Being the Ricardos

By almost any measure, Aaron Sorkin and “I Love Lucy” would be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Nonetheless, it is exactly that seeming disparity that results in this brilliant film, now available at Amazon Prime Video. Sorkin (well known for his success in projects like Trial of the Chicago 7, Molly’s Game, The Newsroom, Moneyball and The Social Network) brings to this project the script he directed about a seemingly improbable production week of the original TV sitcom. 

Three major challenges that Lucille Ball and her Cuban husband Desi Arnaz faced are compressed into that week, in dramatic and effective manner. There was much controversy when the lead actors were announced for this project; neither Nicole Kidman nor Javier Bardem are American, and hence were supposedly ill-equipped to appreciate the mass of effect of “I Love Lucy” on the country. Further, Bardem was hounded for not being Cuban. Bardem responded appropriately, asking if only Danish actors are equipped to play Hamlet. 

The production values of Being the Ricardos are excellent, plunging us right into the early 1950s. Both lead actors are superb, certainly capturing our on-screen recollections of the characters and convincing us easily about their off screen personas. Their on screen foils Fred and Ethel Mertz are admirably assayed by J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda. The further supporting cast of network executives and corporate sponsors are equally effective. 

But Sorkin is in fine form, squarely within his element. He clearly enjoyed laying into one of the era’s darkest hours, that of the House Un-American Activities Committee, into which shadow Ball was drawn. The film only touches on the eventual massive success of Desilu Productions, the company formed by Ball and Arnaz. Although Ball (from Jamestown, NY) was the largest asset of CBS, sponsor Philip Morris and Westinghouse, the production company she formed with her husband would later go on to massive success with TV productions such as “Mannix,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek.”

My only quibble with Sorkin’s script is the somewhat ant-eater issue of two phrases that I don’t believe were prevalent during the 1950s: “gaslighting” and “wait, what?” Most of us only heard the latter phrase from our present-day teenager kids. 

If like me you had only passing interest in watching “I Love Lucy” back in the day, you will agree that this superb film ended too soon. 

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.