Friday, October 19, 2012

The Lucy Show – “Lucy and Viv Put in a Shower”


Season 1, Episode 18
Original Airdate: January 28, 1963
Writers: Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Martin, Bob Weiskoph, Bob Schiller
Director: Jack Donohue
Producer: Elliot Lewis
Cast: Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Jimmy Garrett, Ralph Hart

“The Lucy Show” had the unfortunate job of being Lucille Ball’s follow-up to her wildly popular, groundbreaking, classic, best-sitcom-of-all-time “I Love Lucy.” Although the show was usually good, sometimes very good, it never reached the creative heights of its predecessor, and as a result its writers and producers retooled the show numerous times over the course of its run, to the point where I’d wager that the final season is almost unrecognizable when compared to the first.

Though Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Viv (Vivian Vance) were ostensibly different characters than “Lucy” and “Ethel,” their relationship was unchanged, as was how they interacted with one another. Lucy is widowed and Viv is divorced, and the show’s writing team (including several from “I Love Lucy”) decided to give the friends constant money troubles as they try to care for their children. The inherent problem with this is that audiences have expectations of Lucy causing expensive mayhem and anarchy (buying a thousand ranch dressing bottles, destroying a Laundromat, getting three hundred eggs crushed while doing the tango), and because of the character’s limited budget things could never get really out of control. During the first season in particular, you could tell the writers were grasping to be different from “I Love Lucy” before finally just giving in and giving audiences the set-pieces they wanted, household budgets be damned. Many of these were directly pulled from “I Love Lucy,” with the bulk of “Lucy and Viv are Volunteer Firemen” taken from “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” with the women practicing getting ready for a fire alarm and then totally panicking when an actual alarm comes. The first season finale, “Lucy Buys a Boat,” payed homage to (ripped off) Ball’s salad dance in “The Long Long Trailer” by having a boat cut loose in the middle of a storm.

And yet.

“Lucy and Viv Put In a Shower” still stands as a wonderful half-hour of television. Shockingly, the storyline centers on Lucy and Viv deciding to…wait for it…install a shower. While they first try to rope in their gentlemen-in-waiting, Lucy soon tries to finish the job herself, and somehow gets stuck in the flooding shower with Viv, to the point where the water is seven feet deep.

This set-piece is equal to anything Ball did in her career, from “Vitametavegamin” to the grape stomping to setting her nose on fire. Hell, it’s probably equal to any major set-piece from any comedy series. It’s the perfect example of sustaining tension and laughter consistently over the course of ten minutes of screen time. The women are always trapped, and the water is always rising.

But I get ahead of myself. So the girls decide to have a shower installed in their boys’ closet so that they can get some time in the bathroom, and from there the writers slowly-but-surely begin to lay groundwork for the set-piece. The door to the standing shower was installed backwards, so it would hold the water in instead of opening under pressure. Lucy had to be the one to install the faucets, and of course has no idea what a washer is. The plug in the bottom of the shower has yet to be removed. Viv breaks off the water main so the water won’t stop coming. Yes, it seems as if the writers are bending over backward to make the implausible seem plausible, but in this case it works because the payoff is so perfect.

So Lucy (wearing a shirt with a huge “LC” sewed onto it, something that had to inspire Laverne’s wardrobe years later) and Viv begin to get literally waterlogged. Another amazing thing about this sequence is that it, by its very nature, cannot be as perfectly rehearsed as the candy factory or the fashion show. That water is going to spray where it wants and you can’t help but have a few mishaps when trying to swim in what is essentially a very small seven-foot-deep pool of water. Rumors persist that Ball almost drowned during the filming and it made it on screen, but we only see Ball go under once where she didn’t mean to. She immediately resurfaces and says, “I didn’t know it was that deep,” and that’s that. It’s amazing to see Vivian Vance, not Viv, react to water spraying in her face and up her nose by screaming, “Oh, wait a minute!”

It’s also interesting to note that the writers, oddly, give Viv the best jokes and gags (pun intended) here instead of Lucy, instead deciding to let Ball just go for it with the physicality. First we get this one:
Viv: Lucy, did you pay this month’s water bill?Lucy: Sure, I did.Viv: That was a dumb thing to do!

Later, when Lucy tells Viv to try to kick through the glass so they can escape, Viv refused, stating:
“It’s not that I’m afraid of cutting myself, but the blood might draw sharks.”
The rest of the episode is cute fluff, with the girls’ interactions with their suitors before the mess sweet if forgettable. And the idea of teenage girls spending far too much time in the bathroom is something that has been recycled thousands of times since, which makes the gags at the beginning lose their power. But that scene in the shower…wow. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it felt like the very best deleted scene from “I Love Lucy” ever. It’s not that “The Lucy Show” was ever bad; it’s simply that it seemed more like a watered-down (pun intended) imitation of “I Love Lucy” than its own entity.

“Lucy and Viv Put In a Shower” is available on the first season DVD of “The Lucy Show” and on YouTube.

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