Not the Bonanza I Hoped For
I reckon I can trace my love of westerns back to my childhood during the 70s and 80s when I would regularly watch the re-runs of "The High Chaparral" and "Bonanza" and whilst I haven't seen either in decades and remember little I would love to watch them again. It is why when I got the chance to watch "Bonanza: The Next Generation", the 1988 TV movie, I had to give it a go even though I was extremely sceptical as to whether it could come anywhere close to what little I remembered of the original series.
Now the first thing to state is none of the original cast returns as just prior to "Bonanza: The Next Generation" going in to production Lorne Greene died and with that put Michael Landon right off of reprising his role which as I understand it wasn't sure of in the first place. It is a shame as whilst the original "Bonanza" was special because of a lot of things from the great theme tune to Lorne Greene's white hair it was the people who made it, it was the chemistry between Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon and so without them this made for TV movie was already fighting an uphill battle even though Michael Landon Jr. and Lorne Greene's daughter Gillian appear.
But the lack of original cast is not the movies only issues as "Bonanza: The Next Generation" also struggles by having a frankly convoluted storyline which I can only presume came to be in order to fill out 90 plus minutes. We have the late Ben's never been heard of before brother Aaron now running the Ponderosa, Little Joe has died doing his patriotic duty at The Battle of San Juan Hill and his son Benjamin returns from schooling as his mum Annabel is still living at the ranch. Then there is a subplot about Hoss having an illegitimate son called Josh who arrives full of anger having never met his father only to learn that he died some time ago but was not the bad guy he thought he was. Add to that a ranch hand called Charlie who appears to have a dodgy past and who is very protective over the way Ben ran the Ponderosa bringing him into conflict with Aaron. And that leads me to what eventually is the main storyline about miners raping the land using high powered jets which brings conflict when the Cartwright's discover this and the town turn against them as they set about closing them down.
The trouble with all the above is on paper it works, it introduces us to all the characters, sets up love interests and conflicts whilst also giving us some drama for the Cartwright family to deal with and come out being the good guys. But when it appears on screen it ends up forced, all over the place and very bitty with scenes tossed in which end up having no real purpose such as Benjamin being kind to some travellers who have an attractive daughter. It almost feels like this made for TV movie was designed that if it worked there would be more movies and maybe even a new TV series with what we learned in this expanded upon. Unfortunately it doesn't work and whilst there is some charm to it and some old fashioned values it just feels convoluted.
Now I already mentioned that none of the original cast returned and with out them "Bonanza: The Next Generation" just didn't feel right. But it does have some plus points starting with veteran western star John Ireland cast as Aaron Cartwright and he manages to give Aaron plenty of character and not a bad leader of the family whilst Robert Fuller as ranch hand Charlie Poke also brings plenty of character to the role with an underlying menacing side. Then there is the new generation and whilst Michael Landon Jr. lacked the charisma of his father there are glimpses of promise as he certainly understands what a "Bonanza" character should be. Unfortunately Brian A. Smith as Josh is hit and miss as is Gillian Greene who as Benjamin's love interest comes across as over enthusiastic to be following in her father's footsteps. It does sadly make "Bonanza: The Next Generation" hit and miss but more hit than miss with nice supporting performances from the likes of John Amos, Barbara Anderson and Peter Mark Richman.
What this all boils down to is that "Bonanza: The Next Generation" doesn't compare well when you compare it to the original and suffers from not only lacking the original cast but also having a convoluted story. Yet whilst not as good as I hoped it would be it was still kind of entertaining and certainly tried to reclaim some of the charm of the original.