Customer Reviews: Frontier House
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VINE VOICEon August 3, 2006
I've seen all of the DVD's in PBS's The House series. Out of all of them, I'd say that Manor House and Frontier House are the best of them.

Frontier House is pretty realistic in terms of the clothing, the setting and scenarios follow the lives of the original pioneers as closely as possible. Seeing modern day families try and relive that style of life is entertaining and highly engaing and educational. We forget how far we've come from those days in the past and how much we rely on modern day technology. My favorite example is TOILET PAPER!! Not only do these poor folks have to build their own outhouses, they have no toilet paper, only a small tin of water, some leaves or a small rag that has to be cleaned then reused. We forget how lucky we are to have indoor plumbing!

Although the families are not the most engaging because they seem reluctant to give up modern day conviniences and complain about the harsh lifestyle and hard work, you understand their struggles and hardships. Watching these familes become more closely knit and work as a team is facinating, and shows just how hard our pioneer ancestors struggles to build lives for themselves.

As the show progresses, we watch new challenges arise, such as running out of food, dealing with livestock, building log cabins and other buildings such as outhouses and chicken coops. Learning how to slaughter and butcher animals is another task that has to be mastered, along with learning to farm.

PBS did a wonderful thing introducing this series of "time travel" shows. Not only do we learn about different periods in history, but we learn how modern day people interact and live in these settings. These are wonderful to watch with your family and children, and would be great in a classroom setting.
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VINE VOICEon January 22, 2004
Rarely have I heard so much whining in a PBS series. My god, the Clunes --- everyone I knew who watched this had pretty much the same thing to say about them. Rich, privileged and delusional, the Clunes drove us all crazy with their whining and self-serving rationalizations. They were like a car accident --- they sickened you, but you couldn't help but watch them.

Watching the Glenns on the other hand was pure agony, as you witnessed the disintegration of a marriage that appeared to be cracking up even before the Frontier House experiment. Although they proved to be quite equal to the task (the Clunes, by contrast, would have had to resort to cannibalism to survive the winter), the Glenns might have ended up killing each other somewhere along the way. I suspect that the Glenns, unfortunately, depicted all too accurately many a domestic situation on the historical frontier.

If you have photographs of your 19th-century ancestors, particularly those who were sod-busters, take a good look at those faces. They are the faces of weathered, hardened people who have looked adversity in the face. Watching this series will make you understand why they looked so hardened. Of course, the Clunes never would have gotten a chance to get their portraits made, because they would be dead.
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on February 5, 2004
I have seen the series but I must confess, I do not yet own the DVD. Even without whatever extras might be featured on DVD this is a very worthy view. They take 5 families, some with kids, and they all must live by the rules of a different era for nearly a year, in an isolated area of Montana. So for a year, all these families, these people from the 21st century, must live like pioneers. They build cabins, dig outhouses, chop wood, plant and tend gardens, raise and harvest animals & try not to starve to death. They can only go for supplies as time and money allows; these trips take a day each way and they shop at a recreated general store, only allowed to buy things possible to obtain in the 1800's. They follow them around with cameras, documenting their lives and struggles. Except for the cameras, everything else is pretty much authentically from the pioneer era. Also, perhaps best of all, in addition to the documenting cameras, each person involved is filmed in more private, confessional-type settings, and they often say whatever they want; personal opinions, feelings about other pioneer community members, all kinds of interesting things.
The reasons I like this: It seems to unfold in a very real and natural way, never seems contrived. You get to see first hand, get a first-hand feeling of being there without becoming soiled personally, in a more detailed, more personal way than ever before, how it must have been for our brave pioneering forefathers. It gives you a better understanding and a bigger appreciation for aforementioned forefathers. You get deeply inside these people's lives for a year, feel almost acquainted with them. Like with any show or movie with many characters, you choose favorites, discover one or two with whom you can relate, yet by the end you like even those you at first were not fond of, at least a little. These families struggle and grow as we watch, some growth is in ways that we might imagine and that we could all likely benefit from, other growth is in ways none of us could really imagine, ways none of us in this century are prepared to deal with; all grow stronger in sense of individual strength and discipline, family connectivity, and community values. You get to see these people transformed as you watch in the course of their year, and in some ways you are transformed right along with them. As they live for a year in the past, we watch as they struggle, squabble and form strong bonds with themselves and with one another. By the time they leave, even the worst enemies among them hug tearfully goodbye, and we are right there with them.
In the end a panel of experts on the era come in and evaluate each family, rate their chances of survival if they really had been living in that time and had to live through the coming winter based on how they had done so far and how much they had prepared. These are the same experts who were consulted right along, and who set everything up authentically. Their final findings are surprising, and eye-opening.
All in all an excellent view, which offers a little bit of everything. You get drama, comedy, suspense, some action. You get the struggles man faces when living in the wilderness, living as in an era gone by, trying to make it on his own, and all while trying to coexist in a small community not of his choosing or particular liking.
Good stuff.
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on August 18, 2006
The PBS historical "House" shows are such a great concept - involving, educational, and often beautiful to look at. It's the real day-to-day history of people, something we didn't really learn in school when we were memorizing which year a certain war started or a certain leader rose to power, etc.

I would have given the show five stars if not for the producers' focus on the complaints of many of the show's participants. It seemed like the producers chose participants that they knew would complain in order to heighten the drama. It was more annoyingly overdone than dramatic though. (And conversely, the people who didn't complain, like Nate and his dad, weren't boring or anything -- they were great to watch.)

The producers' official reasoning for focusing on this aspect was that the show wasn't just about the 1880s, it's about modern day people and how they'd react to the frontier life. But if PBS really wanted to make this about the typical modern person's reaction, they could've included a family from a working class or poor background. Modern people that have to deal with things like: standing at a snowy or sweltering bus stop in order to get to work every day; working two low-paying jobs; living without a dishwasher or air conditioner; lugging clothes to the laundromat; trying to keep your kids safe in a dangerous neighborhood. PBS could've at least included a participant who makes their living via manual labor in the modern world. There are more construction workers in this country than people who are as wealthy as the Clunes -- if PBS wants to claim the show is about modern Americans and their reaction to 1880s hardships, it would be nice if they acknowleged that some modern Americans still work hard physical labor jobs, wash all their dishes by hand, live on a tight budget, etc.
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on July 28, 2006
I watched all six hours of this documentary in two days! The quality and workmanship that went into the production of this video was incredible. The scenery was as good as it gets. The attention to historical detail was almost obsessive. There was a good balance between the technical aspects of living in the 1880s and the way that the different individuals adapted to the demands of their new environment. The discussion of social issues of the time was also strong. A lot of effort went into creating an authentic depiction of the life of homesteaders in Montana in the 1880s. The research, the selection of participants, the advisory staff... everything was excellent!
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on February 23, 2004
What a wonderful documentary! Reality tv lately has been becoming repetitive and predictable. What a relief to find this documentary! They takes families from different classes and places them out on the frontier, to cope with life, as it was in the late 1800's. The Forced to leave everything they own back at home, and trained to go out and build their homes, provide for their families, and prepare for the winter. They face numerous challanges, such as slaughtering and preparing meals, hunger, budgeting, getting along with their neighbors, education for the children, trading, and the number one challenge, survival.
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on September 16, 2012
I watched this as an educational exercise with my almost 11 year old daughter. Normally, she feels so-so about the educational videos I ask her to watch, but we were both so capitvated by this series that we stayed up late and finished the whole thing in one sitting!

If you are going to watch with kids, my one warning is that the adults on the show talk at length on several occassions about their sex lives (or lack thereof) on the frontier. By no means do I think the creators should have omitted this. However, just be prepared if you're going to watch with young people. Either have "the talk" beforehand or hit fast-forward when an adult is interviewed on the subject, because it'll be more than a passing remark.

Overall, the show provided us with highly engaging historical information as well as many vivid illustrations of basic human psychology. To me, that far outweighed the times I sat uncomfortably beside my child while the adults talked about using pig intestines as condoms or how they weren't having sex. That said, had I been known the duration of those conversations beforehand, I might have hit fast forward a few times!
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on April 5, 2009
This is about people. Summery - Three families - well two families and a family to be - are given two weeks training on how to live as 1883 settlers on the frontier for five months. They have to use only items, tools, equipment from the time period and only have so much in supplies and credit at the general store. It is amazing, wonderful, funny and, sometimes, sad. They learned how to use the tools, they learned about cooking, animal care, keeping clean, building the houses and riding horses. They found out that there was no toilet paper, no makeup and no tampons.
I think, at first, people kind of attach themselves to one of the families. I found myself leaning towards the Glenn Family. They seem spirited and strong while the Clune Family seemed spoiled and complained A LOT. But as I got to see how the Clune Family got together, used their resources, and, even in the harsh times, showed some humor I started to lean towards them. Of course the Glenn Family also kind of imploded. There is a thin line between micro-management and nit-picking. Yes there was some cheating, breaking of the rules. Or is it trading baked goods with the natives?
The Brooks Family REALLY impressed me. They were loving, supportive, even of the other families, seemed to take tiny, careful, steps in deciding how to expand their homestead and building up their resources. It was a major event in their lives. They really focused on the basics - food, their animals and their long term future.
It was also interesting to see how the kids handled the problems of life on the frontier and how they kind of bonded during their last few weeks while in school. It was also interesting to see them two months after it was all done. The girls in the Clune Family, for example, seemed to be uncomfortable in their string bikinis while in front of the camera. Had their old fashion outfits, which sometimes covered them from neck to ankle, awaken in them a sense of modestly?
I don't want to say too much but the two DVDs, even without the extras in the form of special features, could be used in classes of history or even team management classes.
Many of the reviews you have seen talk about the breaking of the rules and, frankly, I think you have to decide about that on your own. Did the settlers have rules? At least 19th Century settlers could hunt, which gave them a good supply of food, furs and skins to trade, and maybe a sense of protection that these modern settlers did not have. Given, for example, deer skins and salted meat every few weeks, could they have focused more on chopping wood and bring in the hay? Maybe?
Would they have survived the winter? If they had known they would be facing a winter would they have tried harder? Worked together? Eaten each other? Maybe.
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on December 24, 2011
Everyone has already described this show well - my comment is only re: the people.

First, I feel sorry for Karen Glenn and all the terrible things people are saying about her. She is gossipy and judgmental (she's southern!), but I admired how hard she worked - and, her kids are fantastic! So much better adjusted than the Clune children, so she must be doing something right. in the show, the Clunes say they were more focused on each other than their kids in "2001', whereas Karen talks about being so bonded with her children she misses them when they leave for school. she is pretty insensitive to Logan's feelings about the animals, though, and I felt very sorry that his mother couldn't acknowledge his feelings. (logan was such a cute, sensitive and yet capable kid- i hope she hasnt squelched that as he has grown.) She did not relate well to her husband, but he seemed liked an idiot and would have driven me crazy. bottom line - she's bad but not the witch everyone makes her out to be.

The Clunes were intolerable - with the exception of the older son, who somehow ended up a mellow, hard working kid amongst a group of brats that should not be unleashed in society. The family did stick together, but the children were obviously not raised by anything resembling a good parent. the other great thing about the Clunes was the mother cranking out fantastic baked goods that would be hard to make in a 2001 kitchen. she was phenomenal. the husband was totally obnoxious (the still was brilliant, however.) my favorite part was how he was convinced he was deathly ill and needed to protein-load, but when the doctor visited him, he was told that he actually came into the project fat & out of shape and the only thing going on with his health, which had actually improved from his weight loss, was he wasnt drinking enough water! the Clunes were the text book example of fat, grubby, whining, self-absorbed Americans (although not native)

so, the Glenns and the Clunes both need extensive therapy.

everyone loves the Brooks, of course.

the bottom line is this is mostly a show about the personality dynamics of these people with some frontier stuff thrown in! a guilty pleasure, for sure.
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on November 11, 2003
Three very different families (the Clunes, the Glenns/Pattons, and the Brooks) leave their 2001 lives behind in favor of the 1883 Montana frontier in this highly enjoyable series by PBS. The Clunes are a modern, rich California family. The Glenns/Pattons are a semi-troubled middle class family from Tennesee. The Brooks are a young newly married couple from Boston. All are outfitted with appropriate frontier attire and left to form their own community in the style of 1883. The children were what really amazed me about this show. They all pretty much came as spoiled brats whining about missing TV and Nintendo, and by the time they had to leave to go back to their 2001 lives, they were all crying and not wanting to leave. Although I think the Glenns had the best shot at making it throughout the winter (the mom of the family is tough as nails--a necessary quality to lasting on the frontier), my favorite family was the Clunes. They seemed to enjoy it the most, and the husband and wife had a wonderful, enviable relationship. There are 3 videos, with 2 30 minute episodes each.
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