Harlan Ellison, eat your heart out… on second thought, nevermind.

In case you’re wondering why Shoemom and sis haven’t been gracing these pages much lately, despite allegedly living with me, fear not. It’s only that Shoesis has lately acquired Season Seven of Little House on the Prairie, and the two of them are currently eye-deep in the amber waves of schmaltz.

We all watched this show as kids. Some of my fondest preteen memories involve the weekly episode, a big bowl of popcorn, and permission to stay up to 9pm, to watch TV in my parents’ queen-sized bed, oh, bliss!
Then, after awhile you would start noticing that life on the prairie was possibly getting kinda sucky… but that was OK, it was historical and stuff. Then, you’d catch yourself keeping a running tally of Rotten Things That Somehow Kept Happening to Mary… but you’d still be able to convince yourself that Grace wasn’t really using her baby to beat out the window during the fire at the blind school. Barely. This is the strange power that Michael Landon held over TV viewers, and it is awfully hard to explain to the young’uns today.

"A frontier dude with a perm?" they snort. "Striding around his prairie Hell, sobbing like a Robert Bly wet dream?" You do not hear the rest, because they are too busy racing to TWoP to record their delight. You are frankly kinda glad to be rid of the little whippersnippers.

But there finally came the ep where Albert’s teenage girlfriend got raped by the guy in the clown mask, and you were faced with one of those defining road-forks of childhood: to continue believing that the prairie dude with the perm had all the answers — in which case you were rewarded with an ep in which he literally called down fire from heaven to heal his dying son on a mountain altar — or to have your sentimentality circuits shorted permanently. Picking interestedly at the scar optional, but funny.

That I am not even allowed in there now, watching a couple more sniffly orphans see their parents killed in yet another wagon wreck, should be a pretty good indication of which camp I ended up in.

Still… occasional apparent psychotic breaks aside, there remains something endearing about the Landon mythos. Even the most fraught eps were wholesome, in that they were so completely innocent of any desire to hurt. I don’t think there’s ever been a media figure so totally unable to tell where drama ended and camp began; the sheer sincerity of it all loops back around on itself, meets the man’s undeniable charisma, and becomes something almost hypnotically entertaining.

Frankly, I enjoyed this iteration of the Seventies Sensitive Male a whole lot more than Alan Alda’s brittle, knowing version. Both were almost hysterically out of place, both operated off a deeply flawed sense of mission, both evolved series so inner-directed that they resembled therapy sessions… but Landon’s was about the flaws, and Alda’s the fastidious shame of having them. Obviously (one series lasted nine years, the other eleven) both models resonated with large segments of the public; I guess it’s another of those polarizing things.

…When I figure out what it all means, I’ll let you know.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dendritejungle
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 22:12:42

    HEEEE. This post is Relevant To My Interests since I loved watching it as a kid, and now am randomly catching it on CTS weekday nights. It’s weird to watch something that I loved so unabashedly as a kid and now…yeeeah. *rueful grin*

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  3. Shoebox
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 00:51:27

    Heh. Yes, that is it exactly. (At least you never went on to watch a couple seasons of Highway to Heaven and are now frantically trying to justify it as ‘thinking Victor French was funny’. Or if you are, it will be Our Little Secret.)

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