I thought it would be fun to rank the Little House on the Prairie episodes based on the ratings users gave them at IMDB and TV.com. I used weighted averages in compiling this list since it seemed like the best method to use and didn’t result in any ties.
I found that this method put some of the best episodes in the top ten and some of the worst in the bottom ten, but there are a few rankings you probably won’t agree with. Predictably the Laura and Almanzo episodes did really well, but it also looks like the Mary and John Jr. episodes had a huge numbers of fans that swayed the rankings, including one episode that upset many Little House fans.
Without any further ado, here are the top ten episodes.
10. “Back to School: Part 2” (Season 6, Episode 2)
Original air date: September 24, 1979
Laura wants Almanzo to see her as an adult and decides to take the graduation exam so she can become a teacher. Nellie gets even for the cinnamon chicken incident by telling Laura that the exam doesn’t have any history and things reach a boiling point with Laura and Nellie’s classic mud wrestling fight.
9. “Sweet Sixteen” (Season 6, Episode 25)
Original air date: February 25, 1980
Laura gets a temporary teaching job in Currie when the teacher breaks her leg. Almanzo sees how maturely she handles the class and starts seeing her in a different light. Almanzo misinterprets a situation with one of the students and punches him, but apologizes to Laura and they end up sharing their first kiss on her sixteenth birthday.
8. “Blizzard” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Original air date: December 27, 1976
Miss Beadle lets the children go home early on Christmas Eve when it starts to snow and tells them she will see them at the Christmas party the next day. Unfortunately, many of the children end not being able to find their way home when the storm develops into a nasty blizzard. The men brave the dangerous conditions and one loses his life when they go searching for the children. When Miss Beadle starts blaming herself, Willie deviates from his normal personality and sweetly tells her it’s not her fault.
7. “Laura Ingalls Wilder: Part 1” (Season 7, Episode 1)
Original air date: September 22, 1980
Almanzo makes a deal to buy land from Mr. Gray for him and Laura and pay it off with his first crop. They excitedly share the news with Charles and Caroline. Laura later gets upset when Almanzo makes it clear that he doesn’t want her teaching once they are married. Mr. Gray, knowing that the land will revert back to him if Almanzo’s crop dies, dams up the creek so no water can get to Almanzo and Laura’s property. Meanwhile, Eliza Jane falls in love with Harve Miller and Nellie announces that she is pregnant.
6. “A Harvest of Friends” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Original air date: September 11, 1974
In the first episode of season one, the Ingalls settle on the banks of Plum Creek. Charles asks the Olesons for credit to buy a plow and seed, but they explain that they only offer credit to farmers they’ve known for a long time. Charles ends up making a deal with Mr. O’Neil. In exchange for a plow and seed, Charles agrees to repair O’Neil’s roof and stack his grain within three weeks. O’Neil makes Charles sign a chattel mortgage agreeing to give up his oxen if he fails to complete the work on time. Charles ends up working for Mr. O’Neil in the morning and working at Mr. Hanson’s mill in the afternoon. He then comes home and works the farm until it’s time for bed. After completing the roof, Charles decides to take the family on an all day picnic to make up for all the time he’s spent working. Unfortunately he falls out of a tree while trying to retrieve a kite and breaks his ribs. Dr. Baker says it never ceases to amaze him the ways man can find to hurt himself. O’Neil assumes Charles won’t be able to stack the grain and takes the oxen a day early. Charles can’t afford to lose the oxen and tries to stack the grain with broken ribs. He collapses and then Laura and Mary start stacking the grain. Dr. Baker, Mr. Hanson, Nels and numerous townspeople see the girls struggling and team up to stack all the grain allowing Charles to keep his oxen.
5. “I’ll Ride the Wind” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Original air date: January 10, 1977
John Jr. asks Mary to marry him and she accepts. He is then offered a four-year scholarship to the university in Chicago based on his writing abilities. Mr. Edwards is upset that John doesn’t want to be a farmer, and Mary is upset that they will only see each other twice a year, but she encourages him to go. John is conflicted about what to do, but announces that he has decided to stay and farm with Mr. Edwards. Isiah excitedly shows John and Mary eighty acres of land that he has been saving for them in case John decided to be a farmer. John starts building a house and working the field, but Mary soon realizes that he isn’t truly happy. Mary makes Mr. Edwards see that he is only staying for them and they agree that it is best to give John their blessing to go to the university.
4. “Christmas at Plum Creek” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Original air date: December 25, 1974
It’s Christmas time and members of the Ingalls family worry about what they are going to get each other for Christmas and how they are going to be able to afford the gifts. Charles ends up fixing up a set of buckboard wheels from a wreck for Mr. Oleson for $8, and Mary gets a job sewing for Mrs. Whipple. Caroline secretly sews a shirt for Charles when nobody is around, but Laura has a tough time figuring out what she is going to do for a gift. She finally gets an idea and whispers something to Mr. Oleson at the mercantile. Charles finishes the wagon wheels and tells Nels that instead of the money, he wants to buy Caroline a stove. Nels desperately tries to talk him into getting something else, but Charles insists on buying the stove. Charles and Caroline are in for quite a surprise on Christmas morning after constantly reiterating to the children and each other that Christmas isn’t a time for asking questions. Caroline ends up hiding the shirt she made for Charles when Mary gives him a shirt that she made with Mrs. Whipple, and Charles is surprised when it turns out that Nels didn’t want to sell him the stove because Laura had already made a deal to trade her horse Bunny for the stove.
3. “Back to School: Part 1” (Season 6, Episode 1)
Original air date: September 17, 1979
Nellie gets a restaurant and hotel as a present after passing the graduation exam and ungratefully asks “Who’s going to do the cooking?” Nellie refuses to cook, so the Olesons end up hiring Caroline to do the cooking. Almanzo Wilder arrives in Walnut Grove causing Laura and Nellie’s rivalry to heat up as they vie for his affections. Mrs. Oleson invites Almanzo to have dinner with Nellie at the restaurant and promises Nellie will cook him his favorite dish, cinnamon chicken. Since Nellie can’t cook and Caroline refuses to work on a Sunday, Laura volunteers to cook and let Nellie take the credit. She uses cayenne pepper instead of cinnamon which causes Almanzo to leave and sends Nellie into a rage.
2. “Times of Change” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Original air date: September 19, 1977
Mary’s fiancé, John Jr., writes her a letter saying that he misses her and wishes she could go to the cotillion dance with him in Chicago. Charles is chosen to represent Walnut Grove at the Grange Convention, which is also in Chicago. He plans on taking Caroline, but she insists that he take Mary so she can visit John Jr. They are treated to first class train and hotel accommodations. John acts happy to see Mary when they arrive, but then it is revealed that he is seeing a girl named Claire Lawrence. John splits his time with both girls at the cotillion and tells each of them that he is busy covering the cotillion for the newspaper. Charles finds out that many members of the Grange have been corrupted by the railroad, and that he received the first class accommodations in an attempt to get him to vote no on state regulation. Charles then catches John kissing Claire and tells him he is about as angry as he has ever been in his entire life. John admits that he is no longer in love with Mary and says he planned on telling Mary in a letter after she got back to Walnut Grove, but Charles convinces him to tell her in person.
Many fans complained that John would have never cheated on Mary. Some feel this was done because Victor French left the show after season three and the Edwards family was written out, but Mary may have foreshadowed this in “I’ll Ride the Wind” when she told John living in Chicago would change him.
1. “I’ll Be Waving as You Drive Away: Part 1″(Season 4, Episode 21)
Original air date: March 6, 1978
Mary’s eyes start bothering her, so Charles figures she is due for an eye exam and takes her to Dr. Burke who says it’s just a little eye strain. He says she should try wearing her glasses more often for a while and gives her a new prescription. Mary still has trouble reading and says the new glasses aren’t much better than the old ones. Charles takes her back in and Dr. Burke is surprised to learn that Mary once had scarlet fever. He tells Charles that the fever damaged the nerves and that Mary is going blind. Charles refuses to believe it until he sees her eyesight continue to deteriorate over the next few weeks. He eventually tells Mary who bursts into tears and runs off. She is very bitter after she goes blind and sits around feeling sorry for herself. Dr. Baker tells the Ingalls that they are doing too much for her and recommends they send her to a blind school in Burton, Iowa so she can learn to do for herself. Mary feels that her parents only want to get her out from under foot, but they don’t give in and Charles reassures Caroline that they are doing the right thing.
This dramatic episode finished number 71 on TV Guide’s list of the “Top 100 Episodes of All Time” in 2009. Part 1 of the episode finished number 2 in the Nielsen ratings behind Happy Days for the week ending March 12, 1978 with 20.9 million households tuned in, and Part 2 finished number 1 in the ratings a week later with 22.6 million households watching. Ed Friendly said he wanted Mary to go blind at the end of the first season and said that was the biggest issue in his power struggle with Michael Landon. I personally agree with the decision to wait until the end of season four. I believe the impact of Mary going blind after viewers spent four years getting to know and love her character was much greater than it would have been after only a year.
If you want to see where your favorite episode ended up, here is a link to the complete list from 1 to 205 including the pilot movie and the three movies made after season 9.
I was surprised to see “Times of Change” and “Blizzard” end up in the top ten. They are good episodes, but I don’t think most Little House fans consider them to be among the ten best episodes. The rest of the top ten is full of great episodes that I don’t think too many people will argue with. My main disagreement with the rankings is the pilot movie ending up at 104. Overall, I thought the rankings ended up pretty accurate considering the number of great episodes that ended up in the top ten and the number of bad episodes that ended up in the bottom ten. I wouldn’t have put “For the Love of Blanche” at the very bottom, but can’t argue with “The Older Brothers”, “The Halloween Dream”, and “The Godsister” finishing in the bottom four.
One thing I noticed is that the comedy episodes did not rank well with “The Nephews” and “The Legend of Black Jake” joining “For the Love of Blanche” and “The Older Brothers” in the bottom ten. Many fans like “The Nephews”, so I was surprised to see it finish so low. I wasn’t surprised to see “For the Love of Blanche” finish low based on what I’ve read from other fans over the years, even though I found it funny and didn’t think it was the worst Little House episode of all time. “The Older Brothers” on the other hand felt like a very weak attempt at Three Stooges type comedy and definitely deserved a low ranking.
Please leave comments about your favorite and least favorite episodes and what you think about about this list.