Reviews: Bonanza

Addicted with its own drama, sometimes to its own disadvantage (semi-rant)

I have a love/hate relationship with Bonanza.

Man, this show is the meanest when it comes to love and marriage. The Cartwrights basically aren't allowed to have anybody to the day they die. When one of the main characters' ever-ill-fated romances turns into a body count, you know the writers have an axe to grind. Sure, there's a lot of pain and emotion in grief that can make a story riveting, but when you do it over and over again for fourteen seasons, it grinds on one's nerves. This show never got a proper ending mainly because it is a classic example of a show that takes too long to implement change and burns on formula alone until it's too late.

I also consider this series responsible for what I like to call "the widowhood tumor" that erupted throughout most of the shows in the sixties and seventies. Seriously, most Bonanza episodes follow this formula and many shows in the genre copied it, as well as dramas:

  • Troubled child who doesn't know how to mind/too na´ve to avoid trouble. Usually the designated victim.
  • Bad parent who does nothing but trash their child for being a fool and may directly contribute to their tragic loss.
  • Dead parent who could make it all better and their being alive would mean no drama.

Believe me, the show is at times superlative, and downright funny in other moments, but just knowing this kick-started a trend of shows that kill off characters who get in the way of entertainment is a bitter pill to swallow. When you make a character dead just because they get in the way of the story, and do it persistently, you paint a skewed picture of the world around you that a greater force beyond anyone's control adores subjecting people to tragedy at all times. Not a novel concept in my book.

Another thing I don't like is how the Cartwrights are usually bystanders holding the Idiot Ball who allow characters to do self-destructive things. Like for instance, early on in the series, Little Joe doesn't have the sense to leave a barn where his love interest is inside while a rogue suitor is armed with a gun. Or when Alice's brother is a gambling addict and no one forces him into rehabilitation. Each incident ends in the girl killed off. And every other episode is a j'accuse plot- "X is accused of Y", and usually, X is the outcast.

Basically, this show's underlying message is people who seek a solitary existence have nothing to lose and are the least likely to get hurt.

That all being said, again, this show is one of the best when it comes to drama, but the pits when it comes to optimism.
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