Series / Little House on the Prairie

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/lhotp_2692.jpg

This serene family drama on NBC, which ran from 1974 well into the 1980s, was based on the popular series of autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Michael Landon and Karen Grassle played Charles and Caroline Ingalls, a pioneer couple with three daughters: Laura (Melissa Gilbert), Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson) and Carrie (twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush). For its ninth and final season, the series was Re Tooled as Little House: A New Beginning; this was followed by three TV movies to wrap up the characters' storylines.


This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Surprisingly frequent for the show. Guest character Todd from "The Angry Heart" had an abusive dad. James and Cassandra, the orphans Ma and Pa adopt later in the series, briefly lived with an abusive guardian. Albert's nightmares soon after his adoption imply he suffered abuse at a city orphanage.
    • Horribly so in "Sylvia", where the titular character's father turns against her and monstrously overprotective after she gets raped. It's even implied she was a wife-killing childbirth because her father remarks that she has the same "devil" in her that killed her ma, making her The Unfavorite. Naturally, his abuse leads to her death as well and now he gets to die alone.
  • Academic Athlete:
    • Laura Ingalls Wilder will get dirty and play baseball as a child but at sixteen she becomes more elegant and gets her first teaching job.
    • Albert, who plays football in a number of episodes.
  • Accidental Athlete: In the Baseball Episode "In the Big Inning", as Charles is getting ready for a game against a team from Sleepy Eye, he and Half-Pint are at Jebediah Mumfort's farm, where they both witness Jebediah trying to hit a chicken hawk with a rock. He throws the rock so hard, it puts holes in the side of a barn. After this display, Charles convinces Jebediah to try out for Walnut Grove's baseball team. Of course, he's a natural and helps them win the big game despite all the cheating and poor sportsmanship of those evil people from Sleepy Eye.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Harriet Oleson was generally kind and polite in the books, but in the TV series she's a malicious gossip.
  • Alpha Bitch:
    • Nellie Oleson, in an extreme case of I Just Want to Be Loved. Until Percival Dalton shows up and calls her pretty, giving her the attention and love she so desperately wants from somebody.
    • In later years, Nancy Oleson, who is also a Doppelganger for Nellie and many times worse than she ever was.
    • Jeb Standish in the Winoka episodes is a rare male example. His father, Standish essentially owns the town. Jeb bullies Albert, Laura and others with words rather than fists.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Half-Pint for Laura, even into adulthood.
    • Starting with the opener of Season 6, we have "Manly" and "Beth" between Laura and Almanzo- Laura accidentally calls Almanzo "Manly" in a love-struck stupor, and Almanzo likes it enough to keep the nickname, deciding that he should give one to Laura. After a discussion about their middle names (his is James), Laura tells him her middle name is Elizabeth and he shortens it to "Beth".
  • Angel Unaware: Jonathan in "The Lord is My Shepherd" and the unnamed old man in "He Was Only Twelve".
  • Armor-Piercing Response: In "Look Back to Yesterday", Nancy asks Albert what it's like knowing he's going to die. He replies that, while he was scared and angry at first, what's important is to make and have good memories that you can look back on. Everyone is moved to tears after his speech, especially Nancy.
  • Back for the Finale: Karen Grassle came back one last time for "The Last Farewell" because her character was very important to the events of the final episode and her interactions with her husband Charles helped move the story along to the bitter end.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Charles grows one when he takes his comatose son James, on a pilgrimage to ask God to heal the boy. Ironically, this was the only time Michael Landon resembled the real life Charles Ingalls, who sported a beard (he hated the idea of hiding his face).
  • Bee Afraid: One episode in Season 6 has Albert selling Mrs. Oleson and Nellie a tree trunk filled with bees. They remain docile until Oleson's wagon begins to rock while they transport the hive home, causing the bees to angrily sting both the women as they lose control of their horses.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When Charles Ingalls Jr. was born, Laura got jealous of him and essentially wished he didn't exist, refusing to bless him. He died only days later. Then, just to twist the knife and give her a taste of her own medicine, Laura herself had a baby boy, who died so abruptly that she didn't even get to name him. In fact, Laura's sin seemed to implant a Biblical-esque curse that trickled down to every male firstborn in the Ingalls family, as Mary's own child was incinerated in a fire, and Albert, the oldest adopted boy, died from leukemia (it's implied, but the episode ended on a Hope Spot to avoid being too relentlessly sad). Even James was nearly killed because he was the firstborn male of the Cooper family, but Charles broke the curse through faith (and, heavily implied, having his own lifespan severely reduced to restore James given his hair in the next episode and especially in future appearances).
  • Big Brother Bully:
    • Nellie was a female example of this to her brother Willie, often coercing him to go along with her schemes. Willie later falls into this in a more justified manner when Nancy gets adopted because she's such a Spoiled Brat, but it almost always backfires dramatically when Nancy goes running into the arms of her adoptive coddling Mother Harriet and whining that Willie hates her.
    • In the episode "Annabelle", we find out the usually kind-hearted Nels Oleson gave his sister Annabelle a hard time about her weight.
  • Big Eater: Willie Oleson, to the point where his father laments "Where does he put it all?"
    • In "Here Come The Brides", Luke Simms eats so much that even Willie no longer has an appetite.
    • Elmer Miles in "For The Love of Nancy"
    • In a sad twist, Nels's titular sister in "Annabelle" gets teased for how much she weighs and eats by his own wife, because he kept her existence a secret out of shame.
  • The Big Race: The aptly named episode "The Race".
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Olesons certainly qualify, between Mrs. Oleson's grating, harsh, manipulative personality and rampant prejudice, Nels' inability or unwillingness to stand up to her, and her children's bratty and manipulative behavior. Once you throw Nancy into the mix, well, it all goes Up to Eleven.
  • Bit Character: Mrs. Foster. Such a bit character that they simply used the real surname of the actress (Ruth Foster) for the character.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A railroad tycoon holds the deed to Hero Township because of a legal loophole, but before leaving, the residents of Walnut Grove destroy all of the houses in it, leaving the tycoon with a giant landfill. After the colonel tells the tycoon that this was completely legal - the townsfolk still owned the buildings, the tycoon only owned the land - the mayors of several other towns say they will follow suit if the tycoon tries to use the same trick again. The townspeople then walk off, satisfied that their town's sacrifice was not in vain.
  • Body Horror: Ma Ingalls and her nasty infection in "A Matter of Faith".
  • The Boxing Episode: "The Fighter"
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Nellie Oleson and Laura, ever the smart-mouth, also had her moments.
  • Break the Cutie/Kill the Cutie: Drawn out before enforced, respectively, in "Sylvia," a two-part episode from late in Season 7. Sylvia (Olivia Barash) is a beautiful but mature-for-her-age 14-year-old girl who endures hell after hell throughout her stay in Walnut Grove. She is sexually harassed by the boys at school, viciously raped by a masked man (and impregnated as a result), emotionally abused by her distant father (who also forces her to conceal her adolescent development) ... and then scandalized by Mrs. Oleson when she claims that Albert Ingalls is her baby's father. Albert seems to be her only friend, but even his parents are concerned that his association with her will bring nothing but trouble. In the end, Sylvia dies, her fatal last incident coming when she falls from a rickety ladder in a ramshackle barn to escape the rapist – it was the previously unseen town blacksmith – who had come back to rape her again.
  • Breather Episode:
    • "Boys Will Be Men", a surprisingly lighthearted and comedic episode about Albert and Andy successfully proving they can be men by walking to Sleepy Eye and back, while their fathers struggle to keep up with them.
    • The episode where Laura and Almanzo babysit Royal's boys.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Willie calls out his mother when she tries to keep him from marrying the girl he loves.
    • In "Gambini the Great," the eponymous stuntman Gambini gets one from his oldest son, who is concerned about his aging dad's death-defying stunts and also does not want to carry on the family tradition.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Oleson women, though they get their Pet the Dog episodes every once in a while.
  • Catch-Phrase: Hariet Oleson "Oh for HEAVEN'S sake!"
  • Christmas Episode: "Christmas At Plum Creek", "Blizzard", "A Christmas They Never Forgot" and the TV movie "Bless All The Dear Children".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Edwards family vanishes between the 3rd and 4th seasons. It is mentioned that they moved away from Walnut Grove, and at the end of the third season, had gone to California with the Ingalls family during a bum year for crops thanks to a flood to try and strike it rich but decided not to go elsewhere at the close of the two-parter after California didn't work out. The Edwards' oldest son, John, is in the second episode of the fourth season (where it's discovered he's cheating on Mary and rightfully written out of the series because he no longer deserves to show up again), and the rest of the Edwards family appears in a Season Six episode (when Laura and Pa visit them), and Mr. Edwards turns up again in Season Eight when his marriage crumbles and becomes a regular after he moves back to Walnut Grove.
  • Circus Episode: Season Five's "Annabelle" has Mr. Oleson's estranged sister working as the Fat Lady in a touring circus, while Laura appears in it disguised as a clown.
  • Class Clown: Willie Oleson. He even has his own corner. It gets a sad reprise in the final season when Laura leaves her teaching post, because she was very kind to Willie. Willie politely asks to stand in the corner one last time for old times' sake... so he can hide the fact he's crying.
  • Clip Show: "The Little House Years"
  • Community-Threatening Construction: In an episode, the railroad was coming to town and bringing with it drunks and other rowdies that would completely transform the character of Walnut Grove. The town fought against the railroad and the railroad redirected to go to a different small town. Sadly, another railroad pressed the town even harder with plans to buy up the land and led to its ultimate destruction.
  • Converting for Love: Averted with the marriage between Percival and Nellie who respect each others' faith and background.
  • Cosmic Plaything: The Ingalls family in general, but especially Albert:
    • He spends much of his early life being regularly abused in orphanages until he runs away, eventually ending up in Winoka and barely survives by being a thief.
    • Charles gets him to come with the rest of his family to Walnut Grove, where early on he's cruelly picked on (and beat up) by others for being a "bastard". And when Charles goes to legally adopt Albert, Jeremy Quinn, his biological father shows up and wants to take him in as a farmhand, and has no intent of treating like a son, nor does he even have a wife anymore, if ever at all (meaning Albert really could be a bastard). Luckily, he escapes that by feigning blindness to his father and gets adopted by Charles.
    • Some time later he's partially responsible for the deaths of Mary's son and Alice Garvey by, along with another boy, accidentally burning down the blind school with a lit pipe. He has so much guilt that he decides to run away and go to his biological father, only to discover he's dead, having unexpectedly kicked the bucket since they last met, a final kick to the teeth. Charles finds him and convinces him to come back home.
    • He falls in love with Sylvia, who gets horribly raped and then pregnant by the town's blacksmith, and plans to run away with her. She gets fatally injured when trying to get away from said rapist and later dies.
    • Years later he gets addicted to morphine, becoming almost an entirely different person, but manages to break the habit before it completely destroys him.
    • Just when you think things are finally looking up for him, he's found to be terminally ill with leukemia right after finding out he received a full scholarship to medical school. So he goes back to Walnut Grove to spend his last days, and presumably dies not long after.
  • Court Room Episode:
    • "Blind Justice", where a man is accused of swindling the citizens of Walnut Grove in a land deal.
    • "Barn Burner", where Larabee is accused of setting the Garvey barn on fire.
  • Cousin Oliver: Albert (when Mary got older), and later James and Cassandra (when Laura got older). Then in the last season, Jenny (when there was no one left to fill the role of Kid-Appeal Character).
  • Daddy's Girl: Laura, very much so. In fact, she gets jealous of Albert because he quickly wins Pa's affections.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Late in the series, Mr. Edwards adopts Matthew Rogers, an orphan boy who has been horribly abused because he is mute. In Season 9, Matthew's natural dad shows up and claims this. Technically, he probably did have a good reason since Matthew's parents were literally starving at the time and could not provide for him. Whether that makes up for, in any way, what Matthew went through afterward, is debatable.
  • Dark Secret: In Season 1, episode 4, Isaiah reveals that he is the only survivor of a plague that took his wife and little girl. A later episode sees him reencounter the plague and deal with the fear of losing his family again after getting remarried to equally-widowed Grace Snider and taking in three children whose parents have died.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: Albert's Leukemia spells certain doom as he begins to have nosebleeds in "Look Back to Yesterday".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nels, often as a reaction to his wife Harriet
  • December–December Romance: Reverend Alden and Anna Craig
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: As she gets older, Nellie matures and gets nicer, though she still has her moments. Though later in the series, most of her wrath is directed towards her mother.
  • Demoted to Extra: Carrie went from having several lines an episode and even a few small subplots to a background character who was lucky to get one line per episode. Carrie was essentially a mute well before the Ingalls family left Walnut Grove. As the actresses grew, neither bothered to learn to act, so they quit giving her lines because they didn't want to kill the character off. Her delivery was also infamously unclear. TV Land would do a joke spot years later: "Thank you, Carrie Ingalls, for whatever it was you just said."
    • Carrie had one episode that focused on her (a 90-minute one at that, "The Godsister"). She was never focused on again afterwards, likely due to said lack of acting skills that were painfully apparent in that episode. The other one, arguably, was "Little Girl Lost", in which she was stuck in a mine shaft for the whole of the episode and thus unable to communicate.
  • Designated Victim:
    • Poor, poor Mary. If something bad had to happen, it was going to happen to her.
    • Laura's niece Jenny. Her first appearance had her so devastated by her father's death that she tries to drown herself in the lake, arguably not fully realizing the implications of suicide, but still getting an angry lecture from Laura. One of her last appearances involved her contraction of brain damage as a result of nearly drowning—again—while going after a treasured locket. Apparently, the writers were bent on trying to drown this character but weren't allowed to actually do it. This after doing so for real to a one-off girl in Season 4.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Just when you think everything's going good for characters on this show, something will happen to make them suffer. Often in rapid sequence.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Luke Simms never wears shoes because he just never really took a liking to them, first noted when he gets jabbed by splintered wood in the schoolhouse floorboards and says he has tough feet. Eva Beadle doesn't mind. However, Harriet Oleson finds that repugnant when her daughter takes to courting a "barefoot bumpkin".
    • None of the children at the school Mary taught prior to going blind wore shoes; all of them were always barefoot. The girl whose family she lived with even ditched her shoes anytime she went indoors (although it's pretty clear that the only reason she's seen with shoes during filming outside is for practical reasons, because it would obviously be painful to the untrained feet to walk across rocks and other junk barefooted).
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Misbehaving children are frequently threatened with or given whippings. However excessive or particularly brutal corporal punishment is presented as child abuse.
  • Don't Split Us Up: At least two episodes:
    • "Remember Me," a two parter from midway through the second season. The Sanderson children are faced with separation when a family wants to adopt the boys as farmhands, while Harriet's wealthy cousin wishes to adopt little Alicia. At the last minute, Mr. Edwards and Grace Snider marry, and adopt all three.
    • "A Silent Cry," from early in Season 7, saw Houston (the cantankerous landlord of the Harriet Oleson School for the Blind) make a successful attempt to adopt two orphaned brothers. Before the adoption takes place, the requisite drama sees numerous families want to adopt the older, stronger of the two boys, but not the younger one, a tiny boy who has multiple disabilities, including muteness. (The episode itself is a rewrite of a Bonanza script Michael Landon wrote late in that series' run; the major changes involve crossing out names and replacing them with newer ones.)
  • Doomed Hometown: A rare instance where such occurs at the end of the series- in the wake of becoming a Company Town, Walnut Grove's citizens decide to wipe out their own town with dynamite and leave behind nothing. It is easily the most heart-wrenching moment of the finale, because the entire town gathers to pay their respects as they all take turns blowing up their old residences, and silencing the last living trace of Lars Hanson's legacy, after his death and his house, later used as the blind school, burned down.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Just about once a season, something disastrous will cruelly whack a character from the show. Even the pets and newborns. This show also loves to be exacting in how it kills off the spares. Surviving parties of widowed spouses will often die and sometimes drop off off-screen; for instance, through one line of dialogue in "Will Somebody Please Love Me?", we find out that Charles's father has now died, after his debut episode was about his wife, Charles's mother dying. Then the exact same thing happens to Papa Holbrook, Caroline's stepdad, when her mother dies so fast she doesn't even make it into the story beyond a posthumous flashback and he learn from Laura that Grandpa Holbrook will die two years from when they said goodbye to him after he became a successful author (this transpires during Season 6, so sometime within the time period of Season 8). Furthermore, there's the shocking discovery Albert makes in discovering his birth father Jeremy dropped dead on the farm in between their one and only meeting after he gave the boy up for adoption for personal reasons. And then there's Adam Kendall's father, whose death results in the end of plans to rebuild the blind school after it burned down because he racked up accumulating debts he never paid off, leading to the Kendalls relocating to Sleepy Eye.
  • Dramatic Irony: In Season 5, Adam Kendall reveals he lost his sight after taking a spill in a river and conking his head on rocks, causing a concussion that compressed the area around his eyes and made them incapable of functioning. That season also plays with the possibility Mary is regaining her sight but it's a fluke, and Adam seems to be a little jealous, while the couple contemplates what would happen if Adam were the one to regain his sight. Two seasons later, Adam takes a spill while feeling his way around a cluttered storage shed, knocking over some crates of nitroglycerin that were just placed inside while he stepped out. He has no way of knowing they've been placed there and assumes his path is clear. He crashes into them and spills the stock, and the resulting explosion blows out the entire side of the building... and hits him with enough force to concuss him again, undoing the compression and restoring his sight, allowing him to resume his original plans to become a lawyer while Mary has to deal with the resulting jealousy.
  • Drugs Are Bad: In the two-parter "Home Again," Albert is shown to have become addicted to morphine while living in the city; the episode pulls no punches in showing the consequences of drug use, and Albert's excruciating withdrawal.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Laura gets this in "Sweet Sixteen" when she gets her first teaching job. Never again will we see Laura wearing her signature braids. This is also the episode where Almanzo begins to see Laura as a young woman, and potential love interest, instead of as a child. Following this, Carrie inherits Laura's braids to show her growth into around the age Laura was at the start of the series and take her place as the peppy child of the family.
  • Family Business: Oleson's Mercantile and Nellie's Restaurant/Hotel (changed to Caroline's Restaurant at the end of Season 6 because she sucks at cooking and Percival is brought in to remove the bad light this has cast on the hotel reputation).
  • Family Drama: Very focused around the Ingalls family and a Christian community, where bad things happen to good people in the grueling western frontiers but they rely on each other to pull through.
  • Family Theme Naming: With the exception of Harriet, the Olesons. Nels and Nellie are both derivatives of "Nels" or "Danielle" (Wordof God says this is Nellie's real name). Willie, as a derivative of William, is within the same family. Adopted daughter Nancy, with an "N" first initial, fits in, too.
  • Flash Back: Done twice, the first showing Charles's boyhood and the second showing how he and Caroline met.
  • Flash Forward: Also done twice. The first time shows a young couple in the late 1970s buying a table created by Charles. The second shows a young girl at the library, the book she picks out being Little House on the Prairie.
  • Frontier Doctor: Dr. Hiram Baker
  • Gilligan Cut: In "The Campout" Charles happily agrees to let Nels, Nellie and Willie come along on the Ingalls' camping trip (the kids must all gather leaves for a school project). When Harriet invites herself along, Charles complains to Caroline and says he refuses to go camping with "that woman". The next scene shows Charles and the other Ingalls walking towards their campsite with the Olesons, including Harriet, bringing up the rear.
  • Good Shepherd: Rev. Alden.
  • Grand Finale: "Little House: The Last Farewell"
  • Halloween Episode: "The Monster of Walnut Grove", "The Halloween Dream"
  • Happily Married: Charles and Caroline, Mary and Adam, Laura and Almanzo, and Nellie and Percival.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Mrs. Oleson, by far. She'd learn some grand lesson or otherwise be humbled only to be right back to the way she was before in the next episode. The only thing that really stuck was her softened attitude towards blacks, which was a painful lesson she learned in "Blind Journey".
  • Henpecked Husband: Poor Mr. Oleson
  • Historical Beauty Update: Pretty much the entire Ingalls family, but Pa Ingalls especially.
  • Hot Teacher: Averted in "Back To School, Part One". Albert dresses in his Sunday clothes on his first day of school, in anticipation of meeting the new teacher, Miss Wilder. Then he gets a look at her.
    • Although, in the previous season's episode "The Sound of Children" Albert does get a crush on substitute teacher Miss Elliott.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf:
    • Nancy Oleson. In real life, the actress who played her, Allison Balson, is a folk singer.
    • Nancy's predecessor, Nellie. Unlike Balson, Allison Arngrim — by her own admission — cannot sing worth a lick.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Charles' friend Jack Prescott in the episode "The Legacy."
  • Hollywood History: Although set in the 1870s (at the series' start in 1974), many of the stories reflect the values and morals of the 1970s and early 1980s. Michael Landon's hairstyle is clearly the thick, bushy style of the 1970s. Reverend Alden's usual preaching style and temperament reflects the changing, liberal views of the Bible that were coming into vogue in the 1970s, compared to the then-standard fire-and-brimstone style. This is even lampshaded in the season 6 episode "The Faith Healer," when a charismatic man claiming to have healing powers woos most of Alden's congregation, with a preaching style that Alden partially wishes he had.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Laura feels this way, especially in comparison to her sister Mary.
  • I Have No Son: Invoked by Gambini in "Gambini the Great" to his oldest son Stephano. He comes around.
  • If I Were a Rich Man: When Laura thinks she's found gold, she dreams of her family being extremely rich. They are dressed in beautiful clothes, own every business in town, and live in a castle.
    • She can't resist adding a sulking Nellie Oleson and family glaring at her in sheer jealousy, all of them wearing dusty feed sacks and living in a ramshackle hut.
  • Imaginary Friend: Carrie invents one in an episode.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: This was filmed in the 1970s, you say? Michael Landon's massive perm is the most noticeable giveaway, but the longish, feathered 'dos on the younger men and boys sure don't help much.
    • Plus, Landon is always freshly shaven, even when he spends several days somewhere without a razor. The real Charles Ingalls wore a full beard.
  • Infant Immortality: This trope is averted with the show being true to the infant mortality rates of the harsh frontier. Several babies and children die on this show.
    • The Ingalls' first son, Charles Jr., dies of what seems to be leukemia before he even turns a year old.
    • Mary's infant son is killed during a fire at the blind school.
      • And she miscarried a year before that.
    • Laura and Almanzo's unnamed newborn son dies suddenly during the night after becoming ill a few days before. (It is believed that he was conceived too soon after his parents recovered from diphtheria, causing his illness and death.)
      • Later the couple's hired handyman's infant dies and Laura and Almanzo attend the funeral. Laura later admits that the thing that really broke her heart was hearing the child's name being spoken due to never having the chance to name their own before he died. (The child's real life grave-marker reads Baby Son Wilder)
    • Laura and Mary's friend Ellen drowns while the three are swimming together.
    • Albert has an implied death to leukemia on the cusp of adulthood.
    • Poor Sylvia...
  • Innocent Swearing: When the Ingalls move to Winoka in Season 5, Carrie learns and repeats the word "damn" from saloon patrons. This prompts Pa to give her a talk about good words vs. bad words.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by David Rose. Yes, the same guy who did "The Stripper".
  • Irish Explosives Expert: In an early episode, an out-of-work Pa joins an Irish "powder monkey" who knows where the two of them can get jobs blasting tunnels for the railroads.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Mrs. Oleson's view of a southern colonel's idea of opening a restaurant that only serves fried chicken. Interesting in that the colonel was supposed to bring about the notion that this colonel was Colonel Sanders or at least that Mrs. Oleson was offered a chance to get in on the ground floor of a highly-successful restaurant idea, but she was too dumb/ignorant to realize it. Never mind that Colonel Sanders wasn't born until 1890 and that his idea only worked because of some clever marketing, a specific recipe, specific cooking techniques, and the fact that he could appeal to travelers who would otherwise not want to stop long enough to wait for chicken to cook (the cooking techniques took care of this problem). To be fair:
    • Her outright refusal of the colonel's offer is very understandable given that she had just been released from an unreasonable contract with another operator of a chain of restaurants. Also, the colonel's "gimmick" is that only fried chicken will be served, and Mrs. Oleson's last venture was unsuccessful in part due to her customers wanting more variety than the three or four choices offered. If anything, the lesson of the day was more that having been "burned" by a bad experience can blind one to legitimate opportunities.
    • Also, at the time the books and series are set, the concept of "restaurant" wouldn't have applied in a community that size. Outside of big cities, restaurants fell into two primary categories: saloons and workingmen's diners, or the Harvey House chain of railroad-station eating houses. The concept of a family restaurant would not come along for several decades.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Laura refuses to pray for her infant brother's health due to jealousy. Of course, she regrets this later.
  • Judicial Wig: In "The Music Box", Laura has a nightmare about a wigged judge after she steals the eponymous music box from Nellie.
  • Killed Off for Real:
    • Many characters who were recurring die unexpected or horrific deaths. The first notable one is Lars Hanson, who suffered a stroke and later passed away off-screen from being critically weakened as a result; in the most sad coincidence, his actor actually died following the filming of this episode.
    • Alice Garvey, possibly suffering punishment for her unscrupulous past and secret divorce as well as a near second divorce, burned to death in the blind school in Season 6 along with Adam Kendall Jr., and was so desperate to save her own life she used the child as a battering ram to unsuccessfully break a second-story window. Fate did not take kindly to that.
  • Last Episode, New Character:
    • Sherwood Montague, who appeared in the very last episode of the original run, "Hello and Goodbye". It was clear he was not intended to be this, as the writers were clearly setting him up as a regular for the ill-fated tenth season in place of Matthew (as in hello, Sherwood and goodbye, Matthew). Little House flagged in the ratings and got cancelled, thus resulting in the movie continuations to finish up the series, and Sherwood appeared in all three of the follow-up movies.
    • Rachel Brown also qualifies as this, since she marries Willie in the penultimate regular episode and was never seen before this, but remains a major character in the final episodes to follow this one.
  • Longest Pregnancy Ever: While most characters on the show announced their pregnancy and gave birth in the same episode, Laura's pregnancy lasted almost a year in real time. In "I Do Again", which aired in March 1981, she announces she's pregnant. She doesn't have her baby until a February 1982 episode.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: At any given point in the series, there were anywhere from 15 to more than two dozen characters that could be considered "regulars." In Season 1, for instance, there were the Ingalls, the Olesons, Miss Beadle, Dr. Baker, Rev. Alden, Mr. Edwards, and a number of schoolchildren that appeared in multiple episodes. This fluctuated throughout the rest of the series, with some only appearing as background characters and others having entire episodes about them. By the same token, since the regular character list was so extensive, most episodes only had a few characters at a time appear in any given episode, with others absent completely.
  • Love at First Punch: Nellie falls for Percival after a mild food fight with him.
  • Mandatory Line: Happened frequently due to the show having Loads and Loads of Characters. Supporting cast members and sometimes even the lead cast members would appear briefly in an episode where they served no real purpose, just to comment on the plot.
  • Meaningful Name: Ebenezer Sprague, the banker. He's every bit as mean and ornery as the namesake, until Laura gives him a chewing out for his impassiveness and he and he became kinder and charitable, once again like Scrooge.
  • May–December Romance: There are two. The first is between Dr. Baker and Harriet's niece Kate Thurvald. The second is between Isaiah Edwards and Laura's friend Jane Canfield. Neither one ends well.
  • Melodrama: In almost every episode.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Owing to its being filmed in California, the calls of the California Quail can often be heard. The show is set in Minnesota.
  • Missing Mom: The reason for why Nancy, the orphan with a severe behavior disorder who is adopted by the Olesons, is orphaned. However, Nancy's sob story explanation (she had loved her mother and couldn't figure out why she abandoned her) conflicts with the actual explanation: Her birth mother had died while giving birth to Nancy (today, the condition is known as preecclampsia); since a Disappeared Dad was also at play – authorities were unable to determine and/or track down her biological father (given that DNA testing was more than 100 years from being perfected) – she was sent to an orphanage. Eventually, Charles uncovers the truth and reveals it to both Laura and the Olesons, and it is Mrs. Oleson, the series anti-hero, who helps Nancy come to terms with the truth.
  • Mood Whiplash: Occurs often when an episode has a Downer Ending (examples include the first part of "I'll Be Waving as You Drive Away," "May We Make Them Proud," and "Gambini the Great.") We go from the melancholy ending to cheery music and that shot of a young Melissa Gilbert running through the grass with arms outstretched.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: In this case, Minnesota.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Nellie begins her commencement speech with "Fellow classmates, friends...and others"
  • N-Word Privileges: The word "nigger" is used outright in at least three episodes, each dealing with racism. These include:
    • "The Wisdom Of Solomon," where a young African American boy named Solomon (played by a pre-Diff'rent Strokes Todd Bridges) remarks to his classmates what he hates about being black: "Being called a nigger."
    • "Blind Journey," a two-part episode depicting a journey students and staff of the School of the Blind take from Winoka to Mr. Hanson's old house near Walnut Grove; although Mrs. Oleson is revealed to be strongly bigoted with hints of racism (revealed in her disappointment over African American teacher's aide Hester Sue Terhune (1950s pop vocalist Ketty Lester) not being an elite social lady), even she never utters the n-word (in fact, Harriet has a change of heart during the trip and comes to view the black children in a positive light). This is left to racist farmer Judd Larabee (Don Barry, the former title hero in the "Red Ryder" westerns) when he sees the Ingalls and other Blind School folks treating Hester Sue as a friend.
    • "Barn Burner," where Larabee uses the epithet several times in an episode framed around African American farmer Joe Kagan (Moses Gunn, in a post-Good Times role). First, the farmers form a cooperative and on Charles Ingalls' persuasion invite Kagan, over Larabee's strong objections; later, when Larabee is accused of setting Jonathan Garvey's barn on fire and could hang for his crime, Kagan serves on the jury. Ironically, Kagan is the only one who believes Larabee is innocent, and manages to continue his arguments long enough for Garvey's son, Andy, to admit he left a lighted lantern too close to the barn. Larabee is acquitted and upon finding out that Kagan thought he was innocent, doesn't even thank him. (Larabee made his final appearance in this episode, as it is soon revealed that he dies not long afterward, his family having left him and the townspeople shunning him.)
    • "Dark Sage" where a black doctor named Caleb Ledoux arrives at Walnut Grove and can't find work because of his skin color. A racist farmer won't let the doctor treat his wife, despite her needing medical attention and calls Dr. Caleb the epithet. he ended up saving the farmer's wife and baby by performing an emergency cesarean section, something no one else in the town, even the regular doctor who believed medicine belonged to the white man, could do. The farmer is heavily chastised for being willing to let his wife and baby die before accepting help from a black man.
  • Naked People Are Funny: When Mrs. Oleson tries to gentrify the schoolhouse, she ends up teaching them about fine art, including tasteful nudes. A farmer father comes to protest her ridiculous changes because he wants his boy to learn skills he can use but Mrs. Oleson's attempts to add culture to the curriculum are meaningless when a farming community's livelihood does not rely on these things, but the ability to know how to do their trade right. He learns about the nude pictures and takes a gander... his totally flat reaction sells it beautifully.
    "Jeeeehosaphat. Great screaming ghosts."
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: HANNIBAL Applewood. Arguably Black Jake.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: This show was extremely guilty of this. Every episode seems to be prone to a One-Shot Character who we're made to feel sorry for because something screwed up their life, who we never see again afterward. This is forgivable given that the setting is place where making a living is incredibly tough, people die all the time, and move away when they can't make it or want to move on, and the setting is big enough that people who we longer see are likely living up over yonder out of sight and out of mind, so one can only assume that at least one of these things is behind their disappearances.
  • Nitro Express: Done with blasting oil in one episode. It is a rewrite of a season 7 Bonanza episode, except much less tragic.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Nels and Harriet Oleson argue constantly, and more than once, they've even separated, but the show makes clear on more than one occasion that it is a love match.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the episode "Harriet's Happenings", Sterling Murdoch, who runs a newspaper in Walnut Grove that prints malicious gossip, is a thinly veiled Rupert Murdoch. At the end of the episode, Charles publicly berates Sterling and Harriet for their actions. Michael Landon was very vocal about his dislike for tabloids and the stories printed about his personal life, hence the premise of this episode.
  • Nuclear Candle: In one episode, one of the girls is kidnapped and trapped in a pitch-black cellar; when her captor checks on her while holding a small candle, it's suddenly as if a spotlight was shining down.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Nellie Olson fakes paralysis after falling off a horse so her parents will give her presents and Laura will be her slave out of guilt.
    • Covered Up: Laura proves Nellie is faking it by rolling Nellie down a hill to a pond, which looks just like the rolling-down-a-hill scene in Mac and Me shot 15 years later. Guess which one got the Memetic Mutation?
    • In the episode "Family Tree", Albert tricks his biological father into letting the Ingalls adopt him by pretending to be blind.
    • In "Blind Man's Bluff" a boy injures himself and pretends to be blind to keep his parents from divorcing.
    • Inverted in "Dearest Albert, I'll Miss You" when Albert's pen pal, Leslie, hides the fact that she uses a wheelchair from Albert.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Harriet doesn't take it kindly that her daughter married a Jew, and Percival often enjoys snarking about Harriet's pompous personality.
    • In addition, big time between the Olesons and Percival's family. Though Harriet and Percival's mother get along better, the Jewish father not so much.
  • Only Shop in Town: Oleson's Mercantile is this to Walnut Grove.
  • Out of Focus: Carrie, severely so. Even though she's billed in the main credits as part of the main cast, she has a pathetic number of stories centered around her- one where she falls down a well and a 90-minute blunder. The twins who played her character were incapable of acting believably because neither one received lessons to become child actors- they were brought on as essentially a baby character who spouts cute things at random left in the episodes, who, despite growing up, never learned how to act. Heck, Jack the dog got more attention than her in the first four seasons he was still around, and he remains in the opening credits even after going to doggy Heaven.
  • Outdoorsy Gal: Farm girl Laura Ingalls enjoys catching frogs in the creek.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: When Laura acts like her spunky, baseball-playing self, she attracts a guy who plays, too.
  • Papa Wolf: Charles Ingalls will take a haymaker to anybody who threatens his loved ones in a heartbeat. Poor Almanzo got decked due to a misunderstanding in their first encounter, the elder Gallenders took a pounding, and the man who snubbed Laura and Almanzo of the land to build their homestead got a bait-and-switch punch to the face.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "The King is Dead", where Milo Stavroupolis, a Greek prizefighter is forced to become a Jobber to help pay for his ailing wife Anna's medical bills. Naturally, it has a Bittersweet Ending Anna decides to stop taking treatments because she can't stand to watch him sacrifice his pride, and she dies. Then Milo resolves to fight in earnest for one last time to stop his boss from swindling the masses, and in his old age, his heart gives out, and he also dies, but the spirit of his wife comes to take him to the other side. But just so things don't get too heavy, we also have Harriet trying to bet the church congregation offerings, much to the dismay of poor Nels, who can't do anything to stop her as per usual.
    "Love... IS forever..."
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Mr Edwards and his family after Season 3, not reappearing till Season 6 and then returning in Season 8 on his own with his wife explaining they have separated due to a relapse into alcoholism.
    • Ebenezer Sprague, Walnut Grove's short-tenured banker, was introduced in season 2 as one of the new townsfolk, but he seldom appeared after his debut episode. He makes one last appearance in season 3 before quietly leaving the town. During the episode "To Live With Fear", Charles tries to go to Sprague for help, but Mr. Edwards tells Charles that Sprague pulled out of Walnut Grove because his bank wasn't getting enough business due to a bad year of crops. But then he apparently came back and gave it another go off-screen, before leaving for good in Season 4 when the town of Walnut Grove goes bankrupt.
    • Eva Beadle-Simms who leaves at the same time the town goes bankrupt.
    • Nellie and Mary in the opener of Season 8. Mary is even edited out of the opening of the show.
    • Carrie, the Cooper children, and Grace at the start of Season 9, as well as Caroline. Only Caroline returns.
    • Harriet Oleson during the post-series specials, who is said to have gone to visit relatives at first, then forced to delay her return to Walnut Grove after being stricken ill and remains in their care; her actor Katherine MacGregor declined to return for any of these specials. Some people may be thankful for the fact her hateful shrew of a character is absent, while others will realize that her husband essentially ensured she has no place to come back to in the finale and will lament her absence to try and vividly protest these events.
  • Regal Ringlets: Nellie's perfect ringlets provide one of the best known examples in popular culture. In her final appearance, she's upgraded the look further to a full-on high-class beehive hairdo after living in New York with her husband Percival and their children.
  • Remaster: In 2014, Lionsgate began an effort to remaster the series with high definition picture and sound, undo the time-compression that sped up the picture and sound, and reinstate scenes Edited for Syndication.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Mrs. Oleson takes in bitchy orphan Nancy and models her in the very image of Nellie, who had recently moved to New York with her husband.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves:
  • Rich Bitch: Harriet and Nellie Oleson
    • As well as Nancy Oleson in later years, in arguably a much worse way than Nellie.
  • Runaway Train: A caboose, in one episode. Season 2's "The Runaway Caboose", where Laura, Mary, and Carl Sanderson Edwards sneak onto a yellow caboose and accidentally unhitch it from the rest of the train and send it careening down a downhill grade that threatens to collide with an oncoming passenger special.
  • Sadist Teacher: Hannibal Applewood in "Troublemaker".
    • Also, Mr. Watson in "I Remember, I Remember".
    • You can't forget Miss Peel in "Whisper Country".
  • Sense Loss Sadness: Mary's eyesight.
  • Series Fauxnale: The last episode of season four was intended to wrap things up, since Michael Landon and Co. didn't know if the show would return for season five. note  It's interesting that the fauxnale focused on Mary, instead of Laura, who is ostensibly the main character.
  • Series Finale: A two-hour TV movie entitled, Little House: The Last Farewell. It premiered in 1984, twelve years after the series first began. The finale is iconic for an incredibly Bittersweet Ending that hits very hard because it quite literally erases the presence of the main setting of Walnut Grove. note 
  • Shotgun Wedding: Inverted. Nellie Oleson and Luke Simms actually get a shotgun annulment, before they have a chance to consummate their marriage.
  • Sibling Team: Laura and Albert
  • Sinister Minister: A variant, Reverend Danforth from the Season 6 episode "The Faith Healer." He's not evil, but he's deluded himself into thinking that he really does have the spiritual gift of healing. This has made him so prideful that he maliciously tries to take Reverend Alden's church from him. He's also the secondhand cause of young Timothy Dodds' death. Timothy's dad took him to Danforth to treat a burst appendix, against medical advice. Timothy was then convinced his pain was gone, only to die of said burst appendix one scene later.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Charles smokes a pipe in many episodes (Michael Landon was a real-life smoker).
    • Despite the apparent glamorization, Charles does discourage Albert from taking up the habit in a segment played for laughs (Albert is sitting by the fireplace, mimicking his adopted father). However, Albert does trying smoking a pipe again, with much more dire consequences; this comes in the 1980 episode "May We Make Them Proud," where Albert and a friend sneak into the basement of the School for the Blind to smoke, are shooed out and in haste, stuff a still-burning pipe in a box of towels. Later that night, the fire spreads to the upstairs, and ultimately traps and kills Alice Garvey (mother of Albert's best friend, Andy) and baby Adam Kendall (son of Mary and Adam Kendall).
  • Snowed-In: Several episodes, often set around Christmas, including 1976's "The Blizzard" and 1981's "A Christmas They Never Forgot." The former was moreso an effort by worried parents to find their children who were about to be lost in a fast-moving blizzard; the latter featured the family (along with their friend, Hester Sue) sitting around the table sharing Christmas memories. Laura's Christmas memory includes flashback clips from the original pilot movie, where they meet Mr. Edwards.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Happens to Charles after season 8 following a very bad winter. His hair has deflated a little from its perm and gone completely gray and he's lost the drive to be a farmer anymore. In reality, it's all just an excuse for Michael Landon to leave the show, and he was treating his hair to look younger up until now, when he let his real age show.
  • Spelling Bee: One of these happens during the episode "Harriet's Happenings"
  • Spiritual Successor: To Bonanza, which aired its last season and went off the air the year this show came on the air, had a cast member from that show, Michael Landon, spearhead its production and play one of the leading roles, and even snitch a few scripts from Bonanza- some of which Landon himself actually wrote. Many people who worked on Bonanza also went over to work on this show in its last years, such as William F. Claxton, John Hawkins, Arthur Heinemann, B. F. Sandfeur, and many other names. Furthermore, regular cast members Kevin Hagen and Dabbs Greer frequently appeared on the former series, and many guest stars on this series did as well. The show even owes its theme tune to an episode of Bonanza itself, borne from the soundtrack used in the seventeenth episode of Season 12, "Top Hand".
  • Stock Footage: Used very frequently for establishing shots of the Ingalls house, Walnut Grove, and especially for shots of the old steam engine used in the show, the 3 (and rarely, the 8), recycling plenty of footage just like Bonanza did to spare money. In the case of the train, obviously, it costs a lot to keep a vintage train engine operating and to perform its upkeep over a decade, and many times, the series will disguise the fact that only one train is in use because they can't afford another. In fact, the one train being used in "The Runaway Caboose" doubles as both the freight train and a passenger train later, even though the narratives pretend it's actually two separate trains.
  • Street Urchin: Albert, before the Ingalls take him back to Walnut Grove with them.
  • Sudden School Uniform: When Mrs. Oleson took over the school. Yes, she owned the only store in town that sold clothes. Or cloth, for that matter...
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Nancy Oleson, for Nellie. Harriet deliberately molds her into the spitting image of her Nellie, in fact.
    • John Carter for Charles Ingalls. Not only does John move into Charles’ old house, but he also takes Charles' place at the mill and on the town council, and dresses the same as him. He also stands up to the greedy railroad builders much the way Charles would have.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: In "Oleson Versus Oleson" Harriet disguises herself as a male ranch hand in order to spy on Nels and the other men at the mercantile, since the women in town have all moved into the hotel, leaving the men to take of the children and run the households themselves.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Mrs. Oleson never really catches on that her pompous, arrogant behavior does not enhance, and in fact diminishes, her family's standing.
  • Television Geography: Note the title, taken directly from the book, with its reference to the lush, rolling grasslands characteristic of much of central North America. The TV series is specifically set about midway through the trek, in Minnesota. Anybody surprised that the onscreen scenery routinely featured Southern California-style mountains, trees, scrub-brush, chaparral, etc? Didn't think so.
    • You might find some people convinced the show took place in Kansas. This perception wasn't helped by the fact that the Wichita NBC station ran promos that stated the Ingalls were "Kansas' first family."
      • Also, the pilot did take place in Kansas. Some viewers may have assumed they moved to a different part of Kansas rather than all the way back to Minnesota, especially after Charles bumps into Mr. Edwards again after only a few episodes.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "The Little House Years" is this as well as a Clip Show.
  • They Do: Laura and Almanzo
  • To Be Continued: At the end of scripted two-part episodes that weren't broken down for syndication. Hilariously and rather adorably subverted at the end of "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not", where a little boy kisses Grace on the lips, who is currently only three, after Charles has had to compromise with Laura and Almanzo marrying while Laura is yet to turn eighteen. He scoops up Grace and tells her, "You're going to have to wait until you turn eighteen, young lady." As they leave, the boy cutely mewls, "I love her." The words "TO BE CONTINUED" pop up on the screen and linger for a while... soon followed by "IN FIFTEEN YEARS".
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Nellie and Willie in later seasons. Nancy in the final specials.
  • Trash the Set: The whole town was destroyed in the final movie as a final Take That! to the tycoon who had bought it out from under the residents. In reality, Michael Landon didn't want the set to be reused, so the movie was written around the town's destruction.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Nellie gives birth to twins, Jennifer and Benjamin. This is especially convenient, since she and her husband, Percival, thinking they were only having one child, agreed to raise the baby Jewish if he was a boy, and Christian if she was a girl, to appease Nellie's mother and Percival's father.
  • Unwanted Glasses Plot: The appropriately titled episode "Four Eyes." Funnily enough, the glasses did end up getting lost for good in "The Third Miracle", but sadly, only because Mary could no longer see and the glasses were a memento she kept of her past that got lost while stumbling away from a wagon wreck. At least they served one last purpose by causing a brush fire by magnifying the sun which drew Charles to her rescue.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Charles and Caroline Ingalls never adopted sons. Their daughter Mary (who really did go blind) never married. (Visitors to the town cemetery to this day regularly mis-identify the grave of Charles and Caroline's son, dead in infancy, as that of Mary Ingalls's fictional baby.) And, a trivial little point, the town was never blown up.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Or Well Done Daughter Girl as the case may be—a few times throughout various episodes and for various reasons. Whether or not the parent or parents in question come around is a coin toss.
  • The Western
  • Wild Child: Initially, the townspeople think Matthew Rogers, a young adolescent boy, is this. His A Day in the Limelight two-part episode is actually called "The Wild Boy." This is because when we first see him, a quack doctor has literally caged Matthew and billed him as a "wild boy of the North," a money-maker for his medicine show. In reality, the doctor is using a morphine-base elixir to control Matthew's moods and behavior. He is able to get away with this because Matthew is an orphan and cannot speak. Eventually though, Mr. Edwards takes Matthew in, and Laura teaches them both sign language. The second half of "The Wild Boy" is about Mr. Edwards fighting for permanent custody. He at first loses, but the judge has a Heel–Face Turn.
  • The Wild West
  • Witch Doctor: Miss Peel, the demented zealot who attempted to terrorize an entire town into backwoods ignorance through threat of curses and Bible-thumping, all to hide the fact she was illiterate.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Several episodes dealing with child abuse feature cutaways or adults punching a stunt double/mannequin/at the camera, with the child actor never taking any blows. One episode — "The Lost Ones" (featuring Jason Bateman in one of his first regular roles) — saw Bateman's character, James Cooper, beaten off-screen, although his screams as he took a whip were heard as his sister, Cassandra, cries. (James and Cassandra had been sent to live with a hard-drinking farmer, and James had been framed by the farmer's biological son for stealing.)
    • "Sylvia" is a non-stop Trauma Conga Line for the titular little girl which culminates in her death.
    • The Season 8 finale "He Was Only Twelve" kicks off when Jason gets shot just after his twelfth birthday and Charles and Isaiah go on a manhunt for the posse responsible to make them pay. Then, Charles goes on a religious pilgrimage/faith quest to save his dying son's life. It's a heavy retooling of a bleaker story from Bonanza entitled "He Was Only Seven", where the child in question was younger, a grandson instead of a son, actually died from being shot, and it was only an hour-long one-off story.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/LittleHouseOnThePrairie