Comfort TV

Comfort TV

by Beth Dolinar, Contributing Writer

This week, Pa brings home a couple of orphans, Laura fights off the advances of a college professor, and Ma takes a job at the new restaurant in town. 

All’s well in Walnut Grove, where bad things sometimes happen but things work out in the end. And when the bad things can’t be resolved, at least there’s a life lesson to be learned. 

This quaint reverie comes courtesy of “Little House on the Prairie,” the 1970s TV show based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I never watched the show during its initial run, because I was too cool for such wholesome fare. 

I discovered the show last spring when the pandemic forced us back into our homes. After several weeks of watching the COVID case count rise like graphic mesas across the TV screen, I couldn’t take the anxiety any more, and went looking for something more comforting, something that would shield me from the scary news, at least for a while. 

For six hours every day, Michael Landon and the Ingalls clan go about their days, hitching horses and baking bread and, in the case of the children, taking that long walk up over the hill to the little school house. All the females wear bonnets and all the men wear rancher hats. 

Nobody’s wearing a mask. 

Not that masks wouldn’t have helped the little town. Each of the seven seasons of the show includes at least one plague that spreads like, well, COVID: typhus and yellow fever and anthrax. Each time, Doc Baker turns the schoolhouse into a hospital and dispenses doses of quinine, which seems to cure pretty much everything. 

Little House airs for 6 hours every day, often enough to run through the entire seven-season cycle every couple of weeks. A year into the pandemic, I’ve seen parts of every episode at least four times, and I know how each story ends. 

Maybe that’s why I’ve been watching it. So much of life has been uncertain. Even now, many of us are anxious about when we might get the vaccines; we wonder if we’re in for another deadly COVID wave before enough of us have immunity. We’re not out of the woods yet. 

Last fall, when the country was rounding the bend toward half a million COVID deaths, I bought myself a gravity blanket. It’s packed with glass beads that distribute 20 pounds of weight across the fabric. It’s like sleeping under a large, warm dog. It’s reassuring.

The Ingalls family has been my other gravity blanket. Each day, I turn to the channel to check on what they’re up to. Unable to visit with my real life family, I’m keeping a connection with my TV family. 

My favorite episodes are the first ones, where Laura and Mary and Carrie are small and the Ingalls are first putting down roots. TV being what it is, there must always be a conflict or a crisis: someone must have her feelings hurt, or someone must get sick or break some ribs, or Pa must walk hundreds of miles to find work because a hail storm destroyed the wheat. 

Somewhere around last August, I learned that Carrie had fallen into a well. That one was a real nail-biter.

Much like this year has been. Will we be past the pandemic by summer? I’m sure we all are hoping so, but I’m still anxious about it. 

I know where to turn for reassuring news, though. I’ve seen that episode enough times to know how it will end.

Pa will rescue Carrie from the well. Every time.


Beth DolinarAbout the author: Beth Dolinar is a writer, Emmy-award winning producer, and public speaker. She writes a popular column for the Washington “Observer-Reporter.” She is a contributing producer of documentary length programming for WQED-TV on a wide range of topics. Beth has a son and a daughter. She is an avid yoga devotee, cyclist and reader. Beth says she types like lightning but reads slowly — because she likes a really good sentence.