The Waltons: Homecoming Plays it Safe for Holiday Special

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The Waltons: Homecoming (2021)

In the 1970s, America grew nostalgic for, of all things, the Great Depression. And so they sat down in droves in front of their TV screens to watch the weekly adventures of The Waltons, a close-knit nuclear family of eight (not counting the grandparents) who lived on Walton's Mountain. And while the series was about the entire family, the central focus was driven by the narratory -- the future version of aspiring author, John Boy Walton, who was played by Richard Thomas.

Thomas puts in an appearance in this new release, The Waltons: Homecoming, a brand-new Christmas story that introduces the Walton family to a new generation. And while the cast is brand new, by necessity, the casting department and the acting performances really brings the original characters to fresh life without despoiling too much the versions that older audiences know and love.

While this extra-length episode has a handful of subplots, the thrust of the story is the return of John Walton, Sr. (Ben Lawson), coming home in time for Christmas from a remote job site. But his return may be impeded by a winter storm. With John away and his timely return in doubt, family matriarch Olivia Walton (Prodigal Son's Bellamy Young) struggles and worries with an outward cheer and hopefulness to keep her restless brood in high spirits,: John Boy (Logan Shroyer), Mary Ellen (Marcelle LeBlanc), Jason (Christian Finlayson), Elizabeth (Callaway Corrick), Toby (Michael Kendall Kaplan), Jim Bob (Samuel Goergen), and Erin (Tatum Matthews). The kids have their infighting as any siblings do, always underscored by the fact that they really do care about and watch out for each other, and they do seem to remain in character with the original cast version. Even Grandpa an Grandma Walton (Alpha Trivette and Rebecca Koon) do a good job at reminding us of their predecessors.

Where the story is weak, however, is with its approach to more mature topics, with it's simultaneous reluctance to address any real conflict. Mary Ellen's moodiness is chalked up by one of the siblings as her being angry that Santa isn't going to bring her breasts for Christmas, and the children infrequently use mild cursing, with the excuse, "Daddy says it." The family is invited to Christmas Eve service by a neighbor, and youngest daughter Elizabeth asks why they don't go to that church all the time as opposed to their regular place of worship, since the other church is closer. Olivia gives a bland answer that glosses over the fact that the closer church is a Black church, athough it is indeed the church they end up attending on Christmas Eve (with guest appearances by Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo).

The tension of John's safe return is never truly felt. The snowstorm never looks more than an average snowfall. The roads always appear clear when the shots are taken. And the actual incident that could delay John (and put him in physical harm) occurs off camera, robbing the audience of sharing any real concern.

Overall, The Waltons: Homecoming is an emotionally safe show that will induce nostalgia for the original, but one that could have been much more than what was delivered.

3.5 / 5.0