Since there isn’t another Little House blog currently being written that’s quite as self-indulgent as this one, probably, I thought I’d bestow some awards upon our Season One personnel.
The individual awards are based solely on my opinion; but the story rankings at the bottom are an aggregate of the whole family’s views.
I know you can’t see it, but rest assured, we put the dining room table in the front yard for the ceremony! (We’re extra like that.)
Without further ado, let’s get to the winners – and losers!
BEST STUNT: Miss Beadle’s crash (“School Mom”)
I doubt we’ll ever see such a stunt again on this show. Oh, there will be other exciting or thrilling or shocking ones, yes. But unusually, this is one where you can’t see any strings at all: It’s a perfect illusion, as the spooked horses rampage through town and hurl the Bead to the ground in a way that surely would have broken every bone in her body in real life.
The stunt’s success is even more astonishing when you learn its Charlotte Stewart lookalike was actually a man!
BEST MUSIC: David Rose (“Child of Pain”)
David Rose outdoes himself with this one. Now, like a lot of Twentieth-Century TV professionals, he could easily be written off as a brilliant hack, just imitating Copland or Tchaikovsky or Herb Alpert or the Dragnet theme or whatever. But in this story he creates an original, emotional score that meshes perfectly with the drama rather than just accompanying it.
Runner-up: David Rose (“Plague“)
WORST MUSIC: David Rose (“Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming”)
This story divided our family, so much so that two of us included it in our five favorite stories, but one individual hated it so much they put it dead last. Why? They just couldn’t take the endless variations on “Old Dan Tucker.” I won’t embarrass them by saying who it was, but let’s just say if we ever renew our vows, I know one song that won’t be on the playlist.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Ted Voigtlander (“Plague”)
Ambitious (and successful) in a way rarely seen on this show, the artistic lighting and camerawork here elevate this one far above the usual crap, and give it a tone that contributes to its classic status.
BEST SCREENPLAY: Harold Swanton (“If I Should Wake Before I Die”)
Not particularly well remembered by fans (“oh yeah, I hated that one when I was a kid” was what I heard most when I asked my Little House friends about it), this one is nevertheless a sharp and witty farce that probably works better on paper than in the hands of our earnest showrunners. (It’s also funnier for grown-ups than for kids.)
WORST SCREENPLAY: Ward Hawkins (with Preston Wood) (“Circus Man“)
Consistently preposterous and infuriating, with all the characters behaving like complete idiots throughout.
BEST DIRECTION: Michael Landon, Little House on the Prairie [The Pilot]
There really isn’t any other Little House episode like this one. It’s quite dark, literally and figuratively, placing realism over melodrama and sentimentality for perhaps the only time in the series.
WORST DIRECTION: Michael Landon (“To See the World“)
One of the many irritating things about Johnny Johnson’s second outing is that at times, it’s actually ALMOST funny. But really every joke is ruined by the automatic and witless treatment of the script.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ANIMAL (OR ANIMALS): TIE: Pat/Pet and Patty (Little House on the Prairie [The Pilot])
The scene where Charles gets the horses across the river in Kansas is not only an amazing stunt by the humans involved, it reminds us how much is asked of (and delivered by) the marvelous working animals of the movie and TV industry.
WORST PERFORMANCE BY AN ANIMAL: Alfie/Happy (“Family Quarrel”)
Nels’s stupid dog.
And now for the acting awards!
MVP GROVESTER (BEST NON-SPEAKING TOWNSPERSON): Mr. Nelson The Gray Haired-Dude
Not only did the Dude almost kill Jack, his wife died, he briefly dated Mrs. Foster, and he won the tug-of-war contest over a span of just a few episodes.
Runners-up: Midsommar Kid, Cloud City Princess Leia, Not-Neil Diamond, H. Quincy Fusspot
WORST NON-SPEAKING TOWNSPERSON: Tom Carter
Well, it had to be somebody, right?
For only being in four episodes (including one in which he doesn’t scream . . . or speak), Kennedy makes a hell of an impression. An impatient hothead, he nonetheless has a softer side, which manifests itself in dreams of tranquil cornfields and in his apparent enjoyment of rope-skipping contests.
And I don’t know why, but before this jaunt through the series, it never registered with me just how INTENSE Mrs. Foster is: flirty, judgmental, prone to manic mood changes, and just generally one of the nuttier denizens of Hero Township. So these two share this award.
WORST SPEAKING TOWNSPERSON: Christy Kennedy (Tracie Savage) (“Town Party Country Party“)
Look, I know some people love her, or identify with her, or whatever, but she’s such a dullard. She changes sides in the Laura/Nellie wars like most people change underwear, plus the stupid “We don’t HAVE no attic!” gag (the worst joke of the season) I think tips us off that we’re supposed to hate her.
BEST PERFORMANCE (GUEST CAST): Ann Doran (as Helen Tyler in “Founder’s Day”)
“Founder’s Day” wasn’t a favorite story for us, but no one had a bad word to say about Doran’s heartbreaking and supremely dignified performance as Big Jim Tyler’s long-suffering wife.
Runners-up: Josephine Hutchinson (Amy Hearn, “If I Should Wake Before I Die”), Kim Richards (Olga Nordstrom, “Town Party Country Party”), Don Knight (Jack Peters [English guy], “100 Mile Walk”), Jack Ging (Marshal Anders, “Survival”)
WORST PERFORMANCE (GUEST CAST): Red Buttons (as Will O’Hara in “Circus Man”)
Yes, the worst guest performance this season is by an Academy Award winner. It seems unfair to judge any actor assigned the awful task of playing a character who does a terrible fake accent for 99 percent of his screen time. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, Buttons.
Runner-up: Mitch Vogel (Johnny Johnson, “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” “To See the World”), Ernest Borgnine (“Jonathan,” “The Lord is My Shepherd Part Two”), June Foray (Abandoned Daughters voices, “Ma’s Holiday”)
CRAZIEST GOOD/BAD PERFORMANCE (SPECIAL AWARD): Harris Yulin (as John Stewart in “Child of Pain”)
When I looked at my notes for this awards “spectacular” and realized Yulin was on my shortlist for both best AND worst guest star, for the SAME ROLE, I decided he deserved a special award. Committing himself 9000 percent to his abusive alcoholic dad role, Yulin sometimes seems like a great Shakespearean actor slumming it, sometimes like an actual town drunk somebody put into a community theater play. But none of us could look away.
BEST PERFORMANCE (RECURRING CAST): Kevin Hagen (as Doc Baker in “Plague”)
The show and the actor both took a little time to develop the “country doc” concept. After several episodes playing Baker as a bitchy, chicken-trading, slightly sour joke-cracker, Hagen finds his sweet spot in “Plague,” in which the typhus epidemic allows Doc to emerge as the serious, conscientious voice of reason we all love.
Runners-up: Victor French (Mr. Edwards, “Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming”), Katherine MacGregor (Mrs. Oleson, “Family Quarrel”), Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle, “The Award”), Karl Swenson (Mr. Hanson, “Doctor’s Lady”), Alison Arngrim (Nellie, “Country Girls”)
WORST PERFORMANCE (RECURRING CAST): Kevin Hagen (as Doc Baker in “Doctor’s Lady”)
Yeah, the script is bad, but some of the blame goes to the actor, who for some reason fails to make his love story even slightly believable, despite the charms of sizzling-hot leading lady Anne Archer, and his reputation as a real-life ladies’ man. And that’s even if you ignore the shipping!
Runner-up: Bonnie Bartlett (Grace Snider, “Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming”)
BEST PERFORMANCE (MAIN CAST): Melissa Sue Anderson (“The Award”)
In my view, Melissa Sue Anderson did her best work for this show in the very early years. And at this point, her Mary is far and away the most complex regular character on this show. (Except for Mrs. Foster.)
In “The Award,” we feel Mary’s agony as she weighs the benefits of obedience versus disobedience and sees disaster at the end of both roads. MSA gives us sincerity, horror, shame, sullenness, duplicitousness, and, in the end, a kind of tragic nobility, all in a single performance. Blindingly good work (ha ha ha!) from this twelve-year-old actor.
WORST PERFORMANCE (MAIN CAST): Melissa Gilbert (“Circus Man”)
As with Red Buttons, the script bears much of the blame here. But Melissa Gilbert, an insanely talented child actor, does make an unfortunate choice by stepping on the gas when she should be reining it in. Presumably, she thought going bigger would make this stupid story more believable, but if you haven’t turned the TV off and gone to do something more productive by the third time she weeps about “secret powders,” you’re stronger than I am.
Runner-up: Michael Landon (“Doctor’s Lady”)
Okay, now for the five best and five worst stories, as judged by Roman, Olive, Dagny and me!
FIVE BEST STORIES
#5: COUNTRY GIRLS
An iconic episode with a hugely satisfying climax (“We’re playing UNCLE JOHN”), this one stands up great. Alison Arngrim’s presence is essential to the success of the episode (and the series as a whole, I think).
#4: 100 MILE WALK
I was surprised this one scored so high, but it’s hard to fault the choice. As a serious, restrained, and unsentimental drama, it’s of a style we won’t really see again on the show, and that’s too bad. Jack Peters’s death is genuinely shocking.
We all got a huge kick out of this tale of a little old lady playing the ultimate sick joke on her family before she dies for real. Give it another chance if you don’t remember liking it in childhood.
#2: THE AWARD
Moral complexity, high-schlock melodrama, and a knockout central performance by Melissa Sue Anderson make this the very model of a classic Little House episode. Perfection.
Horrific and urgent in a way this series does so well, this one not only stands tall on its own, it sets the template for some of the best future stories. The direction, lighting, and music are highly ambitious, and it all pays off beautifully.
FIVE WORST STORIES
#5: FOUNDER’S DAY
I’ll say I didn’t think this one was that bad, but I don’t make the news, I just report it. Suffice it to say, this combination of 10 percent story (with a confusing moral), 20 percent filler, 20 percent wood chopping, and 50 percent John Philip Sousa marches did not win many fans in our house.
Poor Johnny, everybody here really hated him, and this story in particular is just him and Laura repeating the same stupidities over and over again.
#3: FAMILY QUARREL
You’d think it’d be easier to like this one, with its focus on some of our favorite Grovesters and everyone behaving more or less in character throughout. But there’s something about it that seems forced; and it’s clear good comedy is mostly outside of this show’s grasp, at this point at least.
#2: TO SEE THE WORLD
Another comedy that could have been better, this Johnny Johnson vehicle is probably more memorable than “The Love of,” with its “Puppa Paw,” weird-looking cast and other oddities. But that can’t change the fact that at the core, it’s a Johnny Johnson vehicle.
#1: CIRCUS MAN
Simply excruciating, this one manages the incredible feat of making us hate ALL the main and recurring characters at one point or another. And it isn’t even about a fucking circus.
Here’s the full ranking for those who want to see where their favorites got placed. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you soon enough for Season Two.
- The Award
- If I Should Wake Before I Die
- 100 Mile Walk
- Country Girls
- The Racoon [sic]
- School Mom
- Town Party Country Party
- Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming
- Ma’s Holiday
- Money Crop
- Little House on the Prairie (The Pilot)
- Doctor’s Lady
- Child of Pain
- Christmas at Plum Creek
- A Harvest of Friends
- The Lord is My Shepherd
- The Voice of Tinker Jones
- Founder’s Day
- The Love of Johnny Johnson
- Family Quarrel
- To See the World
- Circus Man