Viewers accepted a talking horse, an Ork alien, and cops who always seem to come out of shootings without a scratch. But nothing was more incredulous than the spirit of “The Waltons”.
From 1971 to 1981, audiences embraced a Depression-era family who acted as if they were as wealthy as the Ewings. It was exactly the kind of optimism we needed at a time when various issues threatened to tear the country apart.
“The Waltons’ Homecoming,” a two-hour special that airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on WUCW, Ch. 23, hopes to provide the same antidote for those troubled times.
“When we got there it was such a difficult time, so much conflict, so much division, so much fear and cynicism. We were a comfort,” said Richard Thomas who played John-Boy in the Years version. 70 and serves as the narrator of the new film. “I think the time has come for this again.”
In “Homecoming,” the first original film for the CW network, the family eagerly await the return of John Sr., who manages to get Christmas out of his job several miles away. But a snowstorm threatens his return trip.
This drama takes a back seat: the way the kids run up the stairs when mum calls, how to take a puff from one of daddy’s cigarettes is a major act of rebellion, laughing with the girls as they spy on John- Boy flirting with the local librarian, feeling the joy of Mary Ellen as Grandpa lets her cut down the Christmas tree.
“Our world is emerging from such a lonely and lonely time,” Bellamy Young, who plays mother Olivia Walton, said in a virtual press conference earlier this month. “The chance to put sweetness and kindness in the world seemed so beautiful.”
The film also strives to ignore the racism of the time, a strategy that can embarrass historians.
Olivia’s best friend is a black woman named Rose. The Waltons end up attending a Christmas service at his church without anyone blinking.
“I don’t think of it as fancy, but maybe as it should have been and in a lot of cases, but people just don’t know it,” executive producer Sam Haskell said.
I had to put reality aside when watching frenzied original episodes during the darker days of the pandemic. I was impressed with the attention to detail and the strong acting (Michael Learned and Ellen Corby would win three Emmys each). I was soothed by the nostalgic trip – but embarrassed to tell anyone about it.
“When the retrospectives are over, more often than not, sitcoms are performed a lot more,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s hard to look on our bright side. It’s a lot more fun to appreciate the cynicism.”
It’s too early to tell if today’s audiences will embrace something as healthy and inspiring as a “Waltons” reboot. Its closest cousin on network television these days is “This Is Us,” which seems to get darker and darker every week. But Haskell has faith.
“I wanted it more than anything,” said Haskell, who is hoping the ratings will justify either future movies or a new series. “I want people to be touched by it. I want them to love these characters again and remember why they liked them the first time.”
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