Movie Review: Little House on the Prairie (1970's TV Series)Quick Plot Summary: This is semi-cheating as this is for the 1970's/80's TV series, but for over 200 almost hour-long mini-movie type episodes with high production values of a show that is generally well-aligned for Christians, it's hard not to mention.
Suggested Ages: 10+ in general, but it can vary. 13+ is a safer across-the-board bet.
Okay, yes I'm kind of cheating by putting this in a category of movies. However, this long-running series in the 1970's and 1980's was produced with high production values and is basically over 200 almost-hour-long "mini movies" that for the most part (with some definite exceptions) are very well-aligned with the values of Christians. And technically there's 4 movies as a part of the show too (including the pilot movie and 3 final movies). With some exceptions, for the most part this show is decent entertainment at worst to full-on faith-building at best and it generally teaches a bunch of really solid values that are very compatible with the Christian faith. There's a lot of good family discussion that can take place after watching episodes that can really ratchet up the helpfulness of this show to even a whole other level. Thus I felt that I would be remiss not to mention it.
Many people are familiar with this show from television airings. Let me assure you as one that owns this series on high-definition Blu-ray that it looks WAY better than most of those TV airings. This show was shot on 35mm film just like movies are (like I said, they basically ARE "mini movies") and a few years back the show was remastered and looks quite good now (though television airings still often seem to be showing the non-remastered versions).
The show, if you're not familiar with it, basically concerns the Ingalls family in Minnesota circa the 1880's. Honestly I avoided this show for years because I just assumed this was a "syruppy-sweet overly dramatic girls show." Then I actually started watching it and discovered it actually is just a good general across-the-board entertaining show, applicable for both young and old (though not too young - see below), women and men. It's got drama (and yes sometimes too "over-the-top"), it's got grit, it's got humor, it's got suspense, it's got adventure, it's got episodes focussed on kids, it's got episodes focussed on adults, it's really got a bit of everything for everyone.
One of the things I most love about this show is that it is one of the very few shows ever produced that actually portrays the father/husband character in a light that is at least reasonably close to the Biblical ideal. Most t.v. shows/movies either have a "weak" husband/father that doesn't act right, or they portray them with some good qualities such as being compassionate, but they don't portray the strength of a man also. The father/husband in this show is often shown as a "man's man" - strong, hard-working, rugged, etc. - but also can be very compassionate, loving, good father, loving and faithful husband, etc. It's a balance you just plain don't see very often in either movies or television. And it's really refreshing.
In addition to generally good values & morals being portrayed (there are exceptions - see below), there's even a few episodes that aren't just Christian-friendly but are full-on faith-building. For instance, there's an episode at the end of season 8 where the father's adopted son is basically given a terminal/bleak diagnosis and basically everyone in the town (including the preacher and his own family) tells the father he needs to just accept that. But he doesn't. He chooses to believe God in faith for healing and long story short, he puts his faith into very tangible action and the boy is healed. That's really good stuff!
There's also some messages that you might think aren't the best to be sending but in the context of the entire series actually aren't a problem. For instance one of the characters has a drinking issue that's treated fairly non-chalantly early-on and also doesn't want anything to do with God, but later in the show's run, you see big-time negative effects of both his worldview and drinking and ultimately see him making peace with God.
With all that said, there are problematic episodes and even several episodes that blatantly contradict the messaging portrayed in that episode I mentioned a moment ago of the boy that was healed. You should know for instance that a major story-arc that occurs in the series is that one of the characters goes blind. And you don't see them believe God for healing but basically just come to terms in accepting it. So there is a mixed-bag in some of the messaging that this series sends. There are numerous deaths/tragedies that occur over the course of this series and the "God is just sovereign and must know what He is doing" worldview does tend to run as an undercurrent.
There's also a few episodes that are just downright extra scary or non-appropriate for children and you wonder what in the world Michael Landon was thinking making them.
I've made a list below of episodes I strongly urge avoiding if you watch this series along with a brief reason why in paranthesis. Keep in mind there are over 200 episodes so while this may look like a notable list, in the big-picture, it is not.
Key episodes to avoid:
Season 2 Episode 7 - "Remember Me Part 1" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing. I suggest skipping Part 1 and then starting watching in Part 2 about 3 minutes in after the Pt1 flashback - all you need to know is a woman died and left behind 3 kids needing homes and that's where Part 2 picks up.)
Season 3 Episode 5 - "The Monster of Walnut Grove" (worldly/scary halloween theme, ends implying headless-horseman is real)
Season 3 Episode 15 - "Injun Kid" (teaches universalism/"all roads to God are equal" etc)
Season 4 Episode 3 - "My Ellen" (childhood friend dies and the mom goes insane)
Season 4 Episode 17 - "Be My Friend" (problematic messages including towards Christianity & also very intense)
Season 4 Episode 20 - "A Most Precious Gift" (really poor writing where the mom does things way out of character including seeing a fortune-teller)
Season 5 Episode 21 - "The Enchanted Cottage" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing)
Season 5 Episode 24 - "The Odyssey" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing)
Season 6 Episode 10 - "The Faith Healer" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing)
Season 6 Episode 18&19 - "May We Make Them Proud Part 1&2" (significant characters die in a fire, ultra-depressing and terrible messaging related to how to deal with grief)
Season 7 Episodes 10&11 - "To See The Light Part 1&2" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing)
Season 7 Episode 13 - "Come, Let Us Reason Together" (problematic messaging regarding Christianity)
Season 7 Episodes 17&18 - "Sylvia Part 1&2" (scary & creepy, child rape & death, ultra-depressing)
Season 9 Episode 4 - "Rage" (scary & ultra-depressing)
Post-Series Movie: "Look Back to Yesterday" (problematic messaging regarding sickness/healing, depressing, and majorly contradicts an earlier episode plotwise in a not good way, do yourself a favor and pretend this movie doesn't exist)
Again, that might look like a lot, but there are approximately 208 episodes (if you include the 4 movies) total so in the big picture it ain't so bad.
I do DEFINITELY strongly encourage you not to watch those, but even with those episodes taken out, this show can still definitely sometimes be "gritty" for lack of a better word. This show is generally within a "family-friendly" framework, but it's the grittier and more variable 1970's style family-friendly framework. Also you have to remember that this series is portraying a time where life was hard and often tragic and so that does come out sometimes. While the bulk of this show I would say is watchable by kids 10 and up, 13 and up would be a better across-the-board bet because sometimes the subject matter does get more intense.
The list above are in my view among the most problematic messaging-wise, but that doesn't mean there aren't other episodes with hard or intense situations or that other episodes might not also contain some problematic messaging. For example, Season 3 has a Christmas episode that's not a particularly joyous affair (unlike Season 1's) as some children die in a blizzard. It still at least tries to end positive, but it's one of the "gritty/harsh realities" episodes and there are such episodes scattered throughout the series. While the series overall is warmhearted, not every individual episode is. For instance there's a really depressing episode in Season 2 regarding a character that is hooked on opioids. Yet even though it's depressing and I usually skip it, it does give a worthwhile message about the dangers of opioid/drug addiction.
Specifically in regards to the theme of this site and how the show relates to the content in my book "Where's the Abundant Life?", you just have to keep in mind when watching a show like this portraying life 140-150 years ago that as tragedies or trials sometimes occur, while you might see characters talk to God about it, with a few exceptions, you aren't likely to see them claim God's promises (other than perhaps ones for comfort) and stand in a faith posture because they just plain didn't have the understandings to do so. Their responses aren't always ones to emulate but sometimes are ones as an example of how NOT to respond, which can still be a teachable thing if you process it correctly.
But lest I start making it sound like this show is just one giant depressing or intense thing where every episode has people dying, let me be clear that it definitely is not. There are many many lighter episodes and humor is a major staple of this often warmhearted series. And despite some problematic messaging as showcased above, the bulk of the messaging in this series is good. It may not hit everything right, but overall the positives outweigh the negatives when considering the big picture.
This show also has an absolutely phenomenal cast playing generally very well-written characters. This is a very high-quality show that was beautifully filmed and utilized lots of location shooting. As I said at the beginning, it was basically produced as though making movies rather than a television show (although unfortunately it is not in widescreen).
If you decide to watch this show, I strongly recommend you *NOT* do so by just watching the television airings. Besides the picture quality usually not being nearly as good, they often also skip showing lots of episodes that are actually quite good or they show chopped-up versions that are missing footage. This is a show worth owning and you can often obtain the whole series pretty inexpensively regardless of format you choose. The highest quality is the Blu-ray discs via Amazon (there's no collection - you just purchase the 9 individual season sets). If you can't do that, next best is the HD/HDX streaming (VUDU historically has run huge specials on purchasing the whole show for streaming for low cost, although their collection may be missing the 3 final post-series movies). Finally there's DVD which also has a complete collection, but make SURE if you get the DVD's that you get the newer remastered complete collection (released 2014/2015 or newer) where it clearly says it is the "Deluxe Remastered Edition" (as of this writing Walmart carries it). There's loads of the unremastered DVD's still being sold (including the old "wagon" complete collection) and the quality on those discs is pretty bad (and also the episodes are chopped up). Note that regardless of format you watch on, don't watch any of the 3 post-series movies until after Season 9 despite some being included on Season 8 discs and then you want to skip "Look Back to Yesterday" as mentioned above but instead start with "Bless All the Dear Children" (on S9 discs) and end with "The Last Farewell" (incorrectly put on S8 discs) as that is the actual end to the series.
One last note: The pilot movie isn't really anything like the actual series. I don't even care much for the pilot, so if you don't either, don't let that dissuade you from starting to watch the rest of the series.
Reviewed by Christopher Long,