by Aprille Hanson
In the final season of the reboot for the iconic NBC series “Will & Grace,” the cast paid homage to “I Love Lucy,” a show that transcends generations and is truly one of the classics.
On April 9, “We Love Lucy” aired and I watched with great anticipation because I knew that Debra Messing specifically would do Lucille Ball justice. It’s clear from the years of watching Messing’s facial expressions and willingness to be an over-the-top slapstick comedian, that Ball is one of her big influences. In an April 9 article in Entertainment Weekly, Messing said while she’s been influenced by several, including Carol Burnett (who herself viewed Ball as a comedic idol), “Lucille Ball is far and away the one for me that I just have this emotional attachment to.”
She also explained the show has been trying to do this episode even in the series’ first run, but the Ball and Desi Arnaz children have always been protective of their parents' legacy. They agreed to this episode and Lucie Arnaz even worked with the show, the article stated.
As an admirer of Ball, myself -- my husband once counted the faces of Lucy on the memorabilia I had in our guestroom and it was over 30 -- this was the episode I knew would be the highlight of the season because the show itself is great.
But as it began on Thursday night, my mind shifted. The premise begins when Grace buys a new dishwasher as a gift for Will (Eric McCormack) and their apartment, but decides to install it herself, leaving dishwasher foam all over the kitchen. They soon get into the discussion of how she is the Lucy to his Ricky, when Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes) stop by and each claim to be the Lucy of their foursome friendship. They’re quickly transported to the black and white opening scene of “Job Switching,” circa 1952, season 2, episode 1 of “I Love Lucy.”
My husband and I just recently watched the fan-favorite episode and quickly realized, the show wasn’t about to do an ode to ‘Lucy,’ setting up a storyline themselves in that world, but verbatim, they’d be reenacting the episode. To say the least, it was a bit jarring. It was not what I anticipated for this homage and my gut reaction was why in the world would they just replicate something word for word that’s already perfect as is. Of course, they didn’t play out the entire episode, but melded together the top three most iconic Lucy moments -- Messing reenacting the Vitameatavegamin scene from “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” Mullally becoming Lucy for the grape stomping scene in “Lucy’s Italian Movie” -- with the brilliant guest appearance of Leslie Jordan as the fellow Italian grape stomper -- and Hayes taking his turn as Lucy on the chocolate candy line in “Job Switching.” While I didn’t realize it as I was watching, it was neat to find out that Lucie Arnaz played the candy factory boss in that scene.
The three took turns playing Fred and Ethel, while McCormick stayed as Ricky Ricardo.
There were gems within the way they did it. Messing plays the Vitameatavegamin scene to perfection -- and according to the EW article, used the exact same medicine bottle that Ball herself held in the original. Her look and mannerisms were spot on. Mullally coming up with a wine glass out of the grape vat was classic Karen and Hayes playing Lucy was so odd, that I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity.
And it was sweet, at the end, how Will explained that each of them are his Lucys -- he cleans up Grace’s messes, is exasperated by pretty much everything Karen does and pays for Jack’s lifestyle. It was a sweet tie-in and the dance they all shared as McCormick singing like Ricky was adorable.
But all that said, I’m not sure why it was necessary that they do the show like this. I would have preferred they weaved in classic lines from the script, but set the storyline, black and white, in a way that made sense in their world. Why simply redo it?
I can imagine how much of a thrill it must have been for the actors, particularly Messing, to reenact the scenes. And ultimately, I hope the byproduct is that young viewers who know nothing about “I Love Lucy” decide to look up the show and re-watch those episodes and more. If that happens, then doing it this way would be worth it. But I can’t help but be perplexed that some people’s first experience with the exact scripts of “I Love Lucy” is going to be from “Will & Grace,” and it really shouldn’t be that way.
I admire the work it took to replicate it, but I would have had even more respect for it had it tried to be a little more creative.