Written by Hombre Divertido
In 1971 CBS did some major house cleaning which included canceling its rural-oriented programming. In December of that same year, CBS would air Earl Hamner Jr.’s The Homecoming, which would lead them back to rural programming in the form of The Waltons in September of the following year.
On January 6th 2009 Warner Home Video will release all twenty-four episodes of season eight of The Waltons on a three-disc set. Unfortunately, by season eight, the series has jumped several sharks, and is far from the depression-era family drama that we came to know and love.
By the time we get to season eight, Richard Thomas who originated the role of John Boy is gone, and would be replaced by a one-dimensional Robert Wightman; the contract of Michael Learned, who portrayed mother Olivia Walton, had expired and she would not appear in all the season’s episodes; new family members are introduced which is never a good sign; and the thespians who had adequately portrayed the Walton children, had grown into mediocre actors tasked with carrying the series.
The writing too had grown tired by 1979, and though this season still contains some poignant moments, the attempts at lightheartedness are forced, and well beyond the talents of the current cast. For all intents and purposes the writing was on the walls of the iconic Walton home and the show would last only one more season.
The shining moments at this point in the series come from the relationship between John (Ralph Waite) and Olivia Walton. Though limited in this season due to her absence, the chemistry between these two talented actors remained strong throughout the series, and added a level of quality to this season, that only left the rest of the cast to appear to be severely lacking.
World War II served as the theme for many of this season’s episodes, but the writing generally manages to keep the family, and subsequently the audience, from being pulled into the drama associated with such an important time in our history. One exception is the storyline in the two-part season opener in which John, who is assigned to the local draft board, deals with the death of a neighbor’s son. It is the superior performance by Waite that makes this segment work.
Earl Hamner Jr. remained involved in the series from inception to conclusion, and his narrations remain throughout bringing a level of nostalgia to the series that is sure to illicit a smile from anyone who enjoyed the series in its heyday. Unfortunately Hamner also hosts the only piece of bonus material in this new release, the two-hour special: A Decade of the Waltons. Hamner’s slow delivery made for a wonderful folksy introduction to this classic show, but as a host, he was far too awkward, and lacked the personality necessary to lead us down memory lane. Hamner’s wardrobe, tinted glasses, and absence of a smile (There may have been dental issues as in the one scene in which he is laughing, he remains off camera) did not help the situation. The poor quality of this retrospective does not fall solely on Hamner as the standard clips lack continuity, and the interviews with the actors and their real-life counterparts seem overly staged and stiff. Since this special aired at the end of season eight, it is a bit generous to list it as a bonus feature.
Not a lot of notable guest appearances during the season, but it’s fun to see a young Jonathan Frakes in “The Lost Sheep,” and if you look quick you can spot Eric Stoltz sitting in the classroom in “The Valediction.”
The shows look and sound great. The packaging leaves a lot to be desired, and if both sides of the disc were going to be utilized, it would be helpful if the discs were better marked.
Recommendation: This is a classic series, but the quality began to wane after the first five seasons. Season eight is only for the true fan that wants to keep their collection up to date.