In its second season, the family historical drama Little House on the Prairie settles into the rhythm of storytelling that it would ultimately maintain for a total of ten seasons. While Season 1 had focused mainly on the Ingalls themselves, especially Laura, in the second season the stories branch out to include more of the secondary characters. Of course, we still have the strange Ingalls Neighbor Effect, in which we meet the "dear old friends" of one or another family member, the episode revolves around that character, and then we never see or hear about them again. Fortunately for the show, we can count on the ongoing involvement of the Oleson family, Dr. Baker, the Reverend, and in this season, the Ingalls' (genuine) old friend Mr. Edwards to provide a touch of continuity and community.
There are two main types of Little House episodes, and they're both in evidence here. One type is the stand-alone story (often, but not always, featuring the Ingalls Neighbor Effect), which can be a fun adventure or a more serious "message" episode, but in either case stands entirely alone. The other type, which is really more interesting, is the story that relates to the Ingalls' ongoing lives, usually by having a plot with actual consequences. In Season 2, the character of Mr. Edwards (Victor French) appears in a number of plot-focused episodes, most notably in the two-part "Remember Me" that makes him a part of an instant family. The character of John Sanderson, introduced here as one of the orphaned children whom Pa Ingalls promises to find a home for, persists into Season 3 and even Season 4 (appearing in "To Ride the Wind" and "Times of Change" as Mary's love interest). Some of Mary's future problems are foreshadowed in "Four Eyes," as well.
While the episodes that continue the story in some way are probably more memorable, the stand-alone episodes in Season 2 are handled reasonably well. Some of the more entertaining ones are the lighter-hearted ones, such as "The Gift," in which Mary and Laura's good intentions regarding a birthday present for the Reverend get them in a bit of a pickle. Other episodes are clearly identifiable as "message" stories, whether it's dealing with the loss of a parent ("Remember Me") or drug addiction ("Soldier's Return"). Even though the intent is sometimes rather transparent, and the episodes occasionally jerk a little too hard on the viewer's emotions, the stories manage to be entertaining family fare, thanks to a solid cast and a genuine sense of affection and good spirits.
Little House on the Prairie: Season 2 is a six-DVD set, containing all 21 episodes from the show's 1975-1976 season. They're packaged in a cardboard fold-out holder that slides into a glossy paperboard slipcase. A booklet with episode synopses and air dates is also included.
Little House on the Prairie doesn't have top-notch image quality at the best of times, but Season 2's image quality is disappointingly poor even with that in mind. The image is blurry in long-distant shots, and has a substantial sprinkling of print flaws and scratches. The contrast is dismal, with any dark scenes looking almost completely black, and any shadowed area losing detail. Colors are never particularly vibrant, and in fact most of the time the image has a brownish tint. What's perhaps most annoying, though, is a recurring shimmering effect in the image, in which it jiggles noticeably, as if the DVD were a straight copy of a shaky VHS tape.
The soundtrack for Season 2 is adequate, coming in with a satisfactory rating especially when compared to Season 1 and the pilot. The sound is fairly flat, but it keeps a consistent volume, and the actors' voices are nearly always sufficiently clear. The music is slightly less cheesy than in Season 1, and is balanced better with the dialogue track.
Disc 6 contains the small serving of bonus materials that Season 2 serves up. A set of "character profiles" provides filmographies for various members of the cast, including (inexplicably) one actor who won't appear in the series for a number of years. A 50-second Ingalls photo gallery presents a ho-hum set of still pictures of the cast, and the special features section finishes up with an interactive quiz on Season 2's events. Oddly, choosing the wrong answer for the first question bounced me to the start of "Soldier's Return," one of the episodes on that disc; choosing the correct answer on my next try allowed me to proceed through the rest of the quiz without further incident.
While the menus are nicely clear and easy to navigate, there are no chapters within each episode, and the opening credits have been cut from the episodes.
The stories in Little House on the Prairie: Season 2 are entertaining, warm-hearted family fare, suitable for children of a variety of ages and also fun for adults to watch along with them, even without the bonus of a nostalgic affection for the series. Ordinarily, I'd give Season 2 a "recommended" rating, but considering the dismal image quality, I can't justify it. Instead, I'll suggest renting this set, unless you're a Little House completionist. Fortunately, the image quality shapes up in Season 3. For this season, rent it.