Friday, November 3, 2023

Life with Lucy: Breaking Up is Hard to Do




Breaking Up is Hard to Do, the penultimate Life with Lucy episode and the fourth of five unaired episodes, is surprisingly good. It did what past Life with Lucy episodes failed to do, which was to have a plot. Despite a bad start, Breaking Up is Hard to Do managed to right itself to make an entertaining half hour. Pity Life with Lucy as a whole failed to do likewise. 

Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball) and M&B Hardware Store sole employee Leonard (Donovan Scott) dance a tango, blissfully unaware that they or at least Lucy should have picked up her business partner and his boss Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) from the airport. Curtis is understandably enraged at having been left waiting and forced to hire a cab to take him to the store. 

As a couple of side notes, why did Curtis turn to Lucy to pick him up? Why did he leave a message about his return flight at the store rather than at home? Why did he go from the airport to the store rather than home? 

This incident, for both Lucy and Curtis, is the last straw. Lucy has an offer that Curtis cannot refuse. She will buy his half-share of the store. Curtis, having been inspired by tales of a former colleague he heard at the hardware convention that he just came back from, tentatively agrees to finally retire. Now Lucy can run the hardware store as she likes, while Curtis begins to literally go to the birds (he starts birdwatching and building birdhouses).

It is clear to everyone that this arrangement is not working. Curtis is slowly becoming miserable and directionless, unaware that he has built too many birdhouses. Lucy, for her part, seems to start out well with her "Circus of Bargains", a massive sale that appears to look financially lucrative. It isn't until she sees the intake versus expenses that she realizes she went overbudget on promotion, veering close to bankruptcy.

In desperation, Lucy decides to find a new partner. In desperation, Curtis decides to get back into business. With them finding that they are at their best when the other is at their worst, Lucy and Curtis get back to work.

If you read through my Breaking Up is Hard to Do synopsis, you may have noticed something curious. Apart from Leonard, I did not once mention any other characters save for Lucy and Curtis. Yes, the other characters were in Breaking Up is Hard to Do, but they played such an insignificant role in the episode that they were not worth mentioning. True, there was a scene between Margo (Ann Dusenberry) and Ted (Larry Anderson) discussing the situation. However, it is so irrelevant and forgettable that they might just as well been cut from the episode.

That is one of the primary reasons Breaking Up is Hard to Do works. It is a Lucy & Curtis centered episode. As such, we get to see Ball and Gordon work mostly together, and despite Scott's Leonard, they carry the story quite well.

Ball and Gordon can handle the surprisingly amusing and funny bits well. Ball's Circus of Bargains one-man band is a nice comic bit, and a probable reminder of her Broadway turn in Wildcat. Gordon's almost apologetic manner when sad in his depression is also amusing. Of particular note is when Curtis tells Lucy about Merrill Ferguson, the man who did not make it to that year's hardware convention.

Merrill is not dead. He retired and hired an all-female sailing crew. Gordon brings a slight twinkle to his eye when regaling this story, while Ball's shock counters it effectively. "He may give new meaning to the term, "yo-ho-ho", Curtis says. For a family sitcom, this is quite risqué. 

However, in the last scene when Ball "interviews" Curtis for the position of business partner, there is a genuine affection, even tenderness to things. It is a surprisingly moving moment, full of warmth and heart. We still get funny bits. When Lucy asks Curtis if he is over twenty-one, he replies, "I was BORN over twenty-one". To be fair, I was unsure if he meant in age or in the year.

It is a pity that such a moment had to be undercut by a gag about mousetraps. 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do does have one negative element, a powerful one that bookends the episode. That negative element is Donovan Scott's Leonard. His character in this episode cannot be avoided. The tango he bursts into while dusting is not funny. Neither is his flustered manner when Curtis comes into the store, clearly (and understandably) angry at having spent $16.20 for a cab. While that might have been forgiven, what can't is how he ends his turn in Breaking Up is Hard to Do.

For reasons unknown and probably too dumb to believe, Leonard brings in the applicants for business partner in a faux game show way. Making each applicant sound like someone introducing a contestant on The Dating Game is cringe. Scott's delivery was forced and worse, unfunny.

Had Life with Lucy managed to get a second season, I would have strongly urged them to either dump Leonard altogether or minimize his role. Surely M&B Hardware could use another employee? Apart from Scott and a clumsy opening, Breaking Up is Hard to Do is a good Life with Lucy episode. With one final episode left, will we get a Circus of Bargains or a Cirque de Mort? 


Next (Unaired) Episode: World's Greatest Grandma

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