PBS’ New ‘American Masters’ Episode Will Appeal Equally To Wilder Fans, Lovers Of Literature

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

Mainstream art (movies, TV shows, AND books) has a horrible tendency to sugarcoat and overly embellish real history. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are no exception to that rule.  Now in a new episode of its biography series American Masters, Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page, the mythology of Wilder’s writings is examined, bringing new light to the balance of realities and falsities in her stories.  That story serves as the most important element to examine in this 80-minute episode, released Feb. 16 on DVD.  It will be discussed shortly.  The bonus interviews that accompany the documentary add their own touch to the presentation and will be addressed a little later.  Keeping all of the content in mind, the DVD’s average price point proves to be its own positive, too.  It will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the DVD.  All things considered, they make the DVD a presentation that any bibliophile will enjoy.

PBS’ American Masters episode Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page is an interesting look at Wilder’s life and have it compares to the stories that resulted from her personal experience.  It is a work that is certain to engage any of Wilder’s fans and to any bibliophile.  That is due in no small part to the episode’s main story.  Viewers will be interested to learn through the story, that while the many stories she wrote are in fact based on her life, there is some fiction, to a point.  Case in point is the revelation that her father did not move around so much because he felt “the pull” but in fact because he had anything but good luck.  Between locusts destroying his crops at one point, to going severely into debt (and even running from creditors), to having bad luck even after becoming a founder for another town, her father picked up his family and moved multiple times throughout his life.  Speaking of those trials and tribulations, it is revealed in the episode, that she intentionally changed all of that around.  Additionally, it is revealed that other details of Wilder’s life were left out of her stories, such as her sister’s struggles with blindness.  As if all of that is not enough, viewers also learn late in the program, that there has been some pushback in recent years about Wilder’s portrayal of Native Americans and African-Americans.  That pushback leads here to commentary on both sides about whether those depictions should lead to her books being removed from schools’ curriculums.  Considering the rise of cancel culture in recent months, it seems an especially notable discussion.  According to one of the interviewees featured in the episode, the American Library Association (ALA), the organization has already removed her name from one of its writing awards due to her depictions of those minority groups.  Between all of this, the discussions on the connection between Wilder’s books and the TV series that was adapted from those stories, and much more, audiences get here, a fully in-depth presentation.  It is a presentation in itself that fully engages the noted audiences in the episode.  When the depth and breadth of the episode’s main feature is considered along with the bonus interviews that are featured in the episode’s home release, the DVD becomes even more appealing.

The bonus extended interviews featured in the episode’s home release are with three of the stars from the Little House on the Prairie TV series and one of the books’ critics.  This gives more balance to the overarching discussion on Wilders’ works and their place in today’s society.  The stars, Melissa Gilbert, Alison Angrim, and Dean Butler, serve as proponents of Wilder’s works.  Gilbert points out during her extended interview, that Wilder’s works “serve as reminder of what’s most important in life during difficult times,” adding that especially applies to the TV series.  Additionally, she points out that the noted reminder plays directly into the continued popularity of the TV series spawned from Wilder’s stories.  Angrim and Butler build on Gilbert’s discussion by noting their own respect for Wilder and her works.  Angrim jokes about how people would claim they didn’t watch Little House on the Prairie, yet the ratings – even in bigger markets – said otherwise.  It’s a real statement about the continued appeal of the series.  Butler closes the discussion by stressing if he could say one thing to Wilder, it would be “thank you” for her stories.

On the completely opposite side of the proverbial fence, opponent Linda Sue Park addresses the racial stereotypes in Wilder’s stories in her extended interview.  She argues that the depictions of Native Americans and African-Americans “leave out so many points of view.”  She adds that the stories do not tell the full story of how America was settled and how Wilder’s depictions will “continue to shape our national conversation” until discussions take place on those depictions.  Again, this continues to show both sides of the proverbial coin in terms of the role of Wilder’s stories in global culture even today.  Audiences will appreciate that equal representation even here.  It makes for even more respect for PBS and its programs, and for this specific program.

There is no doubt that the overall content featured in Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page will keep viewers engaged throughout its approximately 95-minute run time.  That run time includes the run times of the bonus extended interviews.  Considering the quantity and quality of the content featured in this episode of American Masters, the average price point of the episode’s DVD proves to be its own positive point.  That price point is approximately $22.  Considering that this episode of American Masters exceeds the series’ regular hour-long run time, and that it features some bonus content, that average point is to be expected.  The DVD was not listed through Target and Books-A-Million at the time of this review’s posting.  PBS, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers have the most expensive listings, at $24.99 and $23.97 respectively.  To be precise, Walmart’s listing of $23.97 is through DeepDiscounts, one of its selling partners, so technically, that listing is through a second party, not directly through Walmart.  Meanwhile, Amazon and Best Buy each list the DVD at $17.99, well below the noted average price point.  Considering this, the purchase option is far clearer than in other cases.  Even with that in mind, PBS will still benefit financially regardless. It will receive a portion of the sales from Amazon and Best Buy, and their prices will not break any viewer’s budget.  Considering that inexpensive listings do exist, and that the content featured in this DVD will ensure viewers’ engagement, the whole of the DVD proves itself to be a presentation that will appeal widely to audiences.

American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder From Prairie to Page is a presentation that will appeal to a variety of audiences.  Whether one is a lover of books, a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, or even the television series that the books spawned, the program will find appeal from plenty of viewers.  That is due in no small part to the episode’s central story.  The story delves into the reality of Wilder’s life and how that stacks up against her stories.  Additionally, it takes on the depictions of certain ethnic minority groups, what with the growing cancel culture in America.  The bonus extended interviews that accompany the episode in its DVD release add their own touch to the presentation.  When all of that content is considered along with the DVD’s average price point and separate listings, the appeal remains strong.  Each item noted clearly plays its own important part in the whole of the episode’s home presentation.  All things considered, they make the DVD a presentation that any lover of literary works will enjoy as well as Wilder’s own fans.  American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page is available now.

More information on this and other episodes of American Masters is available online now at:




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