Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Little People Big World: How Much Will The World Take?

TLC has hit a goldmine of reality television featuring families living under less than ordinary circumstances. From The Duggers and their army of seventeen (or eighteen), to Jon and Kate plus their eight children (two are twins and the rest are sextuplets), candid fly-on-the-wall features such as these can ease the furrowed brow of any frazzled parent ready to down a bottle of booze at the sound of their kids hitting each other with the the TV remote. One can placate their own problems reasoning as such: If this family has it rough, then my life doesn't look so bad.

"Little People Big World" is the candid reality show that has won my heart back in 2006, when it first hit the air. Matt and Amy Roloff were presented as dwarfs who produced four children: three of them were average sized, and one was a little person. As the opening title narration goes, they live in a world that wasn't made for them, yet they get through obstacles and challenges just like any regular sized person.

Their home in Portland, Oregon is a sprawling autumnal lushness of land named Roloff Farms. It lays beneath the glowing lights of their home in long shots from sunrise to sunset, instantly bringing warmth and longing for such a picture perfect pile. But inside the Roloff world, their love and togetherness is filled will some elements of chaos.

The children, Jeremy, Zack, Molly and Jacob are the usual set of hyperactive kids, three out of four being teenagers. The twins - Jeremy and Zack are very distracted with their social lives that includes hanging with their friends and playing soccer. They are in their Junior year of high school, and were failing badly until special after school tutors saved the day. Jacob, youngest son, tries to play with the big boys, and often gets emotionally or physically hurt. Molly, a teen herself, deals with the usual annoyances of parentage, but has a solid character, and seems to roll with the problems her brothers hand out to Matt and Amy. When the boys aren't getting grounded for racing their cars in mud patches or driving Dad's tractor, Molly is usually in the corner with a smile, above it all. Bless her.

Father Matt has been a bit of a problem child himself. Last year he was charged with suspicion of DUI, and a few episodes showed the stress filled courtroom drama as it unfolded. Amy, the stoic wife, stood by her man. Having been through so many other challenges with him, this hurdle was a pretty scary one. He did get off, and all seems well today, although he appears more cautious about drinking even a small amount during social moments.

Matt's childhood of grueling surgeries and hospitalizations provided enough physical limitations to allow his imagination to dream big dreams. Today, Matt directs family and friends alike to plow, nail, build, as he hurries back and forth on his mobile mule, directing the installation of a new pool, jacuzzi, new kitchen, new garage, and apparently a new house - since the latest renovation has now run amok - to fulfill his grand vision of Roloff Farms. The homestead is always a work in progress, always on a time schedule to work in one last project before their daughter Molly's birthday party, or get a porch finished before Amy's class of pre-schoolers come around for a graduation celebration.

A fan of this show can ask, "Will this show continue for the next few years?" The twins are aiming to leave for college, although nothing has really been confirmed since academia hasn't been their main focus. How many more fun filled vacations can viewers endure without wondering if the Roloffs are just a vehicle for TLC to help sell vacation packages? What is going to happen when all the ideas on the farm are dried up, and that third swimming pool takes it's last toll on the viewers' belief that the family is like any other "normal" family, and not a television network subsidized clan that has hit pay dirt by enjoying the cash rewards of having cameras in their faces all day long? Wasn't this the family that entered into our lives a few years ago with money troubles and belt tightening just like us?

The Roloffs have plenty of love. It lives within the piles of clothes and construction areas of planks and dry wall. It finds its way beyond the stench of Jacob's cluttered mini-van with month old Big Macs sitting next to empty Mountain Dew cans. Oh, there is love. But as much as I admire the Roloffs and their devotion to the family tree, there will come a day when TLC may have to say goodbye for a while, saving the Roloff travails for annual or bi-annual check ins to see how the children are dealing with adulthood, and how the parents continue in an empty nest - a very big, high vaulted ceiling, three car garage with massive barn and many acres of land - nest.

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