Will & Grace Season 3, Episode 16
“We Love Lucy”
Posted by Sarah
Growing up in the ‘90s, I was a die hard Nickelodeon kid. Of course I devoured every single show that aired during the day; almost everything I know about major holidays I learned from Rugrats, and I know for a fact I’m not the only one. But when the sun went down and Nick at Nite started up, that’s when my true education began, my crash course in sitcom history. Things like Three’s Company, Laverne & Shirley, and The Facts of Life completely shaped my tastes, but until Cheers was added to the lineup and gave me my ultimate comfort show, nothing grabbed my attention quite like I Love Lucy. Even when I couldn’t fully realize just how groundbreaking and important that show was (I was eight, what the hell did I know?), it was clear I was watching something special. It wasn’t long before I started completely idolizing Lucille Ball, devouring any and all things I Love Lucy. That show has a very large and very special place in my heart. Which means that, no matter how good your intentions are, if you produce any kind of tribute to it, I’m gonna judge the hell out of it and you. But if you do it right, I will love you forever.
Good news kids, I still love Will & Grace forever.
I’m always wary of the kind of thing that this show pulled off this week. With something so monumentally iconic as I Love Lucy, it’s almost always a disaster when someone decides to put their own spin on it; it’s almost always better to either do a straight interpretation of it or not do it at all. But my show went there. My show did that. And my show was somehow able to put their own spin on a straight interpretation, putting out such a loving tribute to such a vital part of comedic history. My heart was so full with this episode from the get, and I am thrilled they were able to share this with us before the end of the series. This was the kind of fun and lightheartedness we all need right now, and I can’t wait to unpack it with you.
After Grace destroys the dishwasher she so thoughtfully gifted Will by trying to install it herself (switch the dishwasher for a washing machine, and you’ve basically got an I Love Lucy nod before they even start doing the real I Love Lucy nods), Will starts cleaning up her mess and declares that living with Grace is exactly like Ricky living with Lucy. Of course, once Jack and Karen walk in and get wind of their conversation, each of them is adamant that they’re the Lucy of the group, sparking what is probably the most delightful debate this show has ever given us. But it’s not enough to simply watch Grace, Karen, and Jack list off their reasons; we need to throw each of our Lucys into a classic and character-appropriate scene to prove which one is the true Lucy.
Before I get into the individual tribute scenes, let me just say something about them as a whole. It would have been SO easy to have our Fab Four locked into the obvious roles for the entire half hour: Grace as Lucy, Will as Ricky, Jack as Fred, and Karen as Ethel. I think I would have been fine with it if that was the case; it would have been safe, but it would have been fine. But the fact that Will is the only one locked into his I Love Lucy alter-ego made it so much more fun to watch. It was obvious that each Lucy was portrayed with such care and respect, and getting everyone’s different take on her – and on Fred and Ethel – added so much to the comedic value of the episode. But my favorite thing about all of this was the choice for Karen to keep literally everything that makes her Karen while she did her time as Ethel, Lucy, AND Fred. The hair when she was Lucy, the martini, the makeup. The quick quip about Grace-as-Lucy’s outfit (I swear to you I lost it over that “Honey, what’s this?”). The fact that Megan Mullally never once veered from the Karen voice, even when she was playing Fred. I am so impressed with how they were able to pull that off without it coming off as disrespectful, and I am so impressed with how they were able to put their own spin on things while still keeping true to I Love Lucy.
Let’s be real, any tribute to I Love Lucy that didn’t include the Vitameatavegamin commercial wouldn’t have been a real tribute. Out of all the iconic moments that show produced, that one is usually at the top of the list. And honestly, it’s only natural to give the top of the list moment to Grace; with all of those years of everyone comparing Debra Messing to Lucille Ball in looks and mannerisms–good lord, I could rattle off so many instances in Will & Grace’s original run where she gives off massive Lucy vibes– this was finally her time to prove everyone who kept saying she needed to play Lucy in some capacity right. What we got here was an abbreviated version of Lucy getting progressively drunker off of Vitameatavegamin (“ALCOHOL, TWENTY-THREE PERCENT?!”) as she continues to practice the commercial she worked her way on to. And Debra hit all the right notes, from the facial expressions as she tries to get that spoonful of Vitameatavegamin down to the wink at the end of the commercial. Sure, there are a couple of things I wish they had time to include; I would have loved to see what Debra would have done with Lucy consistently complaining that it’s hot in here, getting to the drunken point where she just gives up on saying the name of the product completely (“So everybody get a bottle of…this stuff”), and crashing Ricky’s televised performance with her own musical stylings. But the essence of that scene is here, and it’s pitch perfect. It was such a great opening to these reenactments.
With Karen, the obvious Lucy moment to give her is the wine moment…and not just because that was the only episode my girl ever saw (what it must be like to live in a world where that was all Lucy ever did). This one is all about the physical comedy, specifically because the language barrier in the original scene keeps Lucy and her grape-stomping partner from engaging in any real dialogue. And with this kind of physical comedy, a great grape-stomping partner is vital.
Enter Beverley Leslie.
I could watch these two mess around in a giant vat of grapes all day. Megan absolutely nailed the movements here when she starts stomping, from that little jig she does to the big sweeping leaps just before the real fight begins; it’s exactly what Lucy did way back when. And getting Leslie Jordan to take part in this was the best decision. I’m sure they could have paired Megan up with anybody, and it would have been good. But the history that Karen and Beverley have took all of this to the next level. I mean, the first time we ever saw Beverley, he and Karen had a similar fight; it was just that back then, instead of wrestling in a vat of grapes, they were at war in Karen’s pool room, wigs and hair pieces flying. Seeing as how this is Leslie’s last episode on the show, it’s an unexpected and satisfying full circle moment, with Beverley essentially going out the way he came in…give or take a faceful of grapes.
Finally, since Jack has spent most of his time with us jumping from one career to another, he’s the perfect fit for the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy, and along with it, the iconic candy conveyor belt scene. Again, the physical comedy here needs to be on point. Thankfully, Sean Hayes knows how to play that angle for all it’s worth. His movements had a hint of Jack in them, and that made everything so much better to me. But the best part of this particular reenactment was the guest appearance by Lucie Arnaz. I knew about this long before the episode aired, but it didn’t make it any less overwhelming. To have Lucy and Desi’s daughter be part of this was such a special seal of approval, and I am so thrilled that she was on board. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Lucie and the Will & Grace cast to share this experience with each other; my heart grows three sizes just thinking about it.
Back in 9C (and in color), Grace, Jack and Karen realize there’s only one way to settle this once and for all: they need to ask their Ricky. And it’s here that Will gives his honest answer, saying that each one of them is his Lucy. When you hear him break it down by patented Lucy Ricardo antics, it absolutely makes sense. But when you hear the deeper reasoning behind it, it’s a direct hit to your feels; not to mention, it’s one of the best takeaways of I Love Lucy I’ve ever heard. See, when he was a kid, Will wanted to be Ricky so badly because he got to live with Lucy, because getting the chance to spend your life with someone like her made Ricky incredibly lucky. But Will is even luckier than Ricky, because he and his daughter have three Lucys to cherish. And if that didn’t tug at your heartstrings, the closing musical number should have done the trick.
Not a lot of people know that there are lyrics to the I Love Lucy theme song. In fact, they’re only heard one time throughout the whole series, during season two’s “Lucy’s Last Birthday,” when Ricky surprises her at his club with this special song he wrote for her. I never expected this show to pull that out, lyrics and all. And the second I realized what they were doing, I became an emotional wreck. Because it’s such a perfect cherry on the top of Will’s heartfelt resolution to the Lucy debate. Because the theme lyrics are filled with so much love. Because in one fell swoop, that song became about love for Lucy, love for Lucy, and love for the family our Fab Four created with each other. It encompassed so much of what I have always adored about both shows, and I could not have thought of a better way to end such a brilliant tribute.
I’m not going to lie; we all know Will & Grace has gotten its fair share of things wrong this season. But when this show gets it right, it really, really gets it right. And with “We Love Lucy,” they just knocked it out of the park. I think Lucy would have been proud.
Honey…What’s This? What’s Happening? What’s Going On?
- Part of my recap process this week was diving back into the episodes of I Love Lucy that Will & Grace paid tribute to, and I implore you to do the same (or, if this was your gateway episode, to dive in for the first time); while the show nailed the most memorable bits, there are a lot more gems in each episode. “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (Vitameatavegamin), “Job Switching” (the candy factory), and “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (the grape stomping) are all streaming, so what are you waiting for?
- Let it sink in that Ricky Ricardo was Will’s origin story for his love of men with black hair in high-waisted pants. That’s canon, baby.
- The set up scene that eventually cuts away to each Lucy of our Fab Four doing their thing comes from the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy, but the outfit each Lucy wears in that scene is a nod to the outfit Lucille Ball wears in the episode “Lucy Is Enceinte,” when Lucy tells Ricky she’s pregnant. I’m not sure if this was a nod to the fact that Grace is pregnant, or if it was just the writers trying to squeeze as many iconic things into this half hour as they could, but either way, I loved it.
- According to Debra Messing, that was the actual Vitameatavegamin bottle she was using in her reenactment, and that alone got me emotional. Of course that bottle is still intact (it’s part of TV history, after all), but the fact that they let my show use it? Come on…
- I…really want to see Jack’s slutty Lucy?
- I never realized how wholeheartedly here I was for women playing Fred Mertz before this episode, but here we are.
- Something about this closing moment is just chef’s kiss.
- Just in case you’re like me and still can’t get over the fact that Megan Mullally was in full Karen makeup when she played Fred…
- I will absolutely be stealing “And I stopped caring an hour ago, but I still wanna know just ‘cause” for future use.
- You didn’t think I was going to let you go without watching Desi Arnaz perform the I Love Lucy theme song, did you?
How great was “We Love Lucy,” kids? Let’s chat in the comments!
Featured Image Source: Chris Haston/NBC