Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy is a Sax Symbol



Lucy is a Sax Symbol is a first for Life with Lucy. It is the first episode that both has no sight gags and which takes place completely outside of the hardware store. It is, to be fair, more character-oriented than previous episodes. It also maintains being a bad episode, though not without some redeeming qualities.

Lucy Carter (Lucille Ball) is cleaning out the basement when she comes across her old saxophone. Her grandchildren Becky (Jenny Lewis) and Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II) show interest in her stories of musical memories. Lucy takes it upon herself to gift her old sax to Becky, encouraging her to follow in Lucy's steps.

Bad idea, for Becky's playing is atrocious. Moreover, everyone but Lucy can see that Becky has no enthusiasm for the instrument and is essentially guilted into learning to please Lucy. Lucy won't take the hint, leading to an irritated Curtis (Gale Gordon) literally pouring his now-ruined mousse down the saxophone while Lucy is playing it. Lucy manages to get her hand stuck in the saxophone trying to clean it. However, this makes everyone realize that Becky has been playing a cassette of her rehearsals to get out of playing the instrument. Eventually, Lucy accepts that Becky will not be a virtuosa, and the two reconcile.

It is so strange that experienced television cast and crew failed to see how Lucy is a Sax Symbol showed the flaws in Life with Lucy. Despite this being the first episode that took place in the McGibbon home, we still had to shoehorn M&B Hardware Store employee Leonard (Donovan Scott) into things. He appeared only once in the opening scene, where for some reason he needed to do a bad pratfall that was forced and obvious.

I do not consider Leonard's pratfall as a sight gag, but it was not good or funny.

Lucy is a Sax Symbol is also curious in how it makes Lucy into a totally unsympathetic figure. It is clear that everyone hates Becky's playing. Even Lucy initially appears to see that Becky is pretty bad at the playing. However, for most of the episode, Lucy seems at best oblivious, at worst openly hostile to the suggestion that she could possibly be wrong. It is almost as if Lucy does not care about what Becky wants but makes it about what she wants. As much as Lucy is a Sax Symbol wants us to side with Lucy, I think she deserved to have the mousse poured down the saxophone. I probably would have done worse, like smash the instrument to pieces.

In terms of performances, the clear MVP is Lewis. It perhaps is no surprise given that the episode is Becky-centered, and she sells the mix of loving her grandmother and hating what she is doing to her. Lewis' final scene with Ball was surprisingly tender and sweet, making the drama work well. She also had a nice quip when Becky's deception is discovered. Pointing out the recording, Ball says "I'm trying to decide if it's real or if it's Memorex". 

Gordon too was strong, delivering quips with flustered anger. "If you're going to operate on that buffalo, at least use some anesthetic!" he bellows when storming into Becky's practice session. In a surprising turn, guest star Brandon Call was good as Max, Kevin's friend. Long before he gained fame on Step by Step, Call showed he had talent as a child actor. Everyone else pretty much fades and frankly, should have given their overall performances. 

Lucy is a Sax Symbol could have been better. Perhaps that is why I thought it was bad, because there was a chance to open up the series to genuine conflicts. It pulled back, which was a bad choice. Life with Lucy has now aired five of its eventual eight broadcast episodes and so far, it blows. 


Next Episode: Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust

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