Written by Hombre Divertido
Warner Home Video has now released the final season of this iconic series. Unfortunately The Waltons goes out with far more of a whimper than a bang. We can only hope that this release will be followed by a collection consisting of the six made-for-television movies, which served to not only reunite the original cast, but to reunite fans with a beloved series that had been tarnished over the years by the departure of cast members, tired writing, and the fact that CBS kept it going two seasons too long.
The Waltons, which came to television in September of 1972 after the warm reception received by series creator and narrator Earl Hamner Jr.’s The Homecoming a year earlier, was based on the Walton family, and the show was anchored by the strong acting of Richard Thomas as John-boy, Michael Learned as Olivia, Ralph Waite as John, Will Geer as Grandpa, and Ellen Corby as Grandma. Along with stellar writing, the show would flourish for many years to come.
Unfortunately, by season nine in 1980, the above mentioned actors were no longer appearing on the show for a myriad of reasons, with the exception of Waite who does appear in several episodes, and the writing had become stale. The primary cast now consisted of the adults who were originally cast as supporting characters when they were children. Though they had matured as people, the majority of them simply had not grown into competent performers. Along with the series regulars was Robert Wightman, who replaced Richard Thomas as John-boy in 1979. The shoes were far too big to be filled, even by someone less awkward on camera than Wightman, and the questionable choice to recast a lead character who left a successful prime time series, without explanation within the script, would certainly rival the replacement of Dick York by Dick Sargent as Darrin on Bewitched. Ironically, Dick Sargent appears in season nine of The Waltons.
The writing is not bad throughout season nine; it just appears that the writers are out of ideas. This is evident in the opening two-part episode “The Outrage,” which is titled after the main storyline of John Walton trying to assist Harley (Hal Williams) who is arrested for an old crime. Though this storyline is concluded far to conveniently, it is still entertainingly dramatic and poignant. Unfortunately, numerous other plots that are well below the standards established by the show over the years, and are poorly acted, surround this main story that supports the title.
In viewing the series, one could wonder why season nine was even done, but since the boys had gone off to war in season eight, season nine served to bring them home. The stories of the boys at war that are quite prevalent throughout this season lack the intensity necessary to convey the stories being told, and are extremely limited by the locations, sets, and special effects. This season is not without some nice moments, and the last regular season episode is pleasant as the entire cast gathers at the home of the Baldwin sisters (Mary Jackson and Helen Kleeb) for a celebration.
One would think that the final regular season would be a prime opportunity to fill the three-disk release with bonus material, but alas, there is none to be found. Guest appearances by the previously mentioned Dick Sargent, as well as Marc McClure, William Schallert, Mary Wickes, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, are enjoyable distractions, from what is essentially a poor product. The packaging contains some nice photos, but the disks themselves are poorly marked.
Recommendation: Season nine is the weakest of the series, and is only for those who need to complete their collection. Regardless of your opinion of the quality of season nine, each episode ends with the music of Jerry Goldsmith and narration by Earl Hamner Jr., which is sure to place a reminiscent smile upon the face of the faithful who grew up with The Waltons.