Little House on the Prairie (TV series)

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This serene family drama on NBC, which ran from 1974 well into the 1980s, was based on the popular series of autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Michael Landon and Karen Grassle played Charles and Caroline Ingalls, a pioneer couple with three daughters: Laura (Melissa Gilbert), Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson) and Carrie (twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush). For its ninth and final season, the series was Re Tooled as Little House: A New Beginning; this was followed by three TV movies to wrap up the characters' storylines.

Tropes used in Little House on the Prairie (TV series) include:
  • Accidental Athlete: In the Baseball Episode "In the Big Inning", as Pa is getting ready for a game against a team from Sleepy Eye, he and Half-Pint are at Jebediah Mumfort's farm, where they both witness Jebediah trying to hit a chicken hawk with a rock. He throws the rock so hard, it puts holes in the side of a barn. After this display, Pa convinces Jebediah to try out for Walnut Grove's baseball team. Of course, he's a natural and helps them win the big game despite all the cheating and poor sportsmanship of those evil people from Sleepy Eye.
  • Adaptation Decay: The original books were quite unsentimental. The show? Not so much. Numerous characters and situations were also added over the years that never appeared in the books. Many of them - for example when Mary's blind husband suddenly got his sight back - were distinctly Narmy.
  • Alpha Bitch: Nellie Oleson.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Charles grows one when he takes his comatose son James, on a pilgrimage to ask God to heal the boy.
  • Berserk Button: Pa's big one is hurting or attempting to harm his wife and/or children.
  • Big Brother Bully: Nellie was a female example of this to her bother Willie, often coercing him to go along with her schemes.
    • In the episode "Annabelle", we find out the usually kindhearted Nels Oleson gave his sister Annabelle a hard time about her weight.
  • The Big Race: The aptly named episode "The Race".
  • Bit Character: Mrs. Foster.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The town ends up being given to a railroad tycoon because of a legal loophole, but before leaving, the townsfolk destroy all of the houses in it, leaving the tycoon with a giant landfill. After the colonel tells the tycoon that this was completely legal - the townsfolk still owned the buildings, the tycoon only owned the land - the mayors of several other towns say they will follow suit if the tycoon tries to use the same trick again. The townspeople then walk off, satisfied that their town's sacrifice was not in vain.
  • Butt Monkey: Poor, poor Mary. And Sylvia; mustn't forget Sylvia.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Oleson women, though they get their Pet the Dog episodes every once in a while.
  • Christmas Episode: "Christmas At Plum Creek", "Blizzard", "A Christmas They Never Forgot" and the TV movie "Bless All The Dear Children".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Edwards family vanishes without a word between the 3rd and 4th seasons.
  • Class Clown: Willie Oleson. He even has his own corner.
  • Clip Show: "The Little House Years".
  • Courtroom Episode: "Blind Justice", where a man is accused of swindling the citizens of Walnut Grove in a land deal.
    • Also "Barn Burner", where Larabee is accused of setting the Garvey barn on fire.
  • Cousin Oliver: Albert.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: As she gets older, Nellie matures and gets nicer, though she still has her moments.
  • Demoted to Extra: Carrie went from having several lines an episode and even a few small subplots to a background character who was lucky to get one line per episode.
  • Deus Angst Machina: And how!
  • Don't Split Us Up: The Sanderson children in the two-parter "Remember Me". A family wants to adopt the boys, so they can work on the farm, and Harriet's wealthy cousin wishes to adopt the girl. At the last minute, Isaiah Edwards and Grace Snider marry, and adopt all three.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Laura gets this in "Sweet Sixteen" when she gets her first teaching job. Never again will we see Laura wearing her signature braids. This is also the episode where Almanzo begins to see Laura as a young woman, and potential love interest, instead of a child.
  • Family Business: The Olesons Mercantile and Nellie's Restaurant/Hotel.
  • Family Drama
  • Flash Back: Done twice, the first showing Charles's boyhood and the second showing how he and Caroline met.
  • Flash Forward: Also done twice. The first time shows a young couple in the 1980's buying a table created by Charles. The second shows a young girl at the library, the book she picks out being Little House on the Prairie.
  • Frontier Doctor: Dr. Hiram Baker.
  • Good Shepherd: Rev. Alden.
  • Gosh Hornet: One episode in Season 6 has Albert selling Mrs. Oleson and Nellie a tree trunk filled with bees. They remain docile until Oleson's wagon begins to rock while they transport the hive home, causing the bees to angrily sting both the women as they lose control of their horses.
  • Grand Finale: "Little House: The Last Farewell".
  • Halloween Episode: "The Monster of Walnut Grove", "The Halloween Dream".
  • Happily Married: Charles and Caroline, Mary and Adam, Laura and Almanzo, and Nellie and Percival.
  • Henpecked Husband: Poor Mr. Oleson.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Pretty much the entire Ingalls family, but Pa Ingalls especially.
  • Hollywood Tone Deaf: Nancy Oleson. In real life, the actress who played her, Allison Balson, is a folk singer.
  • Hot Teacher: Averted in "Back To School, Part One". Albert dresses in his Sunday clothes on his first day of school, in anticipation of meeting the new teacher, Miss Wilder. Then he gets a look at her.
    • Although, in the previous season's episode "The Sound of Children", Albert does get a crush on substitute teacher Miss Elliott.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Laura feels this way, especially in comparison to her sister Mary.
  • If I Were a Rich Man: When Laura thinks she's found gold, she dreams of her family being extremely rich. They are dressed in beautiful clothes, own every business in town, and live in a castle.
  • Imaginary Friend: Carrie invents one in an episode.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: This was filmed in the 1970s, you say? Michael Landon's massive perm is the most noticeable giveaway, but the longish, feathered 'dos on the younger men and boys sure don't help much.
    • Plus, Landon is always freshly shaven, even when he spends several days somewhere without a razor. The real Charles Ingalls wore a full beard.
  • Infant Immortality: This trope is averted hard with the show being true to the infant mortality rates of the harsh frontier. Several babies and children die on this show.
    • The Wilder's first son, Charles Jr., dies of what seems to be leukemia before he even turns a year old.
    • Mary's infant son is killed during a fire at the blind school, as is another woman who was trapped inside.
    • Laura and Almanzo's unnamed newborn son dies suddenly during the night after becoming ill a few days before (it is believed that he was conceived too soon after his parents recovered for diphtheria causing his illness and death).
      • Later the couple's hired handyman's infant dies and Laura and Almanzo attend the funeral. Laura later admits that the thing that really broke her heart was hearing the child's name being spoken due to never having the chance to name their own before he died (the child's real life grave-marker reads Baby Son Wilder).
    • Laura and Mary's friend Ellen drowns while the three are swimming together.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Mrs. Oleson's view of a southern colonel's idea of opening a restaurant that only serves fried chicken.
    • Interesting in that the colonel was supposed to bring about the notion that this colonel was Colonel Sanders or at least that Mrs. Oleson was offered a chance to get in on the ground floor of a highly-successful restaurant idea, but she was too dumb/ignorant to realize it. Never mind that Colonel Sanders wasn't born until 1890 and that his idea only worked because of some clever marketing, a specific recipe, specific cooking techniques, and the fact that he could appeal to travelers who would otherwise not want to stop long enough to wait for chicken to cook (the cooking techniques took care of this problem).
      • "Too dumb/ignorant"?? Her outright refusal of the colonel's offer is very understandable given that she had just been released from an unreasonable contract with another operator of a chain of restaurants. If anything, the lesson of the day was more that having been "burned" by a bad experience can blind one to legitimate opportunities.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Laura and her infant brother.
  • Killed Off for Real: Many, considering this show took place in the 1800's, but most notably Alice Garvey and Adam Jr.
  • Last-Episode New Character: Sherwood Montague.
    • Rachel Brown also qualifies as this, since she marries Willie in the penultimate regular episode and was never seen before this.
  • Longest Pregnancy Ever: While most characters on the show announced their pregnancy and gave birth in the same episode, Laura's pregnancy lasted almost a year in real time. In "I Do Again", which aired in March 1981. she announces she's pregnant. She doesn't have her baby until a February 1982 episode.
  • Loophole Abuse: In the final movie a greedy railroad tycoon uses a loophole to buy Walnut Grove from under all the residents. The townspeople furious decide to abuse a loophole of their own: seeing as the tycoon owns the land but not the buildings on the land, the townspeople can do what they see fit with it. In this case, "what they see fit" to do is to blow everything up and leave the tycoon with nothing but rubble.
  • Mandatory Line: Happened frequently due to the show having Loads and Loads of Characters. Supporting cast members and sometimes even the lead cast members would appear briefly in an episode where they served no real purpose, just to comment on the plot.
  • Melodrama: In almost every episode.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Owing to its being filmed in California, the calls of the California Quail can often be heard. The show is set in Minnesota.
  • My Friends and Zoidberg Nellie begins her commencement speech with "Fellow classmates, friends...and others".
  • N-Word Privileges: The word "nigger" is used outright in at least three episodes, each dealing with racism. These include:
    • "The Wisdom Of Solomon," where a young African American boy named Solomon (played by a pre-Diff'rent Strokes Todd Bridges) remarks to his classmates what he hates about being black: "Being called a nigger."
    • "Blind Journey," a two-part episode depicting a journey students and staff of the School of the Blind take from Winoka to Mr. Hanson's old house near Walnut Grove; although Mrs. Olesen is revealed to be strongly bigoted with hints of racism (revealed in her disappointment over African American teacher's aide Hester Sue Tehrune (1950s pop vocalist Ketty Lester) not being an elite social lady), even she never utters the n-word -- this is left to racist farmer Judd Larabee (Don Barry, the former title hero in the "Red Ryder" westerns) when he sees the Ingalls and other Blind School folks treating Hester Sue as a friend.
    • "Barn Burner," where Larabee uses the racial epitat several times in an episode framed around African American farmer Joe Kagan (Moses Gunn, in a post-Good Times role). First, the farmers form a cooperative and on Charles Ingalls' persuasion invite Kagan, over Larabee's strong objections; later, when Larabee is accused of setting Jonathan Garvey's barn on fire and could hang for his crime, Kagan serves on the jury. Ironically, Kagan is the only one who believes Larabee is innocent, and manages to continue his arguments long enough for Garvey's son, Andy, to admit he left a lighted lantern too close to the barn. Larabee is acquitted and upon finding out that Kagan thought he was innocent, doesn't even thank him (Larabee made his final appearance in this episode, as it is soon revealed that he dies not long afterward, his family having left him and the townspeople shunning him).
  • No Accounting for Taste: Nels and Harriet Oleson argue constantly, and more than once, they've even separated, but the show makes clear on more than one occasion that it is a love match.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the episode "Harriet's Happenings", Sterling Murdoch, who runs a newspaper in Walnut Grove that prints malicious gossip, is thinly a veiled Rupert Murdoch. At the end of the episode, Charles publicly berates Sterling and Harriet for their actions. Michael London was very vocal about his dislike for tabloids and the stories printed about his personal life, hence the premise of this episode.
  • Nuclear Candle: In one episode, one of the girls is kidnapped and trapped in a pitch-black cellar; when her captor checks on her while holding a small candle, it's suddenly as if a spotlight was shining down.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Nellie Olson fakes paralysis after falling off a horse so her parents will give her presents and Laura will be her slave out of guilt.
    • Covered Up: Laura proves Nellie is faking it by rolling Nellie down a hill to a pond, which looks just like the rolling-down-a-hill scene in Mac and Me shot 15 years later. Guess which one got the Memetic Mutation?
    • In the episode "Family Tree", Albert tricks his biological father into letting the Ingalls adopt him by pretending to be blind.
    • In "Blind Man's Bluff" a boy injures himself and pretends to be blind to keep his parents from divorcing.
    • Inverted in "Dearest Albert, I'll Miss You" when Albert's pen pal, Leslie, hides the fact that she uses a wheelchair from Albert.
  • Only Shop in Town: Oleson's Mercantile is this to Walnut Grove.
  • Papa Wolf: Pa.
  • Pilot Movie
  • Present Day Past
  • Princess Curls: Nellie's perfect ringlets provide one of the best known examples in popular culture.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "The King is Dead".
  • Replacement Goldfish: Mrs. Oleson takes in bitchy orphan Nancy and models her in the very image of Nellie, who had recently moved to New York with her husband.
  • Rich Bitch: Harriet and Nellie Oleson.
  • Sadist Teacher: Hannibal Applewood in "Troublemaker".
    • Also, Mr. Watson in "I Remember, I Remember".
    • You can't forget Miss Peel in "Whisper Country".
  • Sense Loss Sadness: Mary's eyesight.
  • Series Fauxnale: The last episode of season four was intended to wrap things up, since Michael Landon and Co. didn't know if the show would return for season five. It's interesting that the fauxnale focused on Mary, instead of Laura, who is ostensibly the main character.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Inverted. Nellie Oleson and Luke Simms actually get a shotgun annulment, before they have a chance to consummate their marriage.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Mrs. Oleson never really catches on that her pompous, arrogant behavior does not enhance, and in fact diminishes, her family's standing.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Charles smokes a pipe in many episodes (Michael Landon was a real-life smoker).
    • Despite the apparent glamorization, Charles does discourage Albert from taking up the habit in a segment played for laughs (Albert is sitting by the fireplace, mimicking his adopted father). However, Albert does trying smoking a pipe again, with much more dire consequences; this comes in the 1980 episode "May We Make Them Proud", where Albert and a friend sneak into the basement of the School for the Blind to smoke, are shooed out and in haste, stuff a still-burning pipe in a box of towels. Later that night, the fire spreads to the upstairs, and ultimately traps and kills Alice Garvey (mother of Albert's best friend, Andy) and baby Adam Kendall (son of Mary and Adam Kendall).
  • Snowed In: Several episodes, often set around Christmas, including 1976's "The Blizzard" and 1981's "A Christmas They Never Forgot." The former was more so an effort by worried parents to find their children who were about to be lost in a fast-moving blizzard; the latter featured the family (along with their friend, Hester Sue) sitting around the table sharing Christmas memories. Laura's Christmas memory includes flashback clips from the original pilot movie, where they meet Mr. Edwards.
  • Spelling Bee: One of these happens during the episode "Harriet's Happenings".
  • Street Urchin: Albert, before the Ingalls take him back to Walnut Grove with them.
  • Sudden School Uniform: When Mrs. Oleson took over the school. Yes, she owned the only store in town that sold clothes. Or cloth, for that matter...
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Nancy Oleson, for Nellie.
    • John Carter for Charles Ingalls. Not only does John move into Charles’ old house, but he also takes Charles place at the mill and on the town council. He also stands up to the greedy railroad builders much the way Charles would have.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: In "Oleson Versus Oleson", Harriet disguises herself as a male ranch hand in order to spy on Nels and the other men at the mercantile, since the women in town have all moved into the hotel, leaving the men to take of the children and run the households themselves.
  • Television Geography: Note the title, taken directly from the book, with its reference to the lush, rolling grasslands characteristic of much of central North America. The TV series is specifically set about midway through the trek, in Minnesota. Anybody surprised that the onscreen scenery routinely featured Southern California-style mountains, trees, scrub-brush, chaparral, etc? Didn't think so.
    • You might find some people convinced the show took place in Kansas. This perception wasn't helped by the fact that the Wichita NBC station ran promos that stated the Ingalls were "Kansas' first family."
  • They Do: Laura and Almanzo.
  • Trash the Set: The whole town was destroyed in the final movie as a final Take That to the tycoon who had bought it out from under the residents. In reality, Michael Landon didn't want the set to be reused, so the movie was written around the town's destruction.
  • Two Eyes Good Four Eyes Bad: The appropriately titled episode "Four Eyes".
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Nellie gives birth to twins, Jennifer and Benjamin. This is especially convenient, since she and her husband, Percival, thinking they were only having one child, agreed to raise the baby Jewish if he was a boy, and Christian if she was a girl, to appease Nellie's mother and Percival's father.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Charles and Caroline Ingalls never adopted sons. Their daughter Mary never married (visitors to the town cemetery to this day regularly mis-identify the grave of Charles and Caroline's son, dead in infancy, as that of Mary Ingalls's fictional baby). And, a trivial little point, the town was never blown up.
  • The Western
  • The Wild West
  • Would Hurt a Child: Several episodes dealing with child abuse feature cutaways or adults punching a stunt double/mannequin/at the camera, with the child actor never taking any blows. One episode -- "The Lost Ones" (featuring Jason Bateman in one of his first regular roles) -- saw Bateman's character, James Cooper, beaten off-screen, although his screams as he took a whip were heard as his sister, Cassandra, cries. (James and Cassandra had been sent to live with a hard-drinking farmer, and James had been framed by the farmer's biological son for stealing).
  • You Look Familiar: Matthew Laborteaux who plays young Charles in flashbacks later plays the Ingalls' adopted son, Albert.
    • Kyle Richards played Recurring Character Alicia Sanderson-Edwards and guest character Samantha Harper.
    • E.J. Andre played a whopping five different characters. He played Amos Thoms in "His Father's Son", Mathew Simms in "Going Home", Zachariah in "Gold Country", "St. Peter" in "The Godsister", and Jed Cooper in "The Lost Ones" and "Uncle Jed".
    • William Schallert played Snell in "Centennial" and Russell Harmon in "The Preacher Takes A Wife".
    • Katy Kurtzman played Anna in "The Music Box" and Young Caroline in "I Remember, I Remember".
    • Jack Ging played Marshall Anders in an early episode "Survival". He would later go on to play Willie Oleson's father-in-law in "May I Have This Dance".
    • Cletus Young played antagonist Harlan in both parts of "As Long As We're Together" and Cole Parker in "Goodbye, Mrs. Wilder".