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'I Love Lucy Christmas Special' review: Color isn't heresy

Lucille Ball, center, dressed as Santa Claus in

Lucille Ball, center, dressed as Santa Claus in a colorized "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" airing Dec. 20, on CBS. Credit: AP

THE SHOW "I Love Lucy Christmas Special"

WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 8 on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT It's Christmas, it's color, it's Lucy -- nuff said? Actually, no. Be aware that tonight's "colorized" airing of the seldom-seen "I Love Lucy" Christmas outing isn't a standard sitcom episode. It's a clip show -- a resource-saving move in which a series repurposes previously aired scenes as reminiscences/flashbacks, with new wraparound segments.

The holiday half-hour, made in 1956 during the show's original run, resurfaced in 1989 to make a big TV splash in a previous computer-colored effort. With technology having so improved since, it makes sense to recolorize the now high-def-mastered black-and-white original into another tube event -- especially since full-episode color of the musical fantasy "Lucy Goes to Scotland" looked so natural in 2007's complete-series DVD of Lucille Ball's timeless sitcom.

Friday's first scenes might be a shock -- Lucy's "red" hair is tomato orange -- but soon you notice fresh set details, even then-hubby Desi Arnaz's necktie pattern. Lucy's olive green kitchen cements the '50s time frame. You get used to multihued visuals, and then --

It's monochrome again! Color only covers the holiday wraparounds. That's not so bad in a flashback awaiting Little Ricky's birth. But when Lucy visits Ricky's Cuban nightclub, the set has clearly been designed even in black-and-white to evoke a feast of color. Which suddenly feels missing. The CBS hour moves on to full-episode color for Lucy's Italian-movie tale, with its grape-stomping catfight, another multitone natural.

MY SAY Calm down, Lucyheads. Color here isn't heresy. Desi Arnaz was a smart businessman who'd have shot "I Love Lucy" on color film if he'd foreseen its market a decade down the line.

Colorization has improved greatly since its '80s pastel period, and the Italian episode especially uses a sort of faded Technicolor palette to reflect its age.

BOTTOM LINE Forget color. Tonight's high-def clarity should really make us salivate for spring's first "I Love Lucy" Blu-ray release.


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