Somehow it's not how they're supposed to look: Lucy and Ricky, Fred and Ethel, moving around familiar sets doing their familiar I Love Lucy thing. And yet they seem more substantial, more real. Because this time, they are rendered in colour.
Fred looks stylish in light-brown tweed. Ethel is resplendent in a purple Christmas dress. And Lucy -- well, Lucy is her usual ball of chaos, with one key difference: Her red hair, implied over and over during the show's 1951-57 run, is inevitably, assertively, undeniably, out-of-a-bottle red.
With the I Love Lucy Christmas Special (7 p.m. today), CBS ventures into the world of colourizing two vintage episodes of the Eisenhower-era TV show. The episodes, CBS says, "were colourized with a vintage look, a nod to the 1950s period in which the shows were filmed."
Which raises the questions that come about when we inject colour into the black-and-white mists of our cultural history: Does it make things better? And should we?
Today, through digital algorithms, chunks of yesterday's monochromatic pop culture are presented in entirely new ways, to both fanfare and scorn.
Inevitably, that does two things to the imagery: It looks more vibrant, and it takes a step away from the original.
"In colourizing the I Love Lucys, there's an effort to kind of recreate this bright, brilliant, tail-finned polychrome world of the 1950s which existed in part but is kind of romanticized in memory," says Regina Lee Blaszczyk, author of The Color Revolution.
"We're trying to re-create this visual culture that never really existed," she says.
If you grew up watching I Love Lucy during its original run or in reruns through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, watching the two colourized episodes is a singular experience. It's the TV equivalent of adjusting your eyes to Oz after Dorothy lands there from Kansas.
Ricky's striped tie, with its bursts of red, makes him even more the dandy. The coloured furniture reminds you of something that could be in your own house, not in a TV studio on some distant planet called the past.
Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, allows that she is enthusiastic about the episodes' colourization -- to a point.
"If there's a whole generation of people that will be more prone to tune into it to find out about it, and the younger generation, if it turns them on to see it in colour, that's great," Arnaz said in an interview this week.
But, she adds, "There's something about it that's classic when it's black and white. And I don't know they can get it exactly right when they colourize. Do they know, exactly, what the shirt looked like, or are they guessing?"
Beyond any moral or quality issues, though, there is this: On a big-screen, high-def TV, the fabled and fictional Lucy Ricardo has never looked more alive.
"Boy, when it comes to soaking up local colour, you don't mess around," Fred Mertz quips after she returns from the vineyard covered in grape mash in the classic episode Lucy's Italian Movie.
For the first time, you can see that he's right. Lucy's hair is red. Her grape-saturated clothes are deep purple. And TV's fanciful sitcom past -- a past once constrained to using shades of grey to capture a multi-hued world -- is, thanks to technology, suddenly as vibrant as we can possibly make it. For better or -- and possibly and -- worse.
-- The Associated Press