Bonanza: The Next Generation Release Date: 1988 Genre: Western Director: William F. Claxton Writer: Paul Savage Starring: Robert Fuller, John Ireland and Peter Mark Richman The theme music to “Bonanza” begins as a fire spreads, and burns a hole through the stage curtain which looks like a map. A man walks on stage and extinguishes […]

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Bonanza: The Next Generation
Release Date: 1988
Genre: Western
Director: William F. Claxton
Writer: Paul Savage
Starring: Robert Fuller, John Ireland and Peter Mark Richman

The theme music to “Bonanza” begins as a fire spreads, and burns a hole through the stage curtain which looks like a map. A man walks on stage and extinguishes the fire as two shirtless native Indians walk through the hole in the curtain on stage. The audience applauds.

Indian #1: Thank you. I just wish Ben and Hoss and Little Joe and Hop Sing and Sheriff Roy and all your favorites
could be alive today to see this wonderful turnout.
Indian #2: You know, on the series, we were always trying to kill the Cartwrights.
[audience boos]
But it looks like Father Time took care of that for us, right? [pause] Am I right, folks?
[the audience doesn’t respond, so the two Indians motion for the theme song to play again, which they dance to]
Bart: Oh, this sucks.
Marge: Weren’t there three Indians last year?
— “The Homer They Fall”

When I first read that MTI Home Video was releasing this film, originally produced in 1988, I was pissed. Releasing a TV movie made fifteen years prior means that one young filmmaker had to have his piece passed up so MTI could rake in a few Grandfather viewers. After all, “Bonanza” was a long running TV western that long since slipped into the oblivion of syndicated reruns on cable access stations. Why the hell would I want to want to watch a TV movie version of it, which are almost always complete crap?

Turns out I was slightly wrong. The movie’s not complete crap, but the above quote represents the film pretty well. Bonanza: The Next Generation, features none of the original cast members, since, well, nearly all of them passed away before the film was in production. As a result, the film is now about the sons of the original cast having to fight battles similar to the ones their father’s did. But wait! Apparently, we’re not in the mid-twentieth century anymore. You mean it’s not politically correct to have a bunch of white cowboys go and shoot some evil Indians? Well damn, I guess we’ll have to explore the evils hydraulic mining. Everyone hates big businessmen who commit the sin of hydraulic mining on the fragile lands of the Ponderosa! Right? Right???

All jokes about the hokey, tepid plot aside, the film isn’t nearly as stupid as you’d think. The basic plot we’ve got here is that the Ponderosa is being illegally destroyed by gold miners, led brilliantly by the asshole principal from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Apparently, though, the writers felt that such a heart wrenching and compelling story would not satisfy the standard, ninety-minute requirement. So we get sub-plots. Boy do they love their sub-plots. In the end, the majority of the subplots mean shit. We go into the “ride around on a horse and shoot people” formula for the last twenty minutes, and while still stupid, it was a refreshing change from the endings brought to light today.

Admittedly, it’s so much easier to just trash the film’s premise, backstory, multiple sub-plots, and all the other easy material contained within it than to give the film its due. To be honest, it’s actually decent. You get the ASSHOLE GOODNESS of Peter Mark Richman, quality writing when the scenes don’t focus on drama, and an introduction to a world where being shot with a pistol does not cause you to bleed. At all. I mean, you get shot, fall off your horse, and just die leisurely. Now that’s a world I’d like to visit.

DVD: Can’t expect much for a TV movie from fifteen years ago. Standard release with your standard material.

*cue the “Bonanza” theme*

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