Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda and Nicole Kidman in <i>Being the Ricardos</i>
Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda and Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos (Photo: Glen Wilson / Amazon Studios)

Shortly after viewing a screener of Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, which arrives in theaters today and will begin streaming December 21 on Amazon Prime, I started thinking about the classic scenes from I Love Lucy that the film recreates. Of course, Sorkin and co. do more than just recreate these moments; the film explores how Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) honed the comedic premises presented to them by their team of writers (played by Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacey and Tony Hale) for maximum laughs. We see Lucy in particular working out certain bits, retooling them until she can see them working in her mind. It’s a testament to the real Ball’s comedic chops, her sense of what would work for her audience.

So, how did the real episodes turn out? Well, I Love Lucy is still considered one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of television, so, uh, I’d say they turned out pretty well. Most of the original series is streaming on various platforms (Paramount+, Hulu, etc.), so it was easy enough to find the three episodes the feature prominently in the film. Let’s see how they compare to Sorkin’s interpretations.

Lucille Ball in "Lucy's Italian Movie"
Lucille Ball in “Lucy’s Italian Movie”
Lucy’s Italian Movie

Interestingly, Lucy’s famous grape-stomping scene is the only really iconic moment from the show that’s recreated in Being the Ricardos. Vitameatavegamin gets a shout-out, but we don’t see it. Nor do we see Kidman and Nina Arianda, who plays Vivian Vance, as Lucy and Ethel frantically stuffing their mouths with chocolates as they rush by on a conveyor belt.

The grape-stomping scene, we’re told in the film, was originally planned for the ninth episode of I Love Lucy’s second season, but has to be scrapped due to Ball’s pregnancy. In reality, the scene occurs in Season 5. Rather than vacationing in Italy—a premise Kidman’s character finds unlikely—the Ricardos and Mertzes are touring Europe with Ricky’s band. On the way to Rome, Lucy is scouted for a role in an earthy Italian film. To prepare for the role, she visits one of the last remaining vineyards what still produces wine by stomping grapes to “soak up local color.”

In Sorkin’s film, we see Ball envisioning the scene that follows: Lucy prancing around in the grape vat and later fighting with another vineyard worker. It’s a largely silent performance that showcases Ball’s prodigious talent as a physical comedian—a clown, essentially. But Ball’s suggestion in the film that Lucy lose an earring in the grapes isn’t in the actual episode.

Ball in "Lucy Tells the Truth"
Ball in “Lucy Tells the Truth” (Photo by CBS/Getty Images)
Lucy Tells the Truth

Another plotline that comes up as Lucy, Desi and the writers are breaking future episodes, is one in which Ricky, Ethel and Fred bet Lucy $100 that she can’t go 24 hours without lying. The actual episode is included in the show’s third season, and the premise is essentially as described in the film. The joke about Lucy canceling bridge with her friend Carolyn, claiming that she’s sick mere seconds after the bet begins is there. At Carolyn’s apartment, Lucy struggles to be truthful about her friend’s new décor and another’s garish new hat. Ethel and the other girls try to use the bet to embarrass Lucy, but she quickly begins to enjoy being brutally honest.

According to the film, the episode’s original denouement was supposed to involve a visit from the IRS in which Ricky is questioned about some suspicious deductions, which the newly truthful Lucy struggles to back-up. In Sorkin’s version of events, Arnaz resents the implication that Ricky, a Cuban immigrant like himself, who loves his adopted country, would be anything other than completely honest about his taxes, and insists that the story be retooled.

In the actual Season 3 episode “Lucy Tells the Truth,” Ricky cooks up a scheme to win the bet by setting Lucy up with an audition for a TV show in which she’ll have to lie about her showbiz experience. After being rejected by the show’s producer, she ends up volunteering to assist an Italian performer in his knife-throwing act—not realizing that the knives will be thrown at her. The result is another iconic image of Lucy with knives around her head, which, for whatever reason, Sorkin opted not to include in the film.

Ball and Desi Arnaz in "Fred and Ethel Fight"
Ball and Desi Arnaz in “Fred and Ethel Fight”
Fred and Ethel Fight

Being the Ricardos primarily takes place during a single week in which the cast and crew of I Love Lucy are preparing to film the Season 1 episode “Fred and Ethel Fight.” The first half of the episode revolves around a dinner Lucy has planned to try to get the Mertzes to reconcile. In the film, Kidman’s Ball struggles with the opening bit in which Ricky enters their apartment and manages to sneak up behind Lucy and covering her eyes. She then pretends to not know who he is, rattling off the names of men he could be, which annoys Ricky. Ball feels the bit doesn’t work on a number of levels: Why doesn’t Lucy hear Ricky enter? Would Ricky really believe that she doesn’t know it’s him and that she routinely entertains the various men whose names she mentions? She comes up with an alternative opening involving a flower arrangement. She also fixes some truly nonsensical blocking during the dinner scene, having Fred and Ethel share a narrow piano bench facing the audience rather than having their backs to them.

The first act of “Fred and Ethel Fight” plays out pretty much at described in the film, with Ball’s version of the dinner scene, but not with her opening flower bit. By the end of the dinner Fred and Ethel have made up, but Lucy and Ricky are now fighting. Lucy and Ethel decide tell Ricky that Lucy has been hit by a bus to win his sympathies, so they outfit her in elaborate bandages, which we see briefly in the film.

Oddly, the version of the I Love Lucy set used in the film doesn’t appear until later in Season 2, when the Ricardos move to another apartment in the building with a window in the rear wall. In the real-life version of “Fred and Ethel Fight,” there’s no window in Lucy and Ricky’s living room.