Did you ever sit your kid down and start reading what you remember as a great children’s classic, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, only to discover that the first chapter is all about slaughtering the family pig, then cutting it up and preparing it for the long winter? And did your child look at you with a well-meaning but grossed out expression and ask, “What’s a pig bladder, mommy?”
You won’t be surprised to hear that I did. And that experience reminded me, among other things, that good stories always lose something in the translation to television. Little House the series of books was many things “Little House” the long-running TV series was not. Among those things was a hard-core look at prairie living. On the show, life on the prairie is as sweet and innocent as Laura’s little braids hanging down off her cute little head.
Television has always been great at creating fantasy worlds of days gone by – shows like “Bonanza” and “The Big Valley,” and “Little House” made us feel like there once was a simple, pure-of-heart America we could be proud of – unlike the confusing, loud and generally complicated one we really live in.
Well, this week ABC and “The Wonderful World of Disney” roll out a more “realistic” version of Wilder’s frontier with “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie,” a mini-series that, as ABC describes it, was “filmed on location in a pristine region of Calgary over more than four months.” Producers say, “The epic production of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ recaptures the scope and magnitude of the frontier and recreates the literary saga with painstaking accuracy.”
The show begins with a two-hour opener and will run for four more consecutive Saturdays. The first episode begins with the Wilder family’s trek from Wisconsin to a land claim on the Kansas prairie.
ABC is going to great lengths to let people know beforehand that the mini-series isn’t a remake of the television series, not that it will do any good. For better or worse, that’s the “Little House” the viewers know. They will likely be a tad unsettled to learn that there was once a real story there – not a just cutesy, palatable one.
Then again, how realistic can it be? We’re talking “The Wonderful World of Disney” here, folks. Don’t expect to see much pig’s blood.
Speaking of remakes and updates, there are more coming your way. This Thursday at 9:30 p.m., NBC treads very dangerous waters to bring the long-awaited premiere of the Americanized version of the BBC smash hit, “The Office.” So far, reviews have been mixed. But reviews don’t matter – what matters is what the public thinks! (Right?) NBC hasn’t committed fully to the project yet, as the jury is still out on whether the same laughs can be generated over here by the series’ rather subtle cinema verite or, if you will, “mockumentary” style.
Apparently, the cameraman working on this version of “The Office” cut his teeth on the first “Survivor” episode and was told to film “The Office” much the same way, looking for unpredictable reaction shots and the like. Reality show formats are now as saturated in the mainstream as the sitcom format or the nightly cop drama; so people know what to expect. How will the satire play now that it’s just a few years older? Will familiarity breed contempt?
To appreciate the British version of “The Office” one has to pay close attention to what’s going on around the fringes of the action. You can’t half watch it. Most American sitcoms work whether you’re on your way to the bathroom or the kitchen – the jokes are broad and loud, easy to read. Not so with the British “Office” (which is no longer on the air). Will it be so with the American version? We shall see.
Finally, they’re bringing back Kojak, made famous in the ’70s by Telly Savalas. This time, Ving Rhames plays the sultry bald eagle – which, I believe, makes him one of the only, if not the only black male currently heading up a nightly cop show. Granted, it’s on USA and not one of the major networks, but still. No doubt Kojak will still want to know, “who loves ya, baby?”
Chazz Palminteri co-stars in the drama, which has its first airing Friday night at 9 p.m. on the USA network.
Thursday, March 24
As Good as it Gets (***), Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, 7:30 p.m., TNT.
Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, 8 p.m., BRAVO.
Wild Man Blues (****), revealing look at Woody Allen’s private life, 8 p.m., BRAVO.
The Office, the American version, premieres, 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Friday, March 25
The Shroud of Turin, 8 p.m., HISTORY.
Birthday Girl (***), with Nicole Kidman doing Russian, 8 p.m., IFC.
Sleepless in Seattle (***), 8:30 p.m., TNT.
36th Annual NAACP Image Awards, 8 p.m., FOX.
Saturday, March 26
Hoosiers (***), small town basketball team makes good, 8 p.m., KTLA.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, the update, 8 p.m., ABC.
Somewhere in Time (***), 8 p.m., WE.
Waterworld (*), Kevin Costner’s gargantuan raft movie, 8 p.m., BRAVO.
Sunday, March 27
Masterpiece Theatre: Bertie and Elizabeth, 9 p.m., KCET.
James Patterson’s Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, 9 p.m., CBS.
Desperate Housewives, returns at last! 9 p.m., ABC.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (***), 9 p.m., TCM.
Monday, March 28
Paris, Texas (***), Sam Shepard scripted surreal love story, 7:30 p.m., FMC.
The American Experience: Emma Goldman, 9 p.m., KCET.
The Breakfast Club (***), wouldn’t it make a great ‘80s nostalgia musical? 9 p.m., AMC.
Medium, 10 p.m., NBC.
Tuesday, March 29
Anne of a Thousand Days (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM.
American Idol, which surprises await? 8 p.m., FOX.
The Office, 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Krakatoa, 9 p.m., KCET.
Wednesday, March 30
Heartburn (***), Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, 7:30 p.m., WE.
American Masters: Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin, 9 p.m., KCET.
They Live (***), John Carpenter’s sci-fi cult classic, 9:15 p.m., AMC.
Eyes, premieres, 10 p.m., NBC.