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Family Values, or, Curse You, Michael Landon!
March 2004

Of course, all of the episodes are hate-able for one reason or another because of the Typical Little House Conventions. For instance:

The "Turn and Run Away" Thing

In every episode, without fail, someone will turn and run away. There are varying degrees of the Turn and Run Away motif. Usually, this will occur when someone hears dastardly and disturbing news. For instance, Laura overhears Pa telling Mary that she’s going blind. After Pa breaks the news and Mary freaks out, Pa then sees Laura, who’s inadvertently eavesdropped. And Laura’s reaction to the news is to turn and run away, braids flying, because it’s sooooo TRAUMATIC…. Sometimes someone will TRA because they’re embarrassed (like when Laura sticks apples down the front of her dress, and is called to the blackboard, and her left apple falls and everyone in the class starts laughing at her, and Miss Beadle says “Laura don’t you have to go to the outhouse?” and Laura gasps “Yes Ma’am I sure do!” and turns and runs away), or because they’ve just finished a Big Speech (like Fat Elmer, who reads his essay on friendship that ends with “and that’s why I’m leaving school” because everyone’s been mean to him, and then rushes away… or waddles, really, because the poor chubby kid playing Elmer is dressing in a padded Fat Suit that looks like three down comforters stuffed in his shirt).

The actual Turning and Running Away has varying degrees as well. There’s the standard run-for-the-hills TRA. But if the news is a little more disturbing, the TRA-er may claw at the air as s/he runs, or zig-zag frantically back and forth across said hill. The build-up and follow-through is important to TRAing as well. For instance, you KNOW it’s bad if, before TRAing, Laura (or whoever) shakes her head repeatedly and whispers “No… no… no” before running away. And if afterwards, someone is left behind screaming the person’s name plaintively (“Laura! Lauraaaaaa!” “Gideoooooon!” “Joseph! Come back here! Joseeeeeph!” “Anna, wait, don’t go! Anna!”), that only adds to the all-over poignancy.

Prolly the worst TRAer in Walnut Grove is Albert. After causing the fire at the Blind School that killed Mary’s baby, finally admits his guilt, and starts screaming hysterically, “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t! Aaaaargh!” before Turning and Running Away, and then with the whole Sylvia-who-was-raped-by-a-clown episode, when Doc Baker announces Sylvia’s pregnant and asks Albert “Did you and she-” Albert interrupts, “No! No! I never- I never- Aaaaargh!” before turning and running away. (“Albert! Albeeeeert!”)

In a sidebar note, Nellie’s weird arms-down-as-if-preventing-her-petticoats-and-skirts-from-flying-up run does not qualify as TRAing. And, gads, I still wish I had a video of Sugarbear back in the day doing his impersonation of The Nellie Run…!

Pa the Town Crier

NO ONE on the prairie cries more than Pa. This bugs for a number of reasons. First of all, Charles Ingalls – the REAL Charles Ingalls – was a hardy, tough frontiersman. Hell, most PEOPLE didn’t just well up with tears back then; it was considered beyond inappropriate for adults to show their emotions like that. So it’s highly unlikely that Charles Ingalls would have been openly bawling about his daughter going blind or son dying or any of the Big Stuff, much less the everyday “Love ya!” stuff that got Michael Landon blinking and snurfling. Sheesh. I’m all for men being sensitive and all that, but still. Suck it up once and awhile, Pa!

Pa the Tough Guy

I suppose this was to balance out the Sensitive Pa, but Chuck had a kick-ass side, too. Let someone make a risqué comment about his wife or his daughter (“That’s a real purty blind girl you got, Ingalls. Real purty”) and, Christian Soldier though he was, he had no qualms about punching people… usually with a blasé I’m-just-gonna-walk-away fake-out before swinging.

And, since it fits in with the whole Tough Guy image, Cyndi once pointed out to me how disturbingly often Pa runs around without his shirt, shaved chest on display for all. (Cyn, of course, would know about shaved chests on display.)

Repeated Sentences = Extra Meaningful!

At particularly heart-rending climactic moments, a character will usually repeat a sentence twice, sometimes with slight variation, you know, to really bring it on home. For instance, Charles makes little gimpy Olga (after she had Escaped from Witch Mountain, I guess) a pair of shoes with a lift in one sole, so that Olga no longer limps and can play ball with the other children. Her father is pissed at Chuck for interfering until Olga tearfully beseeches, “Watch me play, Papa. Watch me play!” (And five minutes before, when Pa has presented Olga with her shoe, Half-Pint gushes, “It’s a miracle, Pa. That’s what it is. It’s a miracle!”) Or when the Ingalls girls and Andy Garvey are trapped in the barn by a pack of wolves, Andy blubbers that “The mama wolf saved our lives! The mama wolf saved our lives!” Or when the violent drunk kid who Charles saves is all screaming at his dead violent drunk father, “I hate you, Pa! I hate you! I hate you!” and then, upon breaking down, changes to sobbing “I love you. I love you, Pa! I love you!” Or after Mrs. Garvey dies in the blind school fire with Mary’s baby, Mr. Garvey, when asked about the burial, says something like, “Get her something pretty. She liked pretty things. Get her something pretty.” (Like an FTD bouquet, maybe? Haw! That reminds me of an FTD radio commercial that used to air all the time back in the early 80s that started: “I’m Merlin Olson, and I’m holding something very beautiful.” I’ll just bet you are.)

After a while, the dialogue on the show starts to sound like a first-grade textbook. No one really talks like that, Readers. No one really talks like that.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Invariably, any time there is a church-related episode, the congregation will sing “Onward Christian Soldier”… usually at the end, with a triumphant fanfare of music accompanying it. Either that or “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

It Doesn’t Just Rain…

No, it pours in Walnut Grove (or Mankato or wherever). Notice ever time there is a rain shower on an episode, it’s like the special effects person got confused and thought it meant a SHOWER shower type of shower. Full-on deluge, just as if one was standing under the shower in his/her own bathroom. I guess it’s better than bathing in the creek or something….


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