Hamner, Earl, Jr. Robert Berkvist - Essay

Robert Berkvist

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Waltons," CBS's gift to viewers who were hoping for one, just one, different show this season, seems strangely out of place until you realize what makes it different: you're being asked to care…. The wonderful and unusual thing about the Waltons is that they come across as real people.

Add to that a bit. The really unusual thing about the Waltons is that they're poor. All right, let's concede that these aren't the ghettoized victims of today's prosperous poverty…. [The] show can't boast the relevance of … well, what's your favorite relevant TV show? "Bridget Loves Bernie"? No, the Waltons relate to something else, something important….

The Waltons' adventures, if they can be called that, are pretty mild stuff next to some of TV's improbable happenings….

What does this story of yesterday's people say to us, here, now? What indeed? Most of us will never know what it's like to live in a sprawling old house with a screen door that slams and cocks that crow in the barnyard. Most of our children won't have run through grassy fields alight with wildflowers. Few of us would give a stranger the time of day, let alone shelter. Family life, for many, is a temporary prison en route to … what?

The Waltons, I think, remind us where we have been and suggest there was value there. This is a picture of a family in which people, real people, talk to one another as people, not as a gaggle of gagwriters for the "Tonight" show. There's respect here, and affection openly displayed, and both young and old have their own dignity.

Robert Berkvist, "Some People We Can Care About," in The New York Times, Section 2 (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 8, 1972, p. 23.