50s really were all about appearances when one comes down to it. Lucy’s character in the show has always been portrayed as a sort of 50’s Martha Stewart, with a funny bone, and Lucy’s tendency to need things to look perfect is the basis of this episode as she accuses Ricky. “Men are nothing but a bunch of messages”, this sentence describes a lot more than the mere fact that men – regardless of Age or theirs – tend to be slobs, but of how this is actually a ‘woman’s problem. Today, ‘messiness’ or the general tendency to clean up after one’s self is no longer a pre-requisite to the success of a marriage or a relationship, it is desirable yes, but not absolute. In the 50’s the need and/ or ability of a woman to ‘pick up after her man’ defined the kind of wife she was. This sentence and the fact that later on in the show Lucy actually tries to exact revenge on Ricky for his messiness is summed up in the sense of exasperation that underlines her words. It is no small surprise that Ricky follows up Lucy’s accusation with a confident “A man’s home is his castle”, apparently not everything has changed since the ’50s! Men’s attitudes have shifted over the years, with the feminist movement, but the ‘man of the manor’ stereotype still applies to most family dynamics.
Even though one might say that the ’50s propagated a culture that was conservative and perfectionist, it is no use denying that uniformity still remains a priority in today’s society. While we in the year 2008 may not be as stringent about ‘looking perfect’, our ideal bearings still stem from the likes of Homes & Garden’s spreads and Martha Stewart Living, as do our stereotypes about housewives and ‘good mothers’. The only real difference is that most of us no longer aspire to attain these goals.
Episode: Christmas Special (1956)
Like most Christmas specials, this episode runs along only one real theme: nostalgia. The episode consists of a series of flashbacks that show us how Little Ricky came into his parent’s lives and how they both dealt with the news. As Lucy and Ricky, set up their Christmas tree and try to convince their son to go to bed and wait for Santa Claus, they take a stroll down memory lane…
Perhaps one of the most striking scenes in this episode is the first flashback that shows Ricky in his club trying to figure out who to congratulate for their upcoming ‘blessed event’ until he eventually realizes it’s him. What truly makes this scene engaging is its consistency with the rest of the show’s ‘homey feel, even though we are being shown Ricky’s nightclub, the club is filled with picture-perfect couples. The couples are seated calmly at tables, almost like they are in a restaurant except that no one is really eating. Ricky proceeds to dedicate the song ‘rock-a-bye baby’ no less, to the anonymous audience member until he realizes Lucy’s gesture indicating it is them. Most of all, it is the couples in the audience that make one wonder if the concept of ‘single people’ even existed back in the ’50s…if it did, it certainly didn’t exist on television. The contrast to today is the fact that this very setting – a nightclub, with a dance floor – would be a place where single people would go dancing or ‘hook up’. These days it is the married couples that tend to frequent the restaurant circuit.
This episode also highlights the fact that sitcoms in the ’50s didn’t really function on the premise of individual plotlines for each episode, most episodes depend on the aura and theme of the show itself to be enough. Looking closely, one might say that this entire episode is about nothing, nothing really happens and there is no real connection to anything in or outside the characters, but it remains one of the highest-ranked ‘I Love Lucy’ episodes ever. The reason for this is purely the fact that it upholds all the hallmarks of the show, without really saying anything. There are plenty of family sequences: the setting up of the Christmas tree, the preparation for Lucy’s delivery, etc, clichéd events choreographed in the most clichéd manner, but it works. That was what the ’50s were all about.
The scene proceeds with Lucy and Ricky singing the song and deciding what Little Ricky’s future will be like, the toys he will play with, and where he will end up – the White House. It’s reassuring to know that no matter the age, parents will always be parents.
Archive of American Television: Video Interview with I Love Lucy writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. Web.
Michael McClay. “I Love Lucy: The Complete Picture History of the Most Popular TV Show Ever” , 1995, Kensington Publishing Corp. Web.