There are shows that died before their time, such as Firefly. There were certainly shows that suffered from a lack of love and budget cuts, see the third season of Star Trek: The Only Non-Derivative Version. 

One television favorite of the return-to-nature wing of homeschooling is Little House on the Prairie and I would nominate it for the show that most actively destroyed itself and its original premise.

I do not say this because the show literally blew up the town where it was set. I do not say it, because the plots grew so outrageous that soon every episode was a “very-special-episode.”

No, I speak of a special and horrible doom that was Little House at the end. They changed the title to include a reference to “new beginnings,” but what we received was new only in the sense that color episodes of Andy Griffith with Warren playing the part of Barney from black-and-white episodes of Andy Griffith were new.

They were new the way Zombie Reagan would be a new president.

The show always had problems, draining much of the charm from the books. The acting and the anachronisms can be endured in the early seasons, however, a Doom fell upon the show.

That doom. like the power of the Ring in Hobbit, always lurked in the series, but by the end it overtook it.

I cannot decide if they loathed their audience, thinking that no dose of treacle could be too great, or if, by some strange and awful fate, the directors decided that we would like seeing characters die deaths wholly inappropriate to their natures, pleasant families ripped apart to tell one story, or back story ignored to wrench a tear.

The false sentimentality of the show reached such epic proportions when Albert, the adopted son of the main family, died that only watching MST3K could make a man sane.

Why did it happen?

The show did not know when to die. It began to look at what made it good and repeat the formula. It forgot that Melissa Gilbert could not act. It catered to the ego of one of its stars . . . and turned him into a prophet-sage. Mostly, the show decided that “sentiment” had made it a hit, so sentiment and only sentiment was what we were going to get.

As Spock was drilled into the ground to get a few more viewers, so sentiment was taken places even a Victorian spinster aunt would have feared to go.

What should we learn on the other side of this cultural debacle? At least three lessons I think.

First, watch nothing starring Melissa Gilbert. Hope and I were once trapped in a hotel room with our kids, tired from travel,  and with nothing to do . . . and trust me even another alphabet game is better that Melissa Gilbert in Diary of Anne Frank.

Second, quite while you are ahead. I am always tempted to conclude a message three times . . . but as the end of Return of the King warns this is a mistake. Little House shows it an undercut all you have done.

Internet discussions always tempt me to make one last point . . . until the only readers are gone.

Finally, sometimes you have a particular gift that in combination with your other gifts is very attractive. The danger is that you twist that gift from all the rest and learn to rely on it alone. Kill the frame and the smaller gifts and the great good can become a monstrous carbuncle.

If you are Meg Ryan, you twinkle, and the audience cheers, but God help you if  you become reduced to twinkle.

If you are Little House, the best episodes make us feel sentimental, but strip away any irony, any hint of anything else and leave only Wholesome Sentiment and we come to loath what we should love.

When the Pythons are only “edgy,” they are fall of the edge.

For an entire generation, Little House serves as warning that being good at a thing is best when it is in the context of lots of other things.

Bloggers beware. Some of us are good at sarcasm . . . others at pop-culture references . . . but we must never be reduced to this.

I think I always run the risk of a post with too many “. . . ” and too many words with odd caps (“Love”) combined with Victorian references.

(A line I must never write: “We must . . . must . . . Love  . . . that which is Must . . . or the game will not be worth the Candle.”)

Even if at times this has worked for me in another context, I must not be reduced to it. We have all read bloggers who become only one thing, one topic, one idea.

So may the doom of Little House be avoided. May the I be canceled like Joss Whedon before my show outruns the idea . . . and may I never, ever write a single thing as witless as the episode Home Again.

Articles by John Mark Reynolds

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