I Love Lucy was like nothing else on television when it first premiered in 1951. The sitcom, starring real-life married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, followed the day-to-day life of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in their cozy New York apartment. The two interacted with the occasional guest star, but the bulk of their story lines featured their landlords turned best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). The Ricardos often found themselves in trouble, usually due to Lucy’s antics — she spent beyond their means and often attempted to get into show business, to disastrous effect — but they always managed to work things out by the end of each 25-minute episode. The series was a genuinely funny and groundbreaking TV endeavor, but the greatest appeal of I Love Lucy was the Lucy-Ricky relationship, which was why it was such a shock when Ball and Arnaz divorced after the show went off the air.
Being the Ricardos, out on Amazon Prime Video December 21, suggests that the relationship might have been falling apart from the very beginning of the show. The film follows Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Arnaz (Javier Bardem) through one production week of I Love Lucy. While viewers occasionally catch a glimpse of Ball and Arnaz’s past (Arnaz’s terminally flirtatious personality, Ball’s struggling film career, their differing levels of fame), Being the Ricardos bucks the comprehensive biopic norm and primarily focuses on the couple’s relationship at the height of I Love Lucy’s success. Set against the production of season one’s “Fred and Ethel Fight,” the two grapple with Ball’s alleged Communist Party involvement, Arnaz’s infidelity, and whether to write a pregnancy into the show.
Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, I Love Lucy remained a top-rated show for all six of its seasons and still draws around 40 million viewers annually with syndication (according to the official Television Academy website). Whether you’re looking to revisit the Ricardos or meet them for the first time, we’ve rounded up the 16 essential episodes of I Love Lucy.
“Fred and Ethel Fight” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Fred and Ethel spend most of their time bickering, but after a particularly bad fight, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces. She concocts a plan to reunite the couple via a small dinner party at her apartment with Ricky. The Mertzes are less than pleased and spend the evening elbowing and shoving each other, before finally making up. The argument inspires a fight between Lucy and Ricky, who go their separate ways for the night. The next day, both of the Ricardos come up with plans to get the other back, including a fake accident on Lucy’s part and a fake fire on Ricky’s end. The episode ultimately underscores that despite their squabbles, the Ricardos are more miserable apart than they are together.
“Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (Season 1, Episode 30)
When Ricky is put in charge of hiring an actress for a commercial, Lucy is eager to prove that she can do the job. Despite Ricky’s protests and attempt to hire someone else, she finagles her way into the job without realizing what she’s advertising. Vitameatavegamin, a meat-vegetable-vitamin supplement with a 23 percent alcohol content, tastes foul enough that Lucy has to do several practice takes in rehearsal. She’s blackout drunk by the time the live performance — a Saturday night variety show hosted by Ricky — starts and has to be carried offstage when she interrupts Ricky mid-song.
“Ricky Thinks He’s Getting Bald” (Season 1, Episode 34)
When Lucy makes a crack about aging, noting the lines around her eyes and Ricky’s receding hairline, Ricky becomes convinced he’s going bald. In an attempt to snap Ricky out of his funk and prove that potential hair loss is not worth obsessing over, Lucy purchases a variety of painful and excessive scalp-stimulating, hair-growing treatments. Ricky is unfazed by the supplies, so Lucy begins making up treatments — including oil, vinegar, eggs, and a plunger — to convince him that he doesn’t need them, but Ricky simply says that they should start using them every night to help his hair grow in faster.
“Job Switching” (Season 2, Episode 1)
After Ricky and Fred voice their displeasure with Lucy and Ethel’s spending habits, the husbands and wives decide to switch roles. Following an admittedly cringey exchange about “earners” versus “spenders,” the girls get jobs working as candymakers and the guys attempt to do household work. Both parties struggle with their new positions, culminating in an incident with a conveyer belt that Lucy and Ethel can’t keep up with. The episode also stands as an outlier in an otherwise cyclical series by allowing Lucy and Ricky to develop a greater appreciation for each other, instead of just landing them back where they started.
“Lucy Is Enceinte” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Television rarely featured pregnant women before the 1950s (with the exception of the often overlooked Mary Kay and Johnny sitcom in ’48), so the announcement that Lucy and Ricky (and Ball and Arnaz) would be having a baby was a crowd-thrilling surprise. In “Lucy Is Enceinte,” Lucy learns that she’s expecting and tries to craft the perfect way to tell Ricky. She keeps getting interrupted and finally sends him an anonymous note during one of his shows at the Tropicana nightclub, requesting that he sing to help an expectant wife break the news to her husband. Ricky sings to each couple in the club, but no one owns up to writing the note, and it’s only once he gets to Lucy that he figures it out. While the show never actually uses the word “pregnant,” the message is clear.
“Ricky Has Labor Pains” (Season 2, Episode 14)
Ricky’s excitement about the baby turns into jealousy when a distracted Lucy seems to be getting all of the attention from their friends and family. Ricky falls ill and begins exhibiting symptoms of pregnancy and labor, which a doctor diagnoses as a result of feeling neglected. To help Ricky get better, Lucy asks Fred to throw him a “Daddy Shower.” Scared that the party might get out of hand, Lucy and Ethel decide to crash the event dressed as men. Ricky quickly picks up on the farce.
“Lucy Goes to the Hospital” (Season 2, Episode 16)
The show more than delivered with “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” which remains the most-watched sitcom episode of all time. When Lucy announces that she could have the baby anytime now, Ricky is anxious and won’t leave her side. Lucy calls on Fred and Ethel to help distract him, but the future godparents are equally anxious and only make things worse. To ease everyone’s worries, the group rehearses their trip to the hospital. When Lucy finally gives birth, Ricky receives a call at work mid-performance. At the hospital, in full costume, he meets his son for the first time and promptly faints.
“Lucy Wants New Furniture” (Season 2, Episode 28)
The Ricardos move into a “new,” very similar-looking apartment after Little Ricky is born, which allows for the baby to have his own room. Lucy gives an impassioned argument for new furniture, but Ricky refuses. Come to find out, Lucy has already purchased the expensive living-room furnishings and attempts to hide it from Ricky. Chaos ensues and Ricky eventually finds out, telling Lucy that he’ll keep the furniture at the nightclub until she can pay it off. Lucy attempts to make some concessions, leading to some tragic home dress-sewing and hair-perming. After seeing just how upset she is, Ricky relents.
“Lucy Tells the Truth” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Ricky, Fred, and Ethel bet Lucy that she can’t tell the absolute truth for one whole day. Lucy runs into a number of roadblocks, especially when she plays bridge with three other women, including a prodding Ethel. The plan backfires when Lucy embraces brutal honesty, telling her friends and family what she really thinks of them. Lucy ends up telling Ricky that he’s afraid that if she got a chance at a career in show business, she’d be the star of the family. Ricky challenges Lucy to an audition, where she’ll have to be truthful about her lack of experience. After saying she can speak Italian, Lucy ends up on the receiving end of a knife-throwing demonstration, and finally admits that she lied.
“The Diner” (Season 3, Episode 27)
The Mertzes and the Ricardos decide to go into business together after getting fed up with their respective professions. Opening a diner seems easy enough, but it quickly proves to be a challenge. The couples immediately clash, from disagreements on the name of the restaurant to the division of labor. Eventually, the diner is divided in two: “A Little Bit of Cuba” and “Big Hunk of America.” The debacle culminates in a messy and slapstick food fight between the couples, who ultimately decide to sell the establishment back to the original owner at a loss.
“L.A., at Last” (Season 4, Episode 17)
When Ricky needs to visit a West Coast studio for work, the Ricardos and the Mertzes travel to Los Angeles together for an extended stay. While Ricky works, the trio go looking for celebrities at the Brown Derby. When Lucy won’t stop looking at William Holden, he decides to turn the tables on her and stare nonstop while she eats. Lucy’s attempt at a hasty escape results with Holden getting an entire plate dumped on him. Unbeknownst to Lucy, Ricky later invites the man over to meet her. Lucy dons an impressive disguise, complete with a fake nose, but the plan falls apart when her nose is lit on fire. Fortunately, Holden covers for her in front of Ricky.
“In Palm Springs” (Season 4, Episode 26)
While cooped up in L.A., Lucy and Ricky slowly begin to get on each other’s nerves. The Mertzes are in a similar rut and the couples swap pet peeves (Ricky dislikes how much Lucy stirs her tea, Ethel hates when Fred jingles his keys) before deciding that they need a break from each other. The four pair off, with the men staying in L.A. and the women heading to Palm Springs (with Lucy’s mother and Little Ricky). It begins pouring rain in each location and both groups quickly realize how much they miss their spouses. With the help of Rock Hudson, the couples reunite.
“The Great Train Robbery” (Season 5, Episode 5)
The Hollywood arc doesn’t end until season five, when the group finally takes a train from California to New York. Lucy receives a negative reputation on the cross-country trip when she repeatedly pulls the emergency stop. The routine ride takes a sinister turn when Lucy learns about a recent robbery and finds a gun-toting, jewelry-carrying man in the compartment next to her. While she gossips about it to Ethel, the actual jewel thief listens nearby. Thinking she’s assisting a federal agent, she inadvertently helps the man, who holds her at gunpoint. Lucy saves the day by once again pulling the emergency stop.
“Lucy’s Italian Movie” (Season 5, Episode 23)
In “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (Ball’s favorite episode, per a ’74 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show), the Ricardos and Mertzes once again travel for Ricky’s work — this time across Europe. While riding a train, an Italian film producer shows an interest in possibly casting Lucy in his upcoming movie, Bitter Grapes. She becomes convinced that she needs to study grape-stomping at a wine vineyard. While there, she gets into a fight with an Italian woman and the two end up rolling around in the grape vat. When Lucy returns to her hotel, coated in grapes, the producer shares that the film title was just symbolic and that he can’t risk her mess on the shoot the following day. Ethel is selected for the small role instead.
“Lucy and Superman” (Season 6, Episode 13)
The final two seasons of I Love Lucy saw Lucy go toe-to-toe with a number of famous figures, including Harpo Marx, John Wayne, and Orson Welles. In “Lucy and Superman,” Superman (George Reeves) proves to be her greatest challenge to date. Lucy tells everyone that Superman will be at Little Ricky’s birthday party, but when he’s unable to attend, she improvises and decides to dress up as Superman herself. When Superman makes a last-minute appearance after all, Lucy is stuck out on the ledge of her apartment building in full costume. When it begins pouring rain, Superman is dispatched to rescue Lucy.
“Lucy Raises Chickens” (Season 6, Episode 19)
In the sixth and final season of I Love Lucy, the Ricardos move into a house in Connecticut. One of the hardest aspects of country living, other than only seeing Fred and Ethel on the weekends, is the cost of living. They find a solution to both problems when they decide to raise chickens and sell eggs, with the help of the Mertzes, who move into the guest house. When the chicken coop proves to be too cold, they opt to keep the 500 baby chicks inside the home. The chicks quickly overrun the house and Lucy pretends to be the mother hen to help herd the animals, just in time for Ricky’s arrival home.