Sunday, November 5, 2023

Life with Lucy: World's Greatest Grandma



Life with Lucy stumbles into its thirteenth and final episode with World's Greatest Grandma. With a surprisingly moving ending, World's Greatest Grandma ends this debacle if maybe not on a high note, but a respectable one.

With Kevin McGibbon (Philip J. Amelio, II) having received a trophy for soccer, every member of the family now has at least one trophy for achievement. Everyone, that is, except Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball). This upsets her greatly, but there is hope that she will finally catch up. Lucy's granddaughter, Becky (Jenny Lewis), informs her that there is a Grandparents Talent Show at her school. 

There is an issue, however.  Lucy has no talent for anything. Her son-in-law Ted (Larry Anderson) tries to show her some magic tricks. As Grandma the Great, Lucy ends up destroying Ted's father's Curtis' (Gale Gordon) watch. Now really depressed, she quits the talent show until Curtis reminds her of Rex Harrison's turn in My Fair Lady. Instead of singing a song, why not recite it as Harrison did?

With that, Lucy decides to perform Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof. Though she ultimately does not win the Grandparents Talent Show, Kevin and Becky give her a trophy anyway, for World's Greatest Grandma.

Whatever the flaws in World's Greatest Grandma, and there are quite a few, they are all made up by Ball's performance. Her recitation of Sunrise, Sunset is deeply moving and effective, as if she is summoning up her own life. The song itself is quite beautiful, so she does have the benefit of that. However, while she does not sing the lyrics, her reading is so well-handled. 

I think what makes this section work is how simple it was, just a spotlight, a light piano accompaniment, and Ball reciting this ode to the passing of time. She holds your attention, and one almost does long for her to have gone on tour reciting poetry. 

This sequence is especially strong given the act that she had to follow. The preceding performance was "Patty Gilbert and Her Dixie Belles", a senior citizen Dixieland band performing When the Saints Come Marching In. One does feel that the Dixie Belles were filler for the episode, but the transition from the jaunty When the Saints Come Marching In and then to Sunrise, Sunset is quite smooth.

As a side note, we learn from Curtis that the winner was a 90-year-old grandmother performing Da Ya Think I'm Sexy on the bagpipes. It's odd that the Grandparents Talent Contest starts with an old woman finishing her performance on the bagpipes, but we never did hear that tartan tribute to Sir Rod Stewart.  One can only wonder why we never got even a taste of this number, which would have been funnier and more entertaining than most Life with Lucy episodes.

Sunrise, Sunset was the highpoint of World's Greatest Grandma. Everything else was not up to that part. The episode begins with Kevin, his parents Ted and Margo (Larry Anderson and Anne Dusenberry), Becky, and for some reason M&B's sole employee Leonard (Donovan Scott) coming home from Kevin's soccer match. World's Greatest Grandma explains that Lucy and Curtis were at the store and thus unable to go. 

That leads to the question, "why did Leonard go but not either Lucy and/or Curtis?". Was it Leonard's day off? Does he spend his free time with his employer's family? He has almost never been seen interacting with the McGibbon family save for Lucy is a Sax Symbol. Why exactly was he here at all? It did not help that Scott once again did some kind of announcer voice for Kevin to talk about his trophy. This is at least the second consecutive episode where he tries to pull off that schtick. It just never works.

I have never liked Leonard as a character. World's Greatest Grandma now made me actively despise him. 

To be fair, Ball's efforts at magic were amusing, even if you know that she will end up destroying poor Curtis' beloved watch. Oddly, another show on a rival network featuring a grandmother also tried to do a magic act and ended up doing the exact same thing that Lucy Barker did. The Golden Girls third season episode Letter to Gorbachev had Sophia Petrillo try to make a special watch disappear only to end up destroying it. Like with The Golden Girls' season three premiere episode Old Friends shared a similar plot (or subplot) to Lucy, Legal Beagle, we have another Golden Girls episode having a repeat of a situation from Life with Lucy.

By no means am I suggesting or implying that the Golden Girls writers were cribbing from a failed and pretty forgotten rival show. I am saying that it is a curious coincidence that two episodes of The Golden Girls third season had similar plots and situations from a show that went off the air the year before. 

World's Greatest Grandma is not a great Life with Lucy episode. However, it is frankly amazing that Ball's reciting of Sunrise, Sunset elevated it to being one of the better episodes. It seems like a nice sendoff to what ultimately became an embarrassment to Lucille Ball's legacy.


Life with Lucy: The Complete Series

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