What makes Little House on the Prairie a cut above the standard, forgettable "family drama" is, on the one hand, its interesting historical setting and likable characters, and on the other hand, its willingness to let the lives of the characters develop and change over the course of the show. Sure, it's pretty sentimental stuff... but it's reasonably well done sentimental stuff that manages to be a "family show" without condescending to either adult or child viewers.
Season 5 opens on a somber note, as most of the inhabitants of Walnut Grove, their livelihoods vanishing because of the big-business tactics of the railroads, pack up and prepare to set off for new pastures. The two-part "As Long as We're Together" follows the Ingalls as they head off to make a living in the big city, where Mary is teaching at a school for the blind. The economic struggles of the family and their decision to move on is an accurate portrayal of life for the 19th century pioneers, and captures the general themes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books even though the specific stories are not based directly on her work. Season 5 manages to make some good use out of the change in location, with "The Winoka Warriors" and "The Man Inside" both set in the city, until rather inevitably we get a return to Walnut Grove in "There's No Place Like Home."
In addition to the Ingalls family, we see more of several recurring characters, including Adam, who cements his place in the family in "The Wedding," and of course the Olesons. A new friend of the family is introduced in the opening episode and continues to appear in later stories: this is the orphan boy Albert, who provides a welcome companion-in-adventure for Laura, who remains the most lively and entertaining character in the family.
Most of the episodes are purely stand-alone. Some are purely fun stories, such as "The Lake Kezia Monster" in which Laura and Albert conspire to invent a local monster to help a friend, while quite a few are "message" episodes that tackle the topic of bigotry from several angles, in episodes like "The Craftsman" and "Barn Burner." And, of course, we get the standard assortment of episodes dealing with friends of the Ingalls, who conveniently appear in just one episode and then are never heard of again. But for fans who enjoy seeing the "life story" of the Ingalls, there are several episodes here that mark significant milestones in the pioneer family's life: the aforementioned "The Wedding" as well as "The Sound of Children," both dealing with Mary. Rather oddly, the season ends not with an episode dealing with the family directly, but with the sappy and forgettable "The Odyssey," in which the Ingalls family helps a dying boy get his wish to see the ocean. In any case, though, fans will enjoy this set of episodes.
Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Fifth Season is packaged in the same style as the earlier seasons, with the six discs in a cardboard fold-out piece which fits into a glossy paperboard slipcase. All 21 episodes from the show's 1978-1979 season are included. The episodes are Region 0 (all region) and NTSC format.
I found the transfer quality of the Season 5 episodes to be rather disappointing, barely squeaking by with an average mark for image quality when the age of the prints is taken into consideration. The image is very soft, as it is in the earlier seasons, so longer-distance shots are lacking in detail. Colors are not well represented here: most of the episodes have a faded, grayish appearance to them. Later in the season we do see some improvement, but the colors never approach anything that could be called "vibrant." The print quality appears to vary from episode to episode; some are very clean, while others display quite a few scratches.
Overall, the episodes are watchable but they aren't the pristine transfers that fans may have hoped for.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack falls below what I'd consider an acceptable mark here. The dialogue is not handled well: at normal volume levels it has a muffled quality to it on many occasions, and a harshness creeps into the sound whenever the actors raise their voices. The music sounds reasonably good, though it's a bit overly loud in the music-only scenes.
In the special features department, Season 5 offers more of interest than the earlier seasons. We get two interviews that were filmed on the occasion of Little House's 30th anniversary: a 10-minute piece with Dabbs Greer (Rev. Alden) on Disc 1 and a 12-minute one with Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) on Disc 3. It's interesting to hear the actors reflecting back on their experiences with the show after the passage of quite a lot of time. Disc 6 also contains a multiple-choice trivia quiz about the events of Season 5.
Little House on the Prairie offers a respectable package of family-friendly episodes, in the positive sense of the word: these are stories that will be enjoyed by adults partly for their nostalgia value and partly for their warm and sentimental stories, and by children for the adventures of the child characters in an interesting setting. While the transfer for Season 5 could certainly be better, it's watchable; I'll give this a "recommended."