LittleHouse1coverGrade: B+
1974-75, 1,260 min. (24 episodes), Color
Lionsgate
Not rated: Would be PG for moments of peril and some drinking
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Includes: Blu-ray (5 discs), UV Copy
Bonus features: C-
Trailer

If your children like historical dramas and love imagining what life would have been like during pioneer times, there’s no better place to start than the Little House on the Prairie TV series. So many ‘70s shows feel dated or corny now, but this series—loosely based on the children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder—still plays well. It’s a deftly written, convincingly acted series that’s not afraid to tug at your heartstrings, but also tosses in a dose or two of reality. Not everyone rides a horse or drives a buggy, for example. There is a sizable population that walks everywhere—even great distances—because they aren’t affluent enough to do anything else. And when a hailstorm wipes out all the wheat, farmers everywhere have to leave their families and look for work in faraway places, or they’ll lose the farm and the family will starve.

Little House on the Prairie stars Michael Landon in his post-Bonanza and pre-Highway to Heaven role as the patriarch of a family of females who move from Wisconsin to Kansas and finally end up in Minnesota. The emphasis in this series is on family and family values before such a term came into existence. It’s wholesome, heart-warming, and full of life lessons.

The two-hour pilot, included here, is the most potentially traumatic, so if your family has small or sensitive children I’d start with Episode 1 instead and watch the whole season before suggesting, “Hey, would anyone like to see how the Ingalls came to Plum Creek?” after the children already know that everyone’s okay. There’s a time in the pilot when a family member is thought drowned, as well as several moments of menace that come as a result of wolves and Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grasse) and the girls’ encounter with Indians while Charles is off hunting.

That’s not to say the series itself is all rose gardens. Among the dramas are familiar TV plots, such as a matchmaking episode, an episode featuring a handicapable girl, or one in which the town’s oldest woman fakes her death to try to get her children to visit. There are tragedies too, though they are often smaller ones or the resolvable kind that lovers of TV dramas have come to expect. Precious keepsakes get broken, blizzards strike, couples fight, con men visit, people are injured, some drink too much, fires start, a new life begins, and a life ends.

But as realistic as the problems seem, aside from that one death they’re not as gritty as the pilot—almost as if the network bosses said, Okay, we loved the pilot, but it was a little too intense and realistic. Let’s lighten it up a bit. And it won’t last longer than one season if these people live in isolation with the wolves and the Indians. Move them closer to a town, so they can interact with people.

LittleHouse1screenAlthough the littlest Ingalls girl (played by twins Lindsay and Sydney Greenbush) mostly sits around and looks cute, with one small line to say every episode, the two older girls are engaging. We see the action through the eyes of Laura (Melissa Gilbert), the middle daughter who thinks she isn’t as pretty as Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson) and isn’t as mom-like. But she’s feisty as her father and, of course, will grow up to write stories about her family and their trials.

Because the boys come from other families and the focus is on the female characters, Little House might not be a favorite with the young males in your household unless they can identify with “Pa.” But executive producer and director Landon makes good use of guest stars who add a little more “maleness” to the goings-on, with a number of them being younger, as if to acknowledge that families with children were the target audience.  It was a winning formula, good enough for the show to finish #13 in the Nielsen ratings this first season, and to rise to #7 its fourth. Some of the plots—like Laura’s crush on a new boy who happens to like Mary instead, any episode involving the stuck-up “rich” girl Nellie (Alison Arngrim), or an episode in which the girls are left in the care of rough-around-the-edges family friend Mr. Edwards (Victor French)—will be easy for children to identify with.

The two-hour pilot and all 24 episodes are included in this handsome 40th Anniversary Deluxe Remastered Edition from Lionsgate, which features an incredible color picture for all episodes and a sound that’s clear but front-centric. There are a number of places where there a frame seems to have been cut—probably because of damage—but aside from those occasional hitches in the giddy-up, the video presentation is top-notch.

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