Television has been a vital tool for the latter half of the 20th century, far from being just an entertaining focal point. Can be a powerful force for education and social change, showing us far-off vistas, and new ways to see the world. An ongoing battlefield of new ideas and representing progress, no matter how controversial at the time. In 2021, acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin showed the behind-the-scenes tribulations of one of the most recognisable couples on the screen, in Being The Ricardos.
Following a very hectic week, one in which Lucille Ball is accused of being a communist, her husband Desi Arnaz is caught on camera with another woman, and Lucille might be pregnant. Lucille must constantly fight for her character, dealing with the social taboos, a prematurely-concluded film career, and the ever-increasing pressure to put on a top-quality show every week. All while facing the ensuing chaos on and off the set that could jeopardise the show and the marriage. Will the Ricardo partnership remain intact in the face of all these adversities?
Off the record, I’m not familiar with I Love Lucy from first-hand experience, only recognising the show, it through the myriad of parodies and homages. That being said, it is not that Nicole Kidman is not doing a bad job here, although I can see how Debra Messing should have got the part. That said, Javier Bardem does not go for a direct impersonation of how Desi is typically depicted, which is admirable, yet his portrayal works for the character here. For those unaware of the couple’s impact (or that of I Love Lucy), we have Actors setting the stage in a fake talking heads segment to bring home their legacy to the more oblivious audience members. The stars don’t end here. With the reuniting of Tony Hale and Alia Shawkat, it does feel like a pseudo Arrested Development reunion, even including J.K. Simmons who plays William Frawley.
Whether you love it or despise it, Aaron Sorkin’s trademark quick-fire wit is certainly on display here, and Being The Ricardos feels was chosen best to exemplify it. Most of the action takes place in the writer’s room, with constant clever quips. We get deep into the behind-the-scenes drama, from Vivian Vance feeling like she is under Lucille’s shadow, even to the detriment of her health, to facing Standards and Practices concerns of showing a pregnant woman on-screen. All while trying to keep the character of Lucy an empowering figure in 50s comedy. Even more so with the Arnaz’s relationship, from Desi’s escape from communist Cuba, conflicting with Ball being sympathetic to those same ideologies, and the constant womanising of Desi might be testing Lucille’s patience.
Being the Ricardos offers a whistle-stop tour through some incredible achievements and trying tribulations that Lucille and Desi’s personal and professional relationship faced in entertaining a nation. In a time that was very different to the media landscape of today, although a lot of the same issues still emanate. The cast does a good job in both bringing out characters and the central drama, and the script gives you a distinct look at the impact of the show, from the perspective of a single week. With Being the Ricardos, you will find that you are home.
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