|Little House on the Prairie - The Complete First Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 08 July 2003|
"Little House On The Prairie" debuted on NBC in 1974 during the television networks’ family television hour. During that time period, television was supposed to be a kinder, gentler place. Michael Landon came aboard only as an executive producer, but the star originally slated to play Charles Ingalls failed to show up. Landon stepped into the role with the easy, affable grace that he displayed in past roles on "Bonanza" and in the "Highway to Heaven" series that would follow.
Based on the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the television series revolved around the trials and tribulations of the Ingalls family and the citizens of Walnut Grove over by Plum River in Minnesota. Refurbished with state-of-the-art color correction, picture enhancement, and noise reduction technologies, the first season collector’s edition of "Little House" plays on the screen and the surround sound exactly as the series played on television: simple and direct, with no special effects.
The sound is in stereo because the episodes were shot and recorded in 1974, but the lack of a musical score in the opening episodes, except for the opening credits theme, really adds to the overall appeal of the episodes. Melissa Gilbert’s voice, as young Laura, resonates and sounds like she is sitting in the same room as the viewer, talking in a normal conversational tone. Her voiceovers throughout some of the episodes — the technique wasn’t used extensively throughout the series — lends to the homespun quality of the gentle and moving narration.
Without a musical score, the viewer can hear the footsteps on the wooden floor in the first episode, "A Harvest of Friends," when Charles Ingalls (Landon) moves his family into the house he built with his own two hands. The chirping of the birds in the later scenes, as well as the sounds of the horses’ hooves and wagon and carriage wheels across the hard-packed earth sound normal, lulling the viewer into the world that the Ingalls lived in during the 1870s.
The first episode sets up the main characters in the family, the father Charles, who works hard at whatever he has to do in order to provide for his family. Caroline (Karen Grassle), the mother, is a worrier and a spiritual woman. Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), the oldest daughter, wants to belong and fit in. Laura is excitable and curious, but her naïve ways and innate innocence wins over the viewers’ hearts. The baby, Carrie (Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush), is constantly underfoot and around whenever the Ingalls are busy.
Stress and tension descend upon the Ingalls family in the first episode when Charles undertakes a six-week haul of working two jobs to pay for their house and land, and to buy a plow he needs to farm. Everything is going well because Charles gives his all to the effort, but things at home get tense because he’s short with the children and inattentive to Caroline, a common enough complaint in today’s world. Things take a turn for the worse when Charles gets injured and can’t finish the work he’s promised on time. The man he signed on to do the work with had Charles put up his oxen as collateral to seal the deal. Now there won’t be a plow or even oxen. However, Charles walks into town and starts working against a midnight deadline even with four broken ribs. The rest of the town sees him working hard, have noticed his kind heart and his ambitions, and they rally to support him. Little tidbits of frontier life, like the need to soak the wagon wheel to swell the wood before applying the metal rim, show up in the episode.
In "Country Girls," the mercantilist’s daughter Nellie (Alison Arngrim) picks on Laura and Mary at school because of their homespun clothing. The mercantilist’s wife deliberately slights Caroline and pays her less for her eggs because they are brown. Laura’s anger gets the better of her and Caroline finds a way to get the upper hand with Mrs. Oleson, the mercantilist’s wife. Caroline spends her egg money on material for a new dress because Mrs. Oleson tells her she can’t afford it. In the end, Caroline makes dresses for both the girls instead, staying up all night to finish the work before the Open House day at the school. Laura is nervous over her essay because she can’t write or read well, but delivers an oration that won’t leave a dry eye for a person who has a tender heart. Again, the simple noises of feet on a wooden floor, the rattle of lumber getting stacked, the creak of the wooden bed, the teacher’s ruler slapping the table, carriage wheels and horses’ hooves sound natural without a musical underscore.
Dual stories about the family take center stage in "The 100 Mile Walk." After a sudden storm flattens all the wheat in Walnut Grove, the men have to go look for jobs in other places, most of them a hundred miles away. Charles is heartbroken over the setback and has to leave his family to find work. He’s joined by to traveling companions along the way, one a shoemaker who offers Charles one of the sets of boots he’s made, and the other a mining powder monkey who helps them get well-paying jobs in a stone quarry. Back at the farm, Caroline refuses to be completely beaten. She rounds up the other farmers’ wives and sets them to gathering the flattened wheat so the families can at least have enough flour to make it through the coming winter. But even with these successes, Charles Ingalls doesn’t have an easy life and ends up with a sad duty to perform.
The rest of the episodes include the romantic life of Mr. Edwards, played by Victor French, who became a regular on the show, a freezing winter that nearly destroys the community, a crippled friend of Laura’s from school who has one leg shorter than the other, Charles and Caroline’s second honeymoon, and Caroline’s stint as a substitute teacher at the school.
The episodes all carry the simple sounds of everyday life without a music track. They also bring a clear picture of frontier life, although a little sugary sweet. But mixed in with all the small-but-meaningful successes the family and the community enjoy, there are many sad times, such as "The Lord Is My Shepherd" when Caroline loses a baby and Laura blames herself and runs away.
"Little House On The Prairie," especially this first season, is endearing. Viewers will take joy in the Ingalls family’s triumphs, hurt with them during the bad times, and get misty-eyed when some bittersweet truism occurs in situations everyone in the audience has lived through or seen first-hand. This collection is heavily recommended to families who watch television together. Parents may remember the episodes, and exposure to the carriages and lack of telephones make trigger questions from the kids about if this is how things were when their parents were little, but kids who have grown past the age of costumed superheroes and cartoons may well enjoy this more substantive, yet gentle, entry. Sure, the television episodes tend to be sugar-coated and problems can be solved in an hour, but most people wish life were really like that. Landon possessed a gifted eye for storytelling, a good sense of choosing people to work in the fictional world he helped bring to life, and "Little House On The Prairie" Season One represents some of his best work.