TELEVISION DVDs prove 'Lassie' was smart

The boy and his dog will be celebrated with 28 episodes on TV Land.
You think you know "Lassie." But maybe you don't. I was surprised last fall when I reviewed new DVDs from the beloved boy-and-his-dog series of the 1950s-70s. I'd seen the show as a kid, so I remembered it as something sweet and simplistic. -- which it certainly wasn't. This enduring half-hour instead had smarts and seriousness.
The adventures of the heroic collie and her human family members were so involving, I could hardly stop watching the three-disc set's 18 episodes ("Lassie 50th Television Anniversary Edition," Classic Media/Sony Wonder, list price $30).
These gems return to the tube this weekend when TV Land celebrates the collie's TV half-century with a marathon of 28 memorable episodes, airing 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.
They start with the "Jeff's collie" years (1954-57) of tween-age owner Tommy Rettig on a Midwest farm.
Then comes the "Timmy era" (1957-64) of blond kindergartner Jon Provost, a runaway who arrives at the farm just as it's bought by a childless couple who wouldn't mind having a son of their own.
Finally, Lassie joins ranger Robert Bray (1964-70) for forest adventures, before heading out to aid new human friends each week (1970-74).
Taking kids seriously
Even the 1950s episodes resonate decades later because they take kids and their concerns seriously. There's quiet respect for feelings as Jeff and then Timmy face crises as simple as Lassie's growling jealousy of a new refrigerator and as traumatic as an attack by an escaped tiger.
The plots are less focused on making things "happen" than on how their young leads respond to dire situations.
The series' holiday outings (also out on DVD as "Lassie's Christmas Stories" and "Lassie's Gift of Love") reflect religion the same way, without preaching, simply depicting prayer and faith as a natural part of these characters' lives.
"Lassie's" intimacy of approach can actually make it more appealing today for kids accustomed to fast, flashy entertainment.
I gave the DVD set to a neighbor whose 4- and 6-year-old boys are not only "Star Wars" maniacs but also natives of Japan. Even with limited English skills, they couldn't stop watching these gentle tales. And Lassie's bond with young Timmy brought them to tears.
Family TV doesn't get much more moving.

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