Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Love of Johnny Johnson (Season 1, Ep. 5)

We open on Laura, momentarily mesmerized by the new boy, before she snaps out of it to engage in some proper tomboy hat-stealing. New boy Johnny Johnson compliments Laura on her running. She's pretty good... for a girl. Oh, Johnny Johnson, in 2008, your pills would be destroyed in my feminist fist.

Willie Oleson also hates Johnny Johnson, mainly because he looks like a scarecrow in somebody's garden. I dunno about all that, but he's not my style of dreamboat, fo' sho'. Check out the reactions of the students when Johnny Johnson arrives in class.

Laura likes him, though, so she invites him to walk home with her and Mary. They pause for some rock-throwing, which Mary sucks at. Johnny (I wanna keep calling him Johnny Johnson - maybe I will) encourages Mary by telling her "you never know when you'll have to hit a varmint". That is pretty good motivation when you're living in the sticks.

Laura is head over heel for Johnny Johnson. She asks Ma if Ma and Pa were in love from the very start. Well, this Johnny Johnson is no Pa, I can tell you that. He's downright homely compared to Pa. Pa is a good looking man. Johnny Johnson is a scarecrow. It's been confirmed by independent sources.

The next day at school, Mary wins the class spelling bee, impressing Johnny Johnson. The next afternoon, he shows up at the little house, which sends Laura running to the loft to spit-smooth her hair in the mirror before coming down to see why he's there. Unfortunately, he only wants Mary to tutor him, and wants nothing to do with little Laura.

The next day, Laura comes up with an elaborate scheme of falling into the creek first thing in the morning, soaking her dress. Uh oh, now she's gonna have to wear her Sunday dress and ribbons and look all pretty for Johnny Johnson. Ma shows up at school during lunch hour to talk to Miss Beadle. "Boystruck... Johnny Johnson?" Ma whispers to Miss Beadle. Haha, I love concerned Ma.

That night at home, Laura tells Mary straight up how lame it is that instead of Mary sticking up for herself against the schoolyard boys, she yells and makes a scene so Johnny will take notice. I guess this is as far as 1870s sister-fights go: "You're two-faced, Mary Ingalls... shut up!!" But that's far enough. Ma won't hear any of it, and Laura runs to the loft.

Ma follows her and tells her that growing up is painful and all that. Well, it's about to get worse. The next day at school, Johnny asks Laura to meet him at the sweetheart tree after class. Of course, this gets Laura's hopes up... until Johnny reveals his olden days graffiti.

Mary is outraged. She doesn't even like him! Mary even gets MEAN, saying that poor, unattractive Johnny does look like a scarecrow and calling him a numbskull. Now Pa's concerned, because Johnny's 15 years old. Fifteen year old boys and his little daughters? Pa don't think so. Sadly for us, Pa doesn't get his pinwheeling fists in action, as much as I would have enjoyed it.

Laura learns to get over her heartache, with a little talk from Pa to help. He tells her, "Someday you'll have lots of beaux, sweet thing." Which isn't even really true, but whatev.

"Oh, Pa." And we never [EDIT: 'rarely'] have to see Johnny Johnson again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mr. Edward's Homecoming (Season 1, Ep. 4)

For some contrived reason, Charles is in Mankato. A ruckus overflows from the saloon! It's Mr. Edwards (not 'Edward', as the episode title would have you believe), throwing down! The saloontender offers Charles a table leg or something to defend himself. Pa's not scared; he drags Edwards outside and sobers him up by dunking him in the horse-water-box (trough??) thing.

Charles invites Edwards to come to Walnut Grove, you know, visit the family and all that. Even though he's a raging drunk, who, 3 seconds ago, was about to take out an entire bar full of people with a broken whiskey bottle.

Edwards isn't thrilled when they get to Walnut Grove and there's NO SALOON! What kind of cheesy-ass town is this? At the little house, Laura is sick in bed with a fever. Edwards spazzes. He later confesses that his wife and daughter died of smallpox and that why he freaked out at seeing Laura ill. Edwards = more complex than we ever even knew.

That night, Ma and Pa eat popcorn in bed and talk about who in town they can fix Mr. Edwards up with. The obvious answer is the Widow Snider. Unfortunately, she's already had a freakin' terrible first impression of Edwards when he was caught spitting outside the mercantile.

Pa gets Edwards a job at Hansen's mill. Edwards works at the cutter, singing the first of many, many versions of "Old Dan Tucker" that appear in this episode. Edwards ends the song with a wolf howl. Seriously.

He lifts his hat politely to a disgusted Widow Snider as she walks by. To the sounds of a slow, instrumental "Old Dan Tucker", she watches from the post office window as he drinks from an enormous brown jug, presumably filled with liquor. It's actually water, but naturally, everyone is gonna think that Edwards is boozing back the moonshine, cuz... it's Edwards. This is the guy who built a still in an abandoned field and got a goat drunk. That's just who he is.

Ma had asked Mr. Edwards to pick up the mail, so he would have a chance to talk to the Widow Snider. It doesn't go well. She shuts him down, and continues rubber-stamping envelopes with authority. Afterwards, maybe because he didn't seem as smashed in person as he should have been, she goes to the mill and starts sniffing around his brown jug. Edwards catches her and convinces her to drink out of the bottle. Now Hansen thinks Grace Snider's the alcoholic! She goes back to the post office, as Edwards sings "Old Dan Tucker (The Delight Remix)".

The comedy of errors continues at church, where Rev. Alden gives a booze sermon. Relief from your pain/struggles/burdens can ONLY come from the Lord. The sauce is not medicinal, no matter what you tell yourself. Doc Baker ain't prescribin'. After the sermon, Hansen tells Grace something like: "I hope you were paying attention to that".

Edwards doesn't go to church, which is apparently not awesome. At supper, Pa asks the girls about Sunday school. They're all up in tha WG gossip, like one girl passed a note to a little boy, and now this other girl is jealous. Pa starts getting angry; he wants to know what SUNDAY SCHOOL was about. Defeated, somber Mary says: "Sunday school was all about Jesus." Ha. Hahaha.

Inspired by Mary's story, Mr. Edwards writes a letter to himself and puts some lemon verbena that he'd bought for Laura on the envelope. He gets Laura to help address the envelope, I guess to have some feminine penwomanship. Edwards asks Laura if there's a rule in the family about having secrets. Haha, Edwards thinks the Ingalls family is so lame.

After accosting a letter carrier and forcing him to take the letter to Mankato to mail it, the letter arrives in Walnut Grove. Edwards picks it up from the post office, pulls up a chair on the post office porch, and reads it with relish right in Grace Snider's face. Grace had obviously noticed the lemon verbena scent and probably thought the letter was from some sexy lady/Beadle-esque schoolmarm in the city.

Edwards invites Grace home to the Ingalls' for supper. Charles went fishing and caught a whole mess of pike. Grace: "I haven't had pike for ages." Edwards: "[Caroline]'s gonna bawl me out right in front of the family... you don't have the good sense to ask her when you know she likes pike?!"

The Ingallses, Edwards, and Grace have a blast dancing around a bonfire to fiddle music. Edwards invites Grace to go fishing, which they do, and have a great time. Other than Laura blowing the secret about the letter. But that turned out all right... compared to what follows!!!

Edwards asks Grace to go fishing again, on Sunday morning. Like, during church. She asks him to come to church, but he doesn't believe. Grace is aghast and promptly turns down any and all non-Christian suitors.

Later, Edwards packs up his belongings in the Ingalls's hay loft where he'd been living. Ma climbs into the loft and asks him: "Do you believe in anything?" in that softly manipulative way she has of speaking, then leaves. Edwards breaks into "Old Dan Tucker (Depression Mumblemix)".

On Sunday morning, during a spirited singing of "Bringing in the Sheaves", Edwards slips quietly into church and sits next to Grace. The citizens of Hero Township continue singing, and some of the guys (including Pa) are waaayyy too into it. Like extreme head-bobbing. You should check it out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

100 Mile Walk (Season 1, Ep. 3)

We begin with Charles standing in a field, sincerely thanking the Lord for his wheat crop. Inside, he starts listing what all they can buy with the money when he sells the harvest. This is called counting your chickens before they hatch and that shit makes the Lord very angry. That night, a hailstorm from hell is unleashed upon Walnut Grove. Charles runs outside, but unless he's got a 100 acre tarp, he shoulda just stayed in bed.

The wheat's been flattened, so now the Ingalls family has no food and no money. Charles takes off on foot toward Sleepy Eye and Mankato to look for work. Jack Peters, an Irish guy, catches up to Charles a short time later, and they walk together. That night, they make a fire and cook stew. Another guy approaches the flames. His name is Jacob. He hangs out with them, and it turns out that he's a bootmaker in his spare time. Pa's boots are in shit-shape, and Jacob throws them into the woods. Pa can't afford a new pair, but this is one time that "cash on the barrel" doesn't apply.

The men find jobs in a mining quarry. Jack works as a "powder monkey", putting lit dynamite into holes in the rock, then running like hell. Charles and Jacob team up for a (slightly) less dangerous job. One guy holds a tall steel spike, while the other guy pounds it with a sledgehammer. Mind your limbs, eh?

Back at the little house, Caroline has invited all the womenfolk of Hero Township over to hear her newest plan yet. They can manually take the wheat out of whatever it is the wheat grows in and dry it in sheaves. I hope there's a montage or something of them "bringing in the sheaves". That's my favourite Little House hymn. There's a bunch of whiny divas who don't wanna do it, but seriously, bitches, what else were you gonna do all day?

Ah, yes. I called it. Now it's time for a hard-work montage of the men in the quarry and the women in the field. Pa and Jacob win a $50 prize in a drilling contest. Jack, a veteran of quarry work, taunts them from a rocky hill, saying that even with their win, they're not experienced enough to carry his jock, or some 1870s version of that. Suddenly, the rock and Jack explode into bits.

Conveniently, the job is over and Charles can go home. The quarry-owner gives him Jack's paycheque to drop off with his family. Jack has a young son who is devastated by the news. Pa makes some promises he's not gonna keep, and says he'll come visit sometime. Poor kid is so depressed, he can't even sense that Pa is just making shit up and has no intention of ever coming back.

Pa makes it back to the little house, and everyone is happy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Country Girls (Season 1, Ep. 2)

It's the first day of school for Mary and Laura. They show up in the schoolyard to the sound of group taunting. A chant of "Snipes! Snipes! Long legged snipes!" lead by Willie Oleson, who is the littlest little kid I've ever seen. How can you be a bully if you're like 2'7"?

Nellie's being a biotch, calling the Ingallses "country girls" and givin' 'em bitchface. But if you check out the head on the surly girl next to Nellie, it looks like she hates Mary and Laura more than Nellie does! Or maybe she's glaring so hatefully AT Nellie! That would be a mindtrip.

Laura becomes the class joke for asking how a blackboard works; and beautiful, smiley, lemon verbena scented Miss Beadle has to crack her ruler on the desk.

The next morning, Mary and Laura stop at the mercantile for a slate and tablet. Nellie and Willie are there, because, like, they live there. Nellie's hogging the jawbreakers and Willie is mocking Mary and Laura for being poor. I like Nels, but he put up with it for waaaayyy too long before kicking their asses out of the shop.

The girls are a penny short to get a slate pencil, so Nels offers for them to take it and pay tomorrow. These are Ingalls children, so it's cash on the barrel or nothing. They feel so bad that they have to ask Pa for more money that they decide to use their Christmas pennies to buy the slate pencil. This is depressing.

Ma's got her share of problems too, after she has the audacity to bring brown eggs in to sell at the mercantile. Mrs. Oleson is an immediate bitch, saying they're 4 cents less per dozen, which, like, isn't even true. I sense the beginning of a years-long feud.

Meanwhile, Nellie is being a recess-time tyrant, forcing all the girls to play Ring Around The Rosie. Laura wants to play Uncle John. I can't find out what type of game/activity that is. Even Google doesn't know. Nellie is infuriated that someone would go against her, and pushes Laura down twice before Laura pushes her back.

The lesson from this is DO UNTO OTHERS, which Ma and Pa say quite a hundred times in this episode.

The next day, when Ma is selling eggs again, Mrs. Oleson has the moronic guts to say that Laura is a troublemaker. Ma doesn't want any trouble. She'd already sold her brown eggs to Pa's co-workers at the mill, so Harriet wouldn't have another chance to rip her off.

On her way out of the mercantile, Ma's eye catches some beautiful blue and white printed yard goods. She stops to look, and Harriet immediately goes into customer service mode, showing Ma some cheap sturdy fabric suitable for a poor country wife such as herself. Ma buys a dress-length of the nice stuff, but totally has 1870s buyers remorse.

Visitor's Day is coming up at school and all the children have to "write what they call an 'essay'", and then read them aloud. When I was a student, I called them "e*says". It was a foul, dirty word.

Laura's got nerves about her essay. She's new to this writing thing and doesn't know all the words she wants to use. She is convinced that all the other students and their parents are gonna laugh. Ma is reverse Carrie White's mother, telling Laura that they're not gonna laugh at her.

Ma pulls an all-nighter the night before Vistor's Day to make 2 new dresses for the girls. It's very touching. At the class presentation, little Willie gives a speech about horses, followed by Nellie's essay entitled "My Home". By the time she gets to "It's the nicest furniture of any furniture in any house in Walnut Grove", Nels is almost under the desk. How the hell are these his kids??

Laura reads her essay about Ma. It's very sweet and Ma gets all teary-eyed. But not me. Nope. After the presentation, Ma checks out Laura's essay paper and there are like 3 shoddy sentences on it. She makes Laura show Miss Beadle that she hadn't read exactly what was written, but The Bead is ok with it. And that's how it ends.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Harvest of Friends (Season 1, Ep. 1)

The Ingallses left Kansas and settled at Plum Creek, near the town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Pa builds the little house, trades his team horses (named Pat and Patty - I can only think of the Backpack Shack on SNL) for a pair of oxen, and plans to plant a wheat crop.

At Oleson's Mercantile, Pa tries to get credit. Of course, he prefers "cash on the barrel" (the first of literally HUNDREDS of 'cash on the barrel' references during the series), but he's desperate to get some seed and a plough and start farming. Harriet Oleson, proprietor, basically tells him to piss off. Some long time citizens of Hero Township don't even have credit extended to them, so jog on.

Across the way at Liam O'Neil's Seed Potatoes, Pa looks longingly at a plough-rig. O'Neil's a rotten bastard, but he'll cut a deal with ya. Pa can take the seed and plough in exchange for putting a new roof on O'Neil's shed and stacking many, many grain sacks into neat floor-to-ceiling piles. He has 3 weeks to complete his end of the deal. Pa's not hip to how it works in tha WG, and expects O'Neil to take him at his word. It is the word of Charles Ingalls, so it will be done. O'Neil wants a signed mortgage with Pa's new oxen team put up as collateral, and as we know, desperate people often have no choice, and a deal is struck.

Pa works his days and nights away: ploughing and planting, roofing, stacking grain, and working at Hansen's lumber mill. By Sunday, he is so tired that he falls asleep while tying his tie for church.

At church, the rest of the family is treated to a classic Reverend Alden speech. He may seem pretty tame to most people, but I'm not into church and brainwashy shit like this scares me. He's like, 'Oh, many wives without your husbands in attendence, we are all sinners and cannot be forgiven if we don't attend church. The only excuse for not being here is DEATH. Let us sing 'Come, Sinner, Come.' That song title sounds pervy; I like it.

Mary takes it personally and is all upset that Pa's gonna go to hell or something. Dude, check out his work schedule: he's already there. It gets worse when Ma and the girls return from church to find Pa working in the field. Ma goes ballistic! It's THE SABBATH!!!

Pa realizes he's been spending too much time working and needs a day off with his family. The Ingallses have a picnic where they relax in the sunshine, run around with Jack, and fly kites. Well, Charles flies a kite. The others just have to watch him perform cocky kite tricks. Pa's string catches in a tree branch and he climbs to the top of a tall tree to detangle it. I've read enough Peanuts comics to know: You don't mess with a kite-eating tree.

Oh no! Pa falls from height, breaking 4 ribs. Doc Baker orders him to stay in bed and rest. Fall from height? I recommend calling Jim "The Hammer" Shapiro. Ma takes over at home, ploughing and planting, but Pa's debts go unpaid... until Liam O'Neil and his goon come and take the oxen. Pa is furious. He gets out of bed and pulls on his boots. Hours later, he shows up at O'Neil's business, covered in sweat and holding his ribs in agony. Doc Baker and the blacksmith look on in shock. Hansen is incredulous. Charles Ingalls has a beef with this guy... but he's in too sorry of shape to get his fists swinging. So he uses the law.

That signed collateral sheet doesn't expire until tonight! Pa still has time to finish the job! He can't even lift the bags of grain, but tries to, like, headbutt them into place. While climbing (why, Charles, why?) up a pile of sacks, he falls. Teary Mary and Laura watch from across the street. Heartless Liam O'Neil has been enjoying the show so far, and appears to like it even more when Charles's little daughters come and start pulling grain bags bigger than they are across the warehouse floor. What an unsympathetic bastard.

About a dozen menfolk of Hero Township come into the warehouse and finish the job, while Charles continues laying on the floor, smiling.

And the twist ending (not really, guys, come on) is that Hansen has set up a ploughing and harrowing contest and he wants the Ingalls family farmland to host it. They will have a crop after all! Unless... ok, I won't spoil it. You'll just have to keep reading...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Welcome to Walnut Grove

Oh, little Laura Ingalls! How I loved you! When I was younger, all I wanted were long braids and to be able to run really fast anywhere I wanted to go, with my arms and legs flailing everywhere. During my elementary years, my parents taped Little House repeats every night, so that every weekend I would have a crapload of episodes to keep me entertained (and probably, like, away from them, but let's not get into motive).

I've seen every episode over and over again, I refer to those years when the Superstation played two episodes back-to-back every morning as "the golden age of my life", and I started collecting the series DVDs as soon as they hit store shelves.

As much as I love the show, I also realize that it's a goldmine of ridiculity. Some episodes are so awkward and bizarre, they're begging to be hated on. Episode where Carrie and her identical imaginary friend go to wonderland and battle a giant spider, I'm looking at you. There were so many blind people, there could never be that many blind people, I don't care what year it is. Where the hell did Mr. Edwards go for, like, those 4 years he disappeared without a mention or a goodbye? Of course, we know that random people just showed up needing to be Helped By An Ingalls, then were never seen again. Because once you've been Helped, nothing can go wrong for you again... ever. And my personal favourite oddity, Laura and Almanzo's wedding happening smack in the middle of an Eliza Jane story arc, in some random building, with some random minister. No Reverend Alden, no citizens of Walnut Grove, just a disappointing and strange wedding that should have been a bigger deal since it was kind of the point of the show during the Laura-growing-up years.

People have always made fun of Little House for being sappy and sweet (and I do cry while watching regularly enough to kinda agree with that), but there were deranged episodes, too. The one where Sylvia, Albert's new crush, gets raped by a guy in a Nip/Tuck Carver mask. Mary's baby being used to break a window in the blind school during a fire, then catatonic Mary cradling the charred corpse while singing lullabies under a tree can give normal people nightmares. Lesserly, that one where Laura's school chum for a day drowns and the mother kidnaps Laura and holds her hostage in the basement, thinking it's her own dead daughter. And what about Mary? She is easily the most cursed character in the history of television. How cruel was Michael Landon to keep writing, directing, and approving scripts where more and more terrible shit kept happening to Mary? Spread it around some, come on.

And, all of that other stuff aside, Little House has actual humour. The dynamic between Mr. and Mrs. Oleson was the funniest stuff on the show. Nellie Oleson - where do I even start? I can't say anything new about her. She's just evilly awesome. Others may not agree, but I thought that the adoption of Nancy Oleson was good, great, and wonderful. That wail: "He haaaaaaates me!!!" gets me. I love it.

Episode after episode, year after year; let's make the journey through history and Hero Township together.