I Love Lucy: The Complete Third Season William Asher & Mark Daniels

I Love Lucy holds up absurdly well for a series that ended half a century ago. With the release of this five-disc box set (season three of six), viewers are dealt 31 episodes that can easily be found in syndication on almost any channel, at any given time of day, worldwide. Still, the set proves to be surprisingly worthwhile by way of its additional features — most provide a fascinating glimpse into the then burgeoning world of television production and '50s consumer culture. As one of the real pioneers of situational comedy, the slapsticky I Love Lucy can be held responsible for many television firsts. On top of being the template for most contemporary sitcom clichés, Lucy was the show that brought TV production from New York to Hollywood and initiated the prevailing three-camera set-up before a live studio audience. With episodes like "Ricky Minds the Baby" (who knew that the possible kidnapping of Little Ricky could lead to such hilarious, light-hearted adventures?) and the sardonic "Equal Rights," season three is where the show really hit its stride. Even the staunchest haters of the show have got to show a little love to Lucille Ball's virtually unrivalled comic timing. It's a bit disappointing that each disc has basically the same features (guest cast info, flubs, production notes, etc.), but it's forgivable when you consider how minimal the amount of footage shot for television programs was back then. The "flubs" section details the strict one-take rule set up by producers in an effort to save on film costs. Lucille Ball (Lucy) and Desi Arnaz (Ricky) were forced to adapt to screw-ups or face pay cuts. Misplaced props and even a moth invasion are met with unflinching scene adjustments by the actors. The most randomly interesting feature is the show's ever-changing original opening minutes: a host of cigarette ads from sponsor Philip Morris. There are few things more inanely funny than Ricky Ricardo giving a two-minute, straight-faced demonstration of the "new and exclusive snap-open cigarette pack." For Lucy aficionados, this set is worth picking up simply for the faultless sound and picture restoration. For everyone else, reruns work. Although as much as the show gets increasingly annoying as the episodes slam by, if taken in small doses, there might actually be some sense in TV Guide's choice to nudge it next to Seinfeld as the greatest sitcom of all time. Plus: Lucy on the radio, slide show. (Paramount)