Anytime I think about my favorite episodes of "Little House," this one easily cracks the top three. Sweet, charming, and absolutely brimming with youthful innocence from beginning to end, there is very little to dislike about this episode, and it's the one I always turn to when I need a good, fluffy "Little House" fix!
In short, this little gem from Season 1 tells the story of a young girl named Olga, who was born with a short leg and seems to be ostracized by everyone at school, even the typically compassionate Ingalls girls. You'd think that at the very least, Mary would have reached out to her sooner, but I guess that's not really important. What matters is that after Laura is treated badly by the oh-so-snooty Nellie Oleson at her birthday party, she connects with Olga, and a nice friendship follows. Charles then comes up with an idea to build Olga an elevated shoe, and while her grandmother loves the idea, Olga's bitter widowed father has no interest in accepting this kind offer. Charles then proceeds to back away out of respect, but Olga's grandmother soon comes by behind her son's back and asks Charles to go ahead with the idea anyway. He agrees and builds a wonderful shoe, and from that point, we get a glimpse at how Olga's life takes a complete turn now that she can run and play with the other children--a luxury that life never afforded her until now.
What I love about this episode is that the characters are so young and likable (although they always were likable), and the 45-minute story seeks to do nothing more than entertain the audience with a happy, huge-hearted tale of true friendship. It's also fun to see how much development had not yet taken place with many of the characters, namely with Nellie and her mother. Alison Arngrim (Nellie)'s quieter, somewhat timid acting from those early days is evident, as the character has not yet evolved into the full-fledged nasty monster she eventually became. Harriet Oleson, too, is shockingly calm and even (sort of) encourages her children to be polite. I mean, seriously, Harriet Oleson telling her kids not to be rude??? That's certainly a sight to see! If this exact same episode had taken place even just one season later, Harriet would have really flown off the handle with the "doll dress ripping" incident, and she would have insisted that Caroline Ingalls pay for the "damage" that Laura did. You can tell that the writers really had fun tweaking the role of Harriet and bringing her up about a hundred notches over the years, but again, that hadn't yet happened when this episode aired, so watching the scenes with Harriet is very interesting.
Furthermore, although Olga's character is fictional, Nellie Oleson's "town party" and Mary and Laura's "country party" really did happen, and many of the events from the plot are taken directly from Laura Ingalls Wilder's fourth book, "On the Banks of Plum Creek." This episode does not follow the original book exactly, but it's pretty close--much closer than most of the other episodes from the series. As you watch the kids play their little baseball game, or when Laura tricked Nellie into falling face-first in the creek (a darn good moment, and one of the girls' first infamous "water fights"), you can't help but smile. Overall, this is an utterly charming and enjoyable episode is the type that you can watch over and over. It always reminds me why I love this show, and I can never help misting up a little when Olga hugs Charles for making her shoe. Sigh. This is what good TV is all about! :)