Thursday, October 5, 2023

Life with Lucy: Love Among the Two-By-Fours




They were so close to making something out of Life with Lucy by actually tackling a contemporary issue. Alas, for whatever reason, they pulled back to give the dwindling viewership some truly frightful sight gags and little plot. Love Among the Two-By-Fours is the rare Life with Lucy episode that does not feature "Lucy" in the title. It also does not feature almost anything good in terms of comedy.

Lucy Barker (Ball) is fooling around the M&B Hardware store with Leonard (Donovan Scott), much to the irritation of her business partner/in-law relation Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon). Curtis is eager for a contract with Beechwood Construction to supply plumbing material. Lucy and Curtis get an unexpected surprise when Goofy shows up.

Goofy, in this case, is Ben Matthews* (Peter Graves), an old flame of Lucy's who also owns Beechwood Construction. Ben is delighted to see the former Lucy Everett again, and she is too, initially. On their date, Ben takes her to an unfinished home in a misguided way to relive past dates, but they end up literally sinking into the house. The extended McGibbon-Barker family is shocked when Lucy comes in early the next morning. Lucy reveals that Ben has asked her to go for a weekend to San Francisco. 

In a heart to heart with her daughter Margo (Ann Dusenberry), Lucy admits feeling uneasy about two things. The first is the idea of going with Ben and all the implications that entails, real or imagined. The second is the grief she still feels over the death of her husband. Margo reminds her of what Lucy told her when she was considering a relationship: she should do what she thought was right. With that, Lucy opts not to go away with Ben and tells a delighted Curtis that he does have the supply contract.

We might have a clue as to why Life with Lucy failed so sadly and so spectacularly. As soon as Ball appeared for the opening scene, she was greeted by wild and enthusiastic applause and cheers. She had not done anything, and yet her presence elicited wild ovation. I think this may have given both Ball and the production team the wrong impression that Life with Lucy and Love Among the Two-By-Fours was good. The audience was not cheering the goings-on because there had been none. What they were cheering was the Living Legend, Lucille Ball.

Ball again did her best to balance humor and drama. She and Gale Gordon continue to be the highlights of Life with Lucy. Peter Graves looked like a parody of Peter Graves: staccato and robotic. I don't want to say that he was disengaged from things, more that he didn't bother playing any of this seriously or humorously.  

Watching Love Among the Two-By-Fours, there is very little to actually laugh at. Scott's Leonard in his one scene does a Star Trek impersonation and a pratfall, both of which are unnecessary. Come to think of it, the character of Leonard is unnecessary. He adds nothing to the plot, and one is puzzled as to why his physical schtick is even thought of as funny versus forced. We ended the episode with a surprisingly spry Gordon, doing a leap that showed the then-80-year-old was quite agile. Somehow, the senior citizen outdid the younger man in terms of physical humor.

Love Among the Two-By-Fours is eerily creaky, as if it is emerging from a tomb. It is no surprise: the episode's director, Marc Daniels, was a gobsmacking 74 years old when he directed the episode. Its two writers, Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Davis were 68 and 65 respectively when they wrote Love Among the Two-By-Fours. At the risk of sounding ageist, having people who worked with Ball thirty-five years ago trying out the same bits is almost ghastly. Watching the episode, one feels as if this were from an entirely different era.

To be fair, there was one good moment that came close to being contemporary. In the long conversation between Lucy and Margo, we got a nice dramatic moment from Ball as she recounts her fears about a possible new romance and the loss of her old one. Even Dusenberry managed a nice moment when reassuring her mother that whatever her choice, she would support it. 

That would be the bright spot, and it might have lifted Love Among the Two-By-Fours more. Unfortunately, everything else was just bad. Seeing the kids and adults compare "wild" dances of their generations makes one want to cover their eyes. Dusenberry and Anderson were so forced when recreating The Monkey and The Swim that it is cringe. Anderson in particular was just bad in his line delivery. Maybe everyone involved thought that seeing Ball and Graves do The Big Apple would be fun and lighthearted. The end result was more bizarre.

I could not help thinking that, had Carroll, Jr., Davis and Daniels removed the sight gag of Lucy and Ben sinking down the floor and left it with a suggestion of a kiss, we might have had a nice romantic moment that built up the drama without skimping on the laughs. Whether they all felt that having character development would cut out what they thought was funny, I cannot say. I can say that Love Among the Two-By-Fours was pretty much laugh-free. 


Next Episode: Lucy Gets Her Wires Crossed

*In the episode the character is called Ben Matthews. For unknown reasons, he is credited as Ben Marshall. 

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