It’s really easy to be cynical about the world these days. Believe me, I am all the time. And this cynicism is found in abundance in popular entertainment. Everything from music to movies to TV is super-slick and EXTREME! Hell, even most commercials are a lot more cynical than they used to be. Sometimes this bothers me, but I must admit that most of my favorite TV shows are very cynical – Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Family Guy to name a few. These shows are not only not wholesome, they are Anti-Wholesome.
To me, wholesome was always associated with boring. Wonder Bread is wholesome (and nasty). Leave It To Beaver is wholesome.
Few shows in television history are more wholesome than Little House on the Prairie. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon. I was a bit young to have seen the show during most of its original TV run (1974-1982). And when I did watch it I was not interested at all. But for some reason, I got sucked in over the Labor Day weekend. TV Land held a Michael Landon marathon, airing episodes of Bonanza, Highway to Heaven and the aforementioned Little House. And what can I say? I got hooked. I must’ve watched a dozen episodes over the weekend.
I can’t say exactly why I got into it so much. Sure, there wasn’t a whole lot else on, but that’s only part of it I think. Maybe part of it is a certain personal longing for a less complicated life. Or maybe it’s nice to see a real community where people don’t avoid eye contact all cost. But most of all, there’s just something about the way the show was written and acted that made me care about the characters. These are people I would like to know and have as friends. I love Seinfeld, but if I had to hang out with George Costanza I would kick him in the groin like I was going for a game-winning field goal.
Sure, the show has its share of cheesiness and sap. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon. And the cheese factor definitely got ramped up in the show’s later years, when it started to stray from the source material and became more formulaic. But the early episodes I saw were great. Great enough, in fact, that I am willing to overlook the sappier moments, the overly dramatic music and occasional flaws and problems of the show. (Just how did Laura’s teeth get so straight? Isn’t it awful mountainous for Minnesota?)
The problem with watching a marathon is that usually the most “important” shows are aired. In the case of Little House, this usually means moments of great tragedy. So in the course of three days I saw Mary go blind, the Ingalls’ farm get destroyed by a tornado, Charles and Caroline’s infant son die, Albert set fire to the school for the blind and Mary’s baby burn to death, and all of Walnut Grove go bankrupt. I think I saw one episode that would qualify as light-hearted. Otherwise, it was one blunt emotional trauma after another.
Still, I’m not deterred. I’m sure the series wasn’t all like that. At least I hope not. TV Land is now airing the show every evening. And while I will still watch all the shows I currently enjoy, it’s nice to know that there’s still a show I can watch where people are decent to each other and don’t take every chance they get to cut someone else down with a clever insult. That would never do at the Little House. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon.