At this point I know what you're thinking: "Cripes, Dutch, you're writing about Little House on the Prairie? How gay are you?"

The truth is, pretty darn gay I guess. But I know I've been talking a lot of shit about "how much I hate television" lately, so to prove that I'm not a total prick I thought I'd write about one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

When I was a kid, every night at six o'clock I would watch a syndicated LHOTP episode with my cut-up-smoky-link-filled macaroni and cheese. I loved that show. Don't get me drunk and talking about the time Laura found fool's gold in the creek or the episode where Mary burned down the barn. Or that time Nellie pretended to be in the wheelchair and she rolled down the hill into the creek? I will talk about LHOTP all night. Remember the time Laura stole Nellie's music box and had all those trippy punishment nightmares? Or how Pa made that stuttering Swedish chick with the short leg special shoes so she could play stickball with the other girls? Remember when Laura and Andy Garvey try to catch the creeper of Walnut Grove by putting a bucket of green paint above the door and it ended up turning Pa's hair green? I loved that shit, son.

I read an article recently about how little boys generally stick their noses up at books with girls on the cover, the major exception being the Little House series. There's something about that whole wood choppin' homesteadin' huntin' & fishin' thing that I know I really enjoyed, and part of that came through in the character of Charles Ingalls, brought unforgettably to life by Michael Landon. Although I enjoyed the books, I was never as mesmerized by them as I was by the television show, primarily because it was easier to watch the TV show than read. But I had also seen the show before I read the books, and I just never could accept the gruff, bearded fellow that Laura Ingalls Wilder described in the books as Pa. To me, Pa was Michael Landon, fresh-faced and 70s shagged and fucking awesome.

I don't understand why Michael Landon is not a gay icon. If I were gay, I would totally be gay for 1974-era Michael Landon. How do the gay choose their icons? Judy Garland? Cher? Why not Michael Landon? He had the whole western thing going. When he was on Bonanza, he had his shirt off half the time. And Landon's muscles weren't those "4 sets of 12 reps to work my rhomboids" muscles, but muscles earned pitching bales of hay and kicking ass. Plus he seemed to be really close to one of my favorite-all-time actors, Victor French. Victor's got to be a hairy bear icon if ever there was one. And don't forget those four and a half seasons of Highway to Heaven, which itself was one of the awesomest shows ever, it makes that show about angels starring Maya Angelou that my grandma loved so much look like a steaming pile of horseshit. Highway to Heaven's resurgence on TV Land almost feels like an excuse for me to get cable. I love it because it looks so old now, the way episodes of I Love Lucy looked when I was a kid. Except I remember when Highway to Heaven was new.

I'm dead serious about Little House on the Prairie, though. Michael Landon might not have made it as a gay icon, but I do see him as an icon of fatherhood. Despite whatever problems he had in real life, on screen Michael Landon knew how to be a father, particularly a father to little girls, which seems like more of a challenge than siring little boys. I loved the way he always kept in touch with his tender side, even though you knew if some rowdy drunkards came to town and disrupted Rev. Alden's sermon or if one of Laura's schoolmates was consistently getting too harsh a whuppin' from his own Pa, Charles would be there with a stern look and the guns to back up what's right. And he was always right. Pa was equally capable of playing a fiddle tune before bedtime, comforting half pint over the loss of a pet, or giving practical homespun advice about how to deal with that snooty Mrs. Oleson and her venomous progeny. Crap, all this talk makes me want to go eat bacon strips at Cracker Barrel with Victor French and reminisce about old times, I miss being 9 and watching that show so much.

The thing that strikes me now about the show was its fucking decency. Walnut Grove was portrayed as such an idealized community, where neighbors supported each other in hard times and Doc Baker was happily paid in small livestock. Walnut Grove felt very safe. There were no lawyers in Walnut Grove. I wanted to live there. Though uniformly Christian, these characters weren't your typical homo-hating southern-fried anti-intellectual evangelicals. Their Christianity provided them with a moral compass to do good in their community: to make the right decision even when it was hard or unpopular. And man, did they love to sing "Onward Christian soldiers" and "Bringing in the Sheaves." Poor Reverend Alden. I think his hymnals only had those two songs.

In Pa Ingalls, Landon (who produced, wrote, and directed the series as well) created a character who exemplified a certain Christian moral ideal that I can approve of: honest, loyal, faithful, non-conforming (hello: a 70s shag in Victorian Minnesota?), loving, hardworking. He could make or do anything. This was true in the books, but really came to life on the screen. Pa would work a whole day at Hansen's lumber mill, come home and plow the fields, and then crack jokes at the dinner table and ask his girls about their day and tuck them into bed before making sweet prairie love to Caroline on a mattress full of hay after the last oil lamp burned out. Now that's one hot hunk of Christian fatherhood, right there.

When I was a kid, I got dragged to church every Sunday. My church wasn't like Walnut Grove's church/school. Everyone there was so old. And the minister was so boring. And they never sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" or "Bringing in the Sheaves."It was torture. We didn't have homemade fried-chicken in a picnic basket waiting in the wagon for a kickass picnic down on the banks of Plum Creek after church. If we were lucky, we had a bucket of KFC and three sides to eat while my dad watched This Old House. I know a lot of people, even nonbelievers, who bring their kids to church just to instill some kind of vague morality in them. To that I ask: why torture when you can entertain? I got all the morality I needed from Little House on the Prairie, bitches. And now they have it commercial free on DVD.