Developed for Television by Blanche Hanalis, based on the series of novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Starring Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, Richard Bull, Alison Arngrim, Katherine MacGregor, Dabbs Greer, Dean Butler and Lucy Lee Flippin
- All twenty-one sixth season episodes
- Running audio commentary with actress Arngrim on “Back to School Part 2”
- Exclusive interviews with actors Butler, Arngrim, and Greer
- Interactive quizzes
Released by: NBC Home Entertainment
Rating: NR (suitable for all audiences)
Anamorphic: N/A; episodes appear in their original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Skip it unless you are a HUGE fan of the show.
There are quite a few major changes going on in Walnut Grove this year. First of all, at the beginning of the school year, Nellie Oleson (Arngrim) has taken her exam to graduate from school. She’s just not that happy about her graduation present. Not only that, but there is a new teacher at the school, Miss Eliza Jane Wilder (Flippin) and she’s got a brother named Almanzo (Butler) who quickly becomes the target of both Nellie and Laura (Gilbert). Charles (Landon) also breaks his ribs and an arm trying to move a new grinding stone into the mill, meaning he is not able to work at the mill this season, which also means that the Ingalls are going to have to find some other means of income.
This is a classic of American television. It is the epitome of good, honest, family television. They were not out to try to make a political statement, they were just trying to tell a story. Granted it’s a throwback to a simpler time in American life, but it really spoke to audiences. It was a time when family and faith were all you had to cling to to get you through from year to year. The show did a very good job of pointing out how difficult frontier life could be and that one little problem (that would be considered minor today) could have tragic results in the end. Some people refer to the show as sappy and sentimental, and I guess to a certain extent it was, but the fact that it ran nine seasons should prove that there was a market for that in the mid-70s and early-80s.
The performances are outstanding and all of the actors really connected with each other. It was very clear that they were a tight-knit family and you could easily see the dichotomy between each individual family and their interaction with the other families and people of the town. Everyone knew everyone else’s business and there really wasn’t a way to fix that, so you just dealt with it and moved on.
There are three performers I can point to that I think were the heart of this show. The first is Michael Landon, the solid foundation the show stood on. His firm yet caring and loving father figure is the stuff of legend. Not only that, but he was damn charismatic and he knew how to use that trait. Second is Melissa Gilbert. She was the eyes and heart of the show. Every episode, audiences were (and, now thanks to DVD, are) treated to the childish and innocent view of a world that was more innocent than our is today. Gilbert seemed to understand this and carried the duty with an ease and grace that is incredible for a child her age (at the time). Finally, we have Katherine MacGregor who played Mrs. Oleson. She was the catalyst that made the whole show work. We each know, and probably have or have had, a busy-body in our lives. MacGregor seems to have created the archetype. Her character was so carefully crafted that in any given episode, you could loathe her, love her, and pity her sometimes all at the same time. This is a feat that most television actors today have a hard time even conceiving of, let alone trying to create for themselves.
The DVD for this set is quaint, but classy. The features are spread across all six discs. There is only one commentary track, which features Arngrim recalling her days on the show as Nellie and how her character progressed and grew with the show over the years. It’s a nice retrospective. You can also find interviews with Arngrim, Dean Butler, and Dabbs Greer. These interviews are along the same vein as the Arngrim’s commentary track, but in interview form, they provide a bit more information than what normally comes to people’s minds while they are watching a specific episode. This was Butler’s first season on the show and he had a large role to fill–his was the character the would eventually marry Laura Ingalls. Remember that this show was based on a set of novels that were, in turn, based on real-life events. Rounding out the special features on this set are a collection of interactive quizzes. These are based on the episodes of Season 6 and are quite difficult. These are, to their credit, designed for the hardcore fan of the show.
Anyway, if you are a fan of the show, you’ve probably already got this and all the other seasons. If you’re not a fan of the show, there’s nothing here that will convert you.