By Robert MacKenzie
TV Guide, March 29, 1979

The panoramic CBS prairie epic may make you envy the Western pioneers. All they had to worry about were things like Indians, rattlesnakes, fires, bandits, storms, floods and droughts.

At least the pioneers' worries were first-hand and tangible. They read no newspapers, watched no television news. If the world was full of insanity and random horrors, they didn't know about it. An occasional Indian attack may be easier on the nerves, overall, than the steady ran of awful news that leaves us so depressed and uneasy these days.

The Chisholms have their troubles, of course, as their wagon train rolls across that refreshing expanse of plains, mountain and sky. But mostly they're the kind of problems that can be fixed by manly actions and honest dealing. There's never even much doubt about what they should do, though in one episode about an Indian attack, Pa Chisholm thought they should put the wagons in a circle, while the wagon master wanted a rectangle.

I suspect the real pioneers were dirty and exhausted most of the time, hungry at least some of the time and romantic hardly ever. Whereas the daisy-fresh girls and handsome young men in this series flirt and carry on something scandalous. They seem rather hip for their day. But in the early episodes, Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris were magnificently square, home-spun and solid as the heads of the clan.

Preston has left the series, and I'm not sure it can survive without him. He played Hadley Chisholm, a hardy plain-dealing Virginian who lived by the Bible and figured the Lord would provide if He got a little help. "Well, if that don't tie the pup," he said when something surprised him. If all the actors had Preston's direct, unaffected quality, The Chisholms would have the kind of folksy authenticity it seems to want. As it is, though, there's a leisurely, spacious feeling about it--sort of like an itinerant Waltons. The open spaces are painted as fetchingly as they can be on the little screen, and the natural calamities that come along are convincingly done. A prairie fire sequence, with the wagoneers digging breaks and riding through the flames, was spectacular.

Less enthralling, to me anyway, are all those conflicts among the offspring, who are almost too numerous to keep track of. There is Will Chisholm (Ben Murphy), who is married to an Indian girl; his brothers Bo and Gideon (James Van Patten and Brett Cullen), who are after the same troublemaking girl; Bonnie Sue (Delta Burke), who is married to a semireformed brawler and seems always to be pregnant. Another daughter is dead, and yet another has been adopted. Then there is the wagon master (Mitchell Ryan) and a host of other travelers and drop-ins. When they all get to squabbling, wooing and maneuvering, it is too thick for me. I can hardly wait for everyone to hitch up and git movin' again.

By and large this is OK family viewing; kids can learn that life was possible without pizza, TV and disco, while their parents can recover somewhat from the 6 o'clock news.

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