2009-10-15 15:52:25 UTC
Opinion > Columns
'Little House' was a horror show about prairie life
By Tom Rivers
Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:59 AM EDT
About four years ago it seemed like a great gift, the "collector's
edition" DVDs of the first year of "Little House on the Prairie."
The Rivers family devoured the series. The youngsters liked the horses,
the adventuresome Laura Ingalls, the nasty Nellie and other characters
from Walnut Grove.
I admired Charles Ingalls and his indomitable will. The man always
seemed to have the right answer for his family and I liked how he
summoned righteous indignation when faced with social injustices and the
slights from Harriett Olesen. When Charles was kicked by life -- when
his key crop was wiped out, for example -- he got back up and pressed
on. With his wheat annihilated by a storm, he found a job in a quarry.
Three more "Little House" seasons would follow, Christmas gifts from my
wife's best friend. I've seen each show at least once, some perhaps a
dozen times. But I no longer can stand "Little House" and its focus on
death, mayhem and the societal ills of the day.
The "SpongeBob" cartoon is a welcome break from the Ingalls family.
"Little House" producers should have quit after two seasons. As the
characters aged, the writers seemed to run out of material and
increasingly turned to dark themes.
I know prairie life was difficult, but I thought this show was held up
as perfect family entertainment. It's actually one horror after another.
The first series was no happy-go-lucky picnic despite the youth and
innocence of the Ingalls children. In the first episode Charles falls
from a tree while trying to retrieve a kite. He breaks some ribs, can't
get his work done, and a merchant in town takes the family's oxen,
threatening the Ingalls' livelihood. The town rallies to his defense,
helping him meet his work obligations and get his crop harvested. We
were off to a good start.
But then Charles bumps into long-lost buddy Mr. Edwards. He's a drunken
bum, wallowing in pity because his family died from some horrible
illness. My children had a few questions about Mr. Edwards and his anger
During the wiped-out wheat episode, I thought we were safe from
questions. But at the quarry, one of Charles' new buddies is standing on
a rock. An explosion goes off and the friend disappears. More questions
from the children. "Did that man just blow up?"
In other shows, the family is stranded in a fierce snowstorm, Mr. and
Mrs. Ingalls have a baby boy who dies. And Laura runs away in a two-part
special where she blames herself for her brother's death.
It gets worse in the second year. Charles promises a dying widow he will
care for her three children and a soldier returns from war, addicted to
drugs. Thankfully Nellie saves the series with her over-the-top
By season three Mary, Laura's older "perfect" sister, is in love,
resulting in many unbearably melodramatic moments. Mary is the doting
girlfriend to the sensitive, poem-writing boy who probably couldn't
catch a fish if his life depended on it. "Little House" doesn't spare
viewers from watching near-death experiences. Charles is critically
wounded while hunting and Laura saves the day. In a classic grief-filled
episode, little sister Carrie falls into a mine shaft. The town works
through the night to get her out.
In series four, it seems Mrs. Ingalls has a crush on a handyman who
stays at the family's home while Charles is away. Mary confronts her
mother and the handyman is driven away. I have some of the years mixed
up, but this may have been the series when Mr. Edwards was attacked by a
bear after attempting to teach his poem-writing stepson a lesson in
"real manhood" by forcing him to hunt.
This may also have been the year Laura and Mary were swimming with a
friend who drowned. The girl's mother then goes crazy. Nellie ratchets
up her meanness in season four. She goes from being a funny character in
the early years to being the greatest villain ever concocted, even
pretending to be paralyzed so she can receive dolls and other fancy
gifts from her doting mother.
And Charles has become annoying with his always-do-the-right-thing
speeches and his frequent bare-chested scenes. The man shaved his chest
and oiled his skin for the cameras. The heartthrob of the prairie,
I caught a glimpse at future episodes by renting some of the later
series from Swan Library in Albion. The show leaves no sinister topic
untouched. "Little House" should have been cancelled after the episode
when a visiting clown rapes a local girl. Albert, Charles's new son he
saved from homelessness (I think), loved the girl. He turns to drugs
after the rape and the family seems to disintegrate. I can't take this
anymore. I'm dreading this Christmas when it's time for season five.
Give me SpongeBob over death!
Tom Rivers is a reporter for The Daily News whose column is published
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