The Hollywood Reporter - Sept. 7, 2001
The Ponderosa

By Ray Richmond
It says everything about primetime television in the new millennium that we need to go clear
back to the mid-1800s to find a group of guys who have something on their minds besides winning a million bucks or bedding down with a choice babe. Indeed, "The Ponderosa" returns us to those wholesome, moralistic, dusty days of yesteryear when strangers were able to bond outside the presence of cameras and microphones -- and a man could be named Little Joe without concern for phallic innuendo.

Yes, it must be Pax.

Not that there appeared to be a great outcry o'er the land for TV to produce a "Bonanza" prequel or anything, but that's just what "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" alum Beth Sullivan and original "Bonanza" creator David Dortort have done, in tandem with "Lonesome Dove" director Simon Wincer. They have fashioned for Pax a gentle and engaging horse opera of an original series that's light on the trappings and heavy on the earnestness.

While the two-hour pilot treads a whole lot of familiar territory, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, amid all of the hipper-than-thou yuppies and cloying families descending on network audiences this fall, a cornball throwback like "The Ponderosa" supplies a welcome dose of family-friendly frontier fare. And in "Second Noah's" Daniel Hugh Kelly -- the lone familiar name and face in the cast -- the show sports an actor who is skilled at the patriarchal integrity thing.

Not that "The Ponderosa" is going to make anyone forget "Bonanza" -- or, perhaps in this case, remember it. That little TV western classic has been off the air for 28 years, having run on NBC for 14 seasons (1959-73). It starred Lorne Greene as widower and father Ben Cartwright, Dan Blocker as middle son Hoss and, of course, Michael Landon as young tough Little Joe.

In "The Ponderosa," it's 1849 and a full decade before "Bonanza" as fortysomething Ben (Kelly), 21-year-old son Adam (Matt Carmody), 17-year-old Hoss (Drew Powell) and a 12-year-old Little Joe (Jared Daperis) struggle to settle the land that will ultimately become a 1,000-square-mile ranch.

Ben and the boys are forced to persevere in the face of an evil arsonist and the smoke-inhalation death of Ben's third wife (and Joe's mama), Marie (Lisa Baumwol). But these are hearty dudes. With the help of their devoted cook, Hop Sing (Gareth Yuen), anything is possible. Because even back in those days, a neighborhood was only as good as its Chinese food.

As we might expect with Sullivan on board as an executive producer (she also wrote the pilot), "The Ponderosa" enjoys an injection of estrogen that "Bonanza" never did. The womenfolk here include land settler Margaret Greene (Josephine Byrnes) and daughter Tess (Sara Gleeson) as well as a great Calamity Jane-type saloon owner named Shelby (Nicki Wendt). The fact that none of the ladies will be here a decade hence can mean only one thing:
The men formed an alliance and voted them off the prairie.

Copyright 2005 The Hollywood Reporter, © 2006 VNU eMedia Inc. All rights reserved.

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