Little House on the Prairie is the epitome of the good-natured family show, and while it serves up a generous helping of sentimentality, the attention to character and story means that the series has weathered the passing of more than twenty years with both its dignity and its entertainment value intact. As we see in Season 6, Little House continues to be truly a family show: one that both the adults and the children can enjoy together. And while Little House certainly addresses "important issues" it manages to do so in a natural, non-preachy manner: the Ingalls aren't perfect (that's part of their charm) but they're certainly solid role models for both younger viewers and their parents.
Season 6 is a pivotal season in the Little House saga. One of the appealing aspects of the series has been how the characters grow and change over time; even though it's a fundamentally episodic show, it doesn't always have a "reset button" in every episode. While Season 5 saw a lot of changes for Mary, who married Adam and moved away to teach with him at the school for the blind, Season 6 has some important moments in store for Laura.
Most notably, Season 6 sees the arrival of Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler), who is fated to be Laura's husband. (That's not a spoiler even if you've never read the original Little House books, as Laura provides a foreshadowing voiceover in a key episode in this season). The two-part season opener, "Back to School," provides a nice introduction to the character of Almanzo, as well as Laura's immediate fascination with him. As the season proceeds, we see that Laura is moving out of girlhood into young womanhood, and is struggling with her own feelings as well as her parents' expectations; Pa Ingalls in particular is far from ready to give up his "Half-Pint."
Modern viewers may be surprised to see romance treated so seriously for a sixteen-year-old character, but in this case Little House is actually being true to the historical setting (and Laura Ingalls Wilder's own biography). Young people in the 19th century were expected to start life as adults much earlier than they do today, especially out on the frontier, and as we saw with Mary in an earlier season, that often included marriage at what we'd consider a very young age. When it comes to handling the shift from "little girl" to "young woman" for Laura, a character we've known and loved as a mischievous little kid, Season 6 has its work cut out for it; I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well and believably it's handled. By the end of the season, with "Sweet Sixteen" and "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," Laura has taken on a new dimension as a character.
The stand-alone episodes offer the usual variety of stories centered around the Ingalls family and the people of Walnut Grove, but in a nice change of pace from earlier seasons, a number of the stories actually affect recurring characters, rather than "neighbor of the week whom we never see again." For instance, in "The Family Tree" we see young Albert become a full part of the Ingalls family. "The Return of Mr. Edwards" has a fairly self-explanatory title, although the episode is no joyful reunion, but is surprisingly dark. Another notable episode in Season 6 is the tragic two-part episode "May We Make Them Proud."
While it's not an earth-shattering omission, I have to report that Season 6 is actually missing an episode: "The Little House Years." This three-part episode was a retrospective of the Ingalls family's favorite memories, shared as they gather for Thanksgiving, and originally aired on Nov. 15, 1979; it seems to have been shown in addition to the normal slate of 21 episodes. In any case, even though it's not exactly "original" material, it's disappointing that it's not included on the DVD set for fans of the show.
Little House on the Prairie: Season 6 is a 6-DVD set, with the discs packaged in a long cardboard fold-out case which fits inside a glossy paperboard slipcase.
Unfortunately, while the content is good, the transfer quality leaves a lot to be desired. The image is uneven in terms of quality: primary colors like the bright blue sky or Laura's red dress look bright and vivid, but most of the rest of the image looks faded and has a slightly brownish tint. The contrast is too heavy in dark scenes, and the picture is quite soft, so there's little detail to be seen in longer-distance shots. On top of that, the print isn't in very good condition: there are many speckles and flecks of dirt in the image, and several instances of shimmering distortion effects. Watchable? Yes, but a serious disappointment even accounting for the age of the material.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also sub-par. The overall sound is flat and slightly muffled, and there's a distinctly tinny quality to the sound. Whenever voices get raised – as in so many of the scenes involving Mrs. Oleson – it's noticeably harsh-sounding.
The bonus material continues to get more substantial with each season's release. In Season 6, fans are treated to several interesting special features. On Disc 1, we get an audio commentary from Alison Arngrim (who played Nellie Oleson) for "Back to School: Part 2." Even though it was recorded so long after the fact, Arngrim still has quite a few interesting and amusing anecdotes to share about the series and that episode. We also get three substantial and reasonably interesting interviews: a 20-minute interview with Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder) on Disc 2, an 11-minute interview with Alison Arngrim on Disc 4, and an 8-minute interview with Dabbs Greer (Reverend Alden) on Disc 5. Lastly, Disc 6 has the inevitable trivia quiz.
Even though the transfer quality leaves a lot to be desired, Little House on the Prairie: Season 6 still gets a "recommended" rating, as it's really a great example of truly family-friendly entertainment. Sure, it's on the sentimental side, but it's all done in such good spirits that nobody minds a little sappiness. After all, it's really the characters who make the series, and with Laura getting more of the spotlight in this season, Season 6 is especially appealing. Recommended.