On the 100th anniversary of her birthday, Lucille Ball is still a front runner for the title of the greatest comedienne in TV history, alongside greats like Mary Tyler Moore, Isabel Sanford, and Betty White. And while I Love Lucy ended its initial run back in the ’50s, Ball’s influence is still obvious in many of today’s top TV comics — from SNL vets Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to sitcom stars like Debra Messing. But do any of these ladies deserve to be called the new Lucy? (Apologies to beloved EW vet Michael Slezak, who begged us back in 2006 never to crown a new Ms. Ball.) Here’s a case for each nominee, along with her Lucy-est moment. Take a look, and then head to the comments to let us know your pick!
Character-wise, 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon doesn’t have much in common with Lucy. They might share a passion for showbiz, but Lucy was a giddy, spotlight-hogging ham, while Liz is a snarky self-proclaimed geek who prefers the writers’ room to the stage. Still, Liz Lemon’s working-gal adventures and self-aware charm reflect our society the same way Lucy’s doting-wife zaniness did for the 1950s. Plus, Fey makes us laugh. Hard. Whether she’s doing Sarah Palin on SNL or even going all movie star on us in films like Date Night, she’s one of the most reliably hysterical comics (male or female) working today — just like Lucy was in her own time. Her Lucy Moment Shoving that entire delicious sandwich into her mouth so she can get through airport security to chase down Jason Sudeikis in 2008’s “Sandwich Day” — a 21st century homage to Lucy’s legendary chocolate-eating misadventure. (No clip available.)
There’s more than a touch of Lucy in Parks & Recreation‘s Lesley Knope: Her blind ambition, her genius for getting attention and then not knowing quite what to do with it, her immaculately graceless tumbles. And Poehler’s work on SNL — remember her very pregnant, very funny “I’m No Angel” commercial? — proved without a doubt that she’s one of the most gifted physical comedians of her generation. Her Lucy Moment It’s a tie between Knope going head-over-heels into the pit in the show’s pilot, or her brilliant Vitameatavegamin-style brush with delirium in “The Flu.” (Watch below at 3:15)
Wiig has never headlined her own TV series, but there are plenty of nights when SNL ought to rename itself “The Kristen Wiig Show” to give proper credit to the lady earning most of its laughs. And Wiig isn’t just a world-class joker. With Bridesmaids, the actress proved she can pull off a Lucy-like mix of relatability and comic genius. Her Lucy Moment Choking down the Jordan almond while fighting off food poisoning in Bridesmaids. Was there a funnier gag (pun intended) in any movie this summer? Unfortunately, that clip isn’t available online — but Wiig’s equally amazing Lawrence Welk skit on SNL is. Take a look!
The monster success of Seinfeld puts Louis-Dreyfus on par with Ball in terms of commercial success. And there’s certainly something Lucy-ish to the chutzpah of Elaine Benes, not to mention her Christine Campbell on The New Adventures of Old Christine. But really, it’s JLD’s gift for loose-limbed physical comedy that earns her a top spot on this list. Her Lucy Moment Elaine’s brilliantly awkward herky-jerky dance on Seinfeld is a moment of classic TV slapstick up there with some of Lucy’s best bits. (Check it out here.)
Sure, there’s the red hair, the old-Hollywood features, the goofy-wide smile. But Messing has more than just a physical resemblance to Lucy. She’s also a top-flight slapstick comedienne who can pratfall and spit-take with the best of them. Her Lucy Moment The writers of Will & Grace had to be thinking of Lucy when they wrote “Das Boob,” the episode where Grace’s water bra springs a leak at an art gallery. (Watch this clip at the 9:50 mark)
Those are our top choices, but plenty more ladies could make this list: Wanda Sykes, Melissa McCarthy, Christina Applegate… Head to the comments now and let us know: Who’s your pick for the new Lucy?
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