Judge Bill Treadway's deep affection for this wholesome example of Americana does not make him a girly-man. Or so he tells us.
Our reviews of Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Third Season (published February 19th, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 23rd, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Sixth Season (published November 17th, 2004), Little House On The Prairie: The Complete Seventh Season (published March 30th, 2005), and Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Nine Season Set (published November 13th, 2011) are also available.
To Walnut Grove and back!
The fifth season of Little House on the Prairie, the show based on the series of nine books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, reinforces my opinion that it is among the greatest family programs ever made. As well as having a rich, genuine feel for the time period, it is a well-made show with great acting and writing and gorgeous scenery. There is also a deep sense of family unity and values that is rarely seen on contemporary television these days.
Goldhil Home Video has now issued the complete fifth season of Little House on the Prairie in a six-disc set.
Facts of the Case
When we last left the Ingalls family in Season Four, Charles (Michael Landon, Highway to Heaven) and Caroline (Karen Grassle, Wyatt Earp) had made the painful decision to send now-blind Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson, Happy Birthday to Me) to a school for the blind in far-away Winoka. After helping her settle in, Charles quickly formulates a plan: The Ingalls clan will resettle in Winoka and be close to Mary after all. His best friend, Jonathan Garvey (Merlin Olsen, Father Murphy), decides to make the move with his family as well.
More lighthearted episodes are featured than ever before in the fifth season of Little House on the Prairie, and I think this was an appropriate choice. Punctuating the more dramatic tone of the series with these lightly comic episodes gives us a greater sense of the actual life of this family. Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels often fluctuated between the tones of drama and comedy, and the fifth season of the series accurately captures the true feel of the novels by offering the same variations. Besides, where does it say that there are only serious days in the life cycle of the average American family? Every family experiences joy along with moments of doubt and sadness.
What sets Little House on the Prairie apart from other reality-based programming is the faithfulness that writer-codirector-producer-star Michael Landon and his creative team brought to their small-screen adaptation. As with most programs adapted from true events, the adaptors took some dramatic license. Thus, the show may not be accurate in terms of day-to-day events, but Landon and his creative team have remained faithful to the spirit of the original novels. What made the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels so memorable was the deep characterizations and feel for the period. Wilder wasn't as concerned with plot as she was with recreating what life was like on the frontier, and retaining that quality in the program is far more important than strict accuracy.
The acting in Season Five is even stronger than in any of the previous seasons. Michael Landon once again demonstrates his usual stoic strength and quiet dignity as Charles Ingalls. While he does not look like the real Charles Ingalls, he captures the tenderness and authority of the real-life man. The performance is so real, convincing, and true that it had me wishing Charles Ingalls was my father. Karen Grassle is fine as Caroline, playing the role with warmth and sweetness. Former NFL great Merlin Olsen has never been acclaimed for his acting abilities, but this is a shame, as the man actually was talented. He had a strong presence and charisma, as well as a gentleness that Landon managed to brilliantly tap into on screen. All those qualities are present in Olsen's work on Little House on the Prairie. After turning in an Emmy-nominated performance in the two-part Season Four finale, Anderson really comes onto her own in the fifth season. Despite playing a blind character, Anderson does not resort to the standard clichés many actors do. She plays the role with honesty and restraint, which allows the audience to really invest in her performance.
All 21 episodes from the fifth season of Little House on the Prairie have been compiled onto six discs. I have rated the episodes on a scale of zero to five stars.
• "As Long as We're Together: Part One"
• "As Long as We're Together: Part Two"
• "The Winoka Warriors"
• "The Man Inside"
• "There's No Place Like Home: Part One"
• "There's No Place Like Home: Part Two"
• "Harriet's Happenings"
• "The Wedding"
• "Men Will Be Boys"
• "The Cheaters"
• "Blind Journey: Part One"
• "Blind Journey: Part Two"
• "The Godsister"
• "The Craftsman"
• "Blind Man's Bluff"
• "The Sound of Children"
• "The Lake Kezia Monster"
• "Barn Burner"
• "The Enchanted Cottage"
• "Someone Please Love Me"
• "Mortal Mission"
• "The Odyssey"
Goldhil Home Media presents all 21 episodes in full-frame transfers. Although they offer a disclaimer regarding audio and video imperfections, they have done good work with the materials they had access to. All 21 episodes have been color corrected, with mixed results. Even with the extra care and color correction, some episodes still have a washed-out look. However, they are still vastly superior to the prints used for syndication on cable TV. Goldhil's restoration adds a sheen and clarity unseen in the syndication prints. Imperfections have been greatly reduced, with only some light grain and a few scratches and specks marring the image.
Audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The uneven quality of the audio is most likely connected to whatever materials Goldhil had to work with. Some episodes sound stunningly rich and gorgeous, as new as the day the episodes premiered. Others have a harsh, tinny sound and muffled dialogue. Since these materials were apparently the best they had at the time this set was produced, I am inclined to forgive Goldhil for this.
Extras are an area that desperately needed improvement in previous seasons of Little House on the Prairie. The only extra a viewer could find on a previous Little House collection was a mediocre trivia track. The main problem with it was that not a whole lot was there. While I understand why each trivia track was confined to each particular season, the information they contained was thin and forgettable. Despite the reappearance of said trivia track, I am pleased to report that Goldhil has finally thrown the fans something meaty: two 15-minute video interviews! Dabbs Greer (who played Reverend Alden) and Alison Arngrim (who played Nellie Oleson) sit down with an unidentified interviewer for a look back at the series. These interviews are superb, loaded with fascinating trivia and insights that are truly unique. Despite this valuable addition, however, the absence of any commentary tracks is still a surprise. Many lesser series have received such treatment, so why not a popular, beloved series such as Little House on the Prairie? Also, a detailed retrospective documentary would be welcome, especially considering the longevity of the series, both commercially and quality-wise. Many of the cast members are still alive and willing to discuss their participation in the series. Why not capture their insights and provide a retrospective at the same time?
The video interviews and the greatly improved picture are satisfying, and the program has stood the test of time. Die-hard Little House fans will savor these episodes. Casual fans will enjoy the return trip down memory lane. However, the subpar audio remains a serious issue, aging the series far more than it should. The lack of more substantial extras also bothers me, as this series deserves greater respect and effort. Still, despite this, I am recommending a purchase.
Goldhil Home Media has made some progress in the extras department, but there is still room for improvement. Probation is still levied, albeit a tad lighter than last season.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Goldhil Home Media
• Interviews with Actors Dabbs Greer and Alison Arngrim
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