The Waltons: The Complete First Season gathers those preliminary episodes from the series building on the strengths of the Homecoming pilot, which introduced the extended Walton clan led by a strong-willed mill owner, John (Andrew Duggan), and his equally resolute spouse, Olivia (Patricia Neal). The Waltons recast those essential roles (along with a couple of others) with Ralph Waite and Michael Learned (yup, a female), but Richard Thomas carried over as earliest kid John-Boy Walton, an aspiring writer whose cusp-of-manhood view notifies the series. Will Geer (Seconds) replaced Edgar Bergen as Grandpa Walton, Ellen Corby remained as Grandma, and John and Olivia's big brood (7 kids in all) were submitted by mostly unknown, young actors. The episodes, still delightful and touching, strong on production worths and unusually tight and polished for primetime drama, tended to concentrate on creator Hamner's pet themes of self-sacrifice and heroic effort when the going got hard.
Year 1 highlights consist of "The Carnival", in which the impoverished Waltons, who can't spend for tickets to see a circus efficiency, end up safeguarding stranded carney folk. "The Typewriter" is a classic about John-Boy "borrowing" a museum's antique typewriter, just to have his sibling Mary Ellen (Judy Norton) offer it as scrap. "The Sinner" concerns the arrival of a fundamentalist minister on Walton's Mountain, finding comfort in the words of religious iconoclast John Walton after the clergyman humiliates himself with moonshine. That's Hamner himself providing touches of narrative. During the long run of the multiple-award-winning The Waltons, there were numerous changes in casting and stories. However this boxed set reveals a fine series in its beautiful state. -- Tom Keogh