Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert. The Ingalls family packs up and leaves their old lives behind in Walnut Grove in this heartfelt final season. 21 episodes on 6 DVDs. 1982-83/color/20 hrs/NR/fullscreen.
The ninth season of Little House on the Prairie
was re-invented as Little House: A New Beginning
after star Michael Landon decided to leave the series. (He continued to produce, direct and write for the show.) The first episode began with the departure of Landon's Pa Ingalls, who fell on hard economic times and moved his family to the city . He returned for just one harrowing two-parter, "Home Again," in which son Albert (Matthew Laborteaux) battled a morphine addiction. In Landon's absence, it was up to the other denizens of Walnut Grove to provide drama, and provide they did. The meddling, gossipy Harriet Oleson (Katherine MacGregor) played town villain, followed by her whiny adopted daughter Nancy (Allison Balson), who was annoying but never as deliciously wicked as her predecessor Nellie (Alison Arngrim, who makes a welcome guest appearance). Laura (Melissa Gilbert) is all grown up and living with husband Almanzo (Dean Butler) and their daughter Rose. The show also cast a pre-scandal Shannen Doherty as Jenny Wilder to fill the spunky young protagonist role vacated by Gilbert.
Little House continued its run of darker stories in this season, from a crazed father (Robert Loggia) who shoots his daughter and wife to a suicide attempt by Jenny after her father dies, filling in other episodes with fluffy schmaltz featuring some of the other townsfolk (you know they're desperate when an entire show is about a wayward orangutan). The series also liked to feature outcasts teaching the town lessons in tolerance: in one case a circus midget can't get a job because of his looks, and a "wild boy" turns out just to be an abused mute. Despite its attempts to fill the void left by Pa and Ma Ingalls with new characters, however, the long-running series lost its spark without Landon and did not last after the ninth season.
The boxed set includes an 86-page booklet: Little House on the Prairie A-Z by historian Patrick Loubatiere, who also interviews Dean Butler and Alison Arngrim in the DVD bonus features. The interviews don't reveal much, other than Loubatiere's smugness for knowing more about Little House than the stars of the show. --Ellen A. Kim