We’ve been watching Little House on the Prairie on and off since July. It was sort of done on a dare. My friend, Jeff, told me that Little House was crap television. I figured that wasn’t true, but had to find out for myself. Sure, I watched this a bit as a kid, but it was sporadic and I remember pretty much none of it.
The first thing I noticed that was different in season three was a slightly changed theme song. It had a bit of country swing to it. I’m not sure if it sticks around into the future seasons, but honestly, I didn’t care for it.
Country legends, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash (as well as their son, John Jr.) appeared in the first episode. Johnny played an ex-con who tries to swindle Walnut Grove out of money by posing as a man of God. Thanks to Pa and the good folks of the town, the Man in Black sees the error of his ways. He sings a couple of songs too, but surprisingly not in a cheesy way.
That’s one of the strong points of Little House. It somehow manages to not come off (too) cheesy. That’s surprising since it aired in the 70s. Even episodes like the Halloween-themed “The Monster of Walnut Grove” didn’t amp up the cheese factor. Sure, it was a little far-fetched, but I never felt cheated.
Johnny Cash wasn’t the only guest star. Todd Bridges (later played Willis in Different Strokes
) plays Solomon, a runaway black kid who wants Pa to buy him. He didn’t really get that slavery had ended (and this still didn’t come off as cheesy!). Willie Ames (from Charles in Charge) plays a racist kid who doesn’t like the “Injun Kid.”
We often joke about how the random school children change from episode to episode. As is natural, we riff along with Little House quite often. My favorite riff is saying “Who the hell am I?” whenever the featured character is some new kid we’ve never seen before. That’s often followed by regular characters asking each other “Who the hell was that?!”
This clearly isn’t a series that builds upon itself (like most hour-long dramas today). Some episodes span only a day or two, but others span a season or more. It’s a bit difficult to understand how the Ingalls could do all of these things over the course of one television season, but if you don’t really get too wrapped up in it, it’s no big deal.
With that said, there’s some continuity from episode to episode. Pa’s shirt that he got in “The Blizzard,” a Christmas episode, makes several appearances throughout the rest of the season. The third and forth episodes are about Bunny, Laura’s horse. The DVDs get it wrong, switching the running order of the only two episodes that really rely upon plot continuity to make any sense.
That brings me to the DVDs. Whoever released these did it on the very cheap. The original series was filmed on 35mm film stock (like a movie). Instead of transferring from the original, uncut film, they used the heavily edited versions used by TBS and transfered from worn out video tapes. Often the color is off and it looks like you have to adjust the tracking on your VCR (except that this is DVD). The edits are the worst as they usually cut off a scene in a really unnatural place. Why the producers of these DVD sets chose to do this was probably financially driven, but what a horrible mistake.
The season ends in a strange way. The Ingalls and the Edwards pull up stakes in the spring and move to Deadwood for a gold rush. They don’t really want to, but it’s been raining a lot and they’ll never get their crop in the ground at this rate. Deadwood turns out to be a pretty nasty place with murders and prostitutes, so at the end, they leave. It’s not clear if they’re going back to Walnut Grove – so where will they end up in Season Four?
I guess that’s the best we’re going to do as far as a cliffhanger goes. I’m ok with that. If I wanted a cliffhanger, I’d watch Lost or Dallas or something.
Season Three is all about really bad things happening to the Ingalls. First, three bullies try to take over the town, then everybody nearly dies in a blizzard. Carrie, the youngest mouth-breather, falls down a mine shaft and then everybody nearly dies again from “the fever.” Mary nearly dies from an intestinal infection and Laura shoots Pa and he nearly dies alone in a broken down cabin. Nobody seems to notice that Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary and Carrie are really bad luck. In fact, Pa saves the day on a regular basis. Each of the episodes are fun, a little far-fetched (but not too much) and touching.
Three seasons down and I can conclusively say that this isn’t crap television.