(Or: The Ricardos Try an Open Marriage)
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Sup, Ballers. This is it. The first episode, and the pilot post. Shall we?
We open for the very. first. time. on Lucy and Ethel washing the dishes, where they belong. No really, though: they’re in dishwashing costumes, which look a lot like the We Can Do It work clothes, and they check each other’s dishes like it’s nuclear science. This is their boardroom. Lean In…closer to the sink.
Turns out, Monday night is Ethel and Fred Mertz’s 18-year anniversary. Ethel wants to celebrate by going to a nightclub, but Ricky (who works in a nightclub) hates nightclubs. And since Ricky is unrelated to the Mertzs and it’s not his anniversary, he obviously decides what everyone else gets to do.
Lucy, elbow deep in dish grease, bemoans how boring Ricky is:
“Ever since we said ‘I do,’ there are so many things we don’t.”
You can see where this is headed from a mile away: Lucy is a feisty redhead in her dirty thirties, and if Ricky won’t put his Copa in her cabana, she’ll find some other guy to do the deed.
The girls decide to get their way by being really, really nice to the guys. (I’m pretty sure that’s their full-time job: cooking, cleaning, putting their makeup on by 7am to cover their hideous wrinkles. They’re these guys’ servants. If nothing else, Ricky and Fred should take them out as an annual bonus just to thank them for being good employees. But then this is I Love Lucy – #spoileralert both women pretty much destroy everything they touch, so they’d probably be fired if it were a real job and NOT given bonuses, and I just beat myself at my own argument.)
Now, a brief interlude: Fred Mertz is an asshole. Yes, William Frawley was one of the last great vaudeville performers and an unmatched talent. But the character he plays – Fred Mertz – is a complete and unabashed dickhead. This will be a continuing theme.
Fred wants Ricky to join him “in commemoration of an 18-year-old tragedy.” He wants to go to the fights. Oh, you’ll get a fight all right, Fred.
In order to get their way, Ricky and Fred decide to change things up and be nice to their wives – something extreeeeemely unusual. In fact, despite her waiting on him hand and foot for 18 years, and despite his wanting something from her at the moment, Fred can’t help but say how fat Ethel is and how it’s a long journey around her gross pig body.
Ethel has a really shitty life.
Lucy and Ricky fight over where the Mertz’ want to go for their anniversary. (The joke here is how it’s none of their business! But that’s friendship.) Then Lucy says Ethel wants a divorce. Fred smiles gleefully because Fred is a terrible human being. Ethel says, “No she doesn’t!”
Yes you do, Ethel. I Love Lucy is one long plea for Ethel to get a divorce.
They make a joke about Lucy and Ethel dating each other, and, rather than experiment with lesbianism (which you just KNOW Lucy and Ethel will do by the Season 2 finale – so much pent-up sexual energy there) they decide to enter an open marriage instead. Totally reasonable. The girls will find new men to go out with.
Fred points out Ethel could never get a date. I can’t imagine why this couple remained childless.
Then Fred and Ricky go downstairs to do guys things.
Lucy decides to call up her ex-boyfriends. I can tell you right now, if I called up my ex boyfriend Xavi out of the blue and told him I wanted to go on a date because my husband won’t take me to the club, he’d tell me I woke his kids up, and that I’m manipulative and adulterous and he totally dodged a bullet and clearly I haven’t changed a bit.
Side note, my apologies to Xavi. I was young and stupid.
Fred doesn’t care if Ethel gets a date, but according to the title of the show (and no matter what follows in every single episode), Ricky supposedly loves his wife, and thus is worried she might get drunk and screw a stranger.
Fred: “With all that champagne, even Ethel would look good.” No double standards there. Fred keeps himself in tip-top shape and is every woman’s fantasy.
Ricky and Fred decide to get dates of their own. Only problem is Ricky burned his little black book because Lucy convinced him it was part of the American marriage ceremony. Which it sort of is if you say the words “forsaking all others.” Which I’m sure they did, considering this show is in black and white.
Isn’t there a flashback episode of their wedding later on? Maybe on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour? I’ll update you on their wedding vows when I get to that episode in like 20 years.
So Ricky decides to call Jenny Jones, who knows every girl in town (aka she’s a madam), to get them hot dates so they can stalk their wives.
But the women also call Jenny Jones, because she also works with male prostitutes, apparently.
Jenny seems fun.
And that’s when Lucy and Ethel find out their husbands are trying to cheat on them. Which upsets them because the ladies thought THEY were the only ones allowed to date randos. These are not the most top-notch, emotionally stable people, folks. I imagine families of the 1950’s watching this show like I watch The Bachelor: “Yeah, I’ve worn the same tank top for a week now, but at least I’m not the third girl in three days getting led into the fantasy suite on national television.”
The women decide to prank the men by getting Jenny to set them all up. And here’s where Lucy shows her genius. Because despite the shit I give her, Lucille Ball is a fucking wonder. She’s got the ideas, she’s leading the prank. She’s not just the title character, she’s THE character on television, from this episode in 1951 clean into 1960.
At a time when women were an afterthought on most shows, just there to explain how the lead character’s kids were born, she must have blown. people’s. minds.
Cut to: Ricardo Apartment – Night. Our horny leading men are super excited about their phone-ordered hotties. They think the women want to meet them at the apartment in order to be alone with them. Fred whistles. Yeah Fred, like you could do anything to rock her world. You sleep in a separate twin bed from your wife and pull your pants as high as Urkel standing in an ant farm.
Their dates do arrive, but not as glamour girls. They’re dressed as a hillbilly mountain wench and her ma. I just coined that – mountain wench – but you can use it if you’d like. Just don’t use it to refer to everyone from the whole damn South. Many of my family members are from Appalachia, and have all their teeth, thank you, and don’t appreciate being used as the TV stereotype for everything ugly and undesirable. For every Jethro there’s an Elly May. Remember that.
Mountain Wench Lucy then commits what would be called sexual assault if the genders were switched. She jumps Ricky’s bones and makes out with him while he pleads for her to stop.
To get away from his wife/assailant, Ricky distracts the group with a song, as he’ll do in nearly every episode because it was in Desi’s contract. In case you haven’t noticed, Ricky is Cuban; so he sings in Spanish. I kinda love these parts. There’s something to this whole latin lover thing, and any woman who tells you otherwise is just sparing your feelings. (I’m not just talking about Xavi. I married an Italian, so…)
(Speaking of latin lovers, people say there’s no diversity in Hollywood. A mere 60 years after this episode aired, Jane the Virgin finally decided to let one other Latino/a performer sing a song every once in a while because we’ve come a long way and progress is real.)
Lucy and Ethel dance and give the audience a butt shot, which in Ladies Comedy History is the equivalent of Liz Lemon making fun of her own toe fungus. By now we’re all having such a good time. But this party can only last a few minutes, because TV is time-limited and the cigarette companies need some commercial time thnx. The boys figure out the prank when Lucy knows exactly where the cigarettes are (product placement FTW).
To get back at them, the guys decide to call the girls’ bluff, so they grab their wives and make out with them until the women scream. Ah, spousal abuse! So fun.
In the end… wait for it… everything works out. The couples make up, and the girls change to celebrate the Mertz’ anniversary. But because #fredisanasshole, “celebration” means they all go to the fights.
Which leaves me with one question: why couldn’t they just go to the fights for an hour, and then the club for an hour? They should’ve let me onto this set. I’d be like Dr. Phil for these morons.
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