"The Waltons" The First Day (TV Episode 1974) Poster

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Fine Early Third Season Episode that Opened Up the Series' Story Opportunities
Aldanoli21 October 2007
John-Boy's first day at Boatwright University begins with mixed emotions -- trepidation over new responsibilities and experiences, yet hopefulness about new opportunities -- but turns into something of a comedy of errors. Along the way he gives a ride to a very aggressive fellow student named Polly Thompson, and at the university itself is befriended by another student, Mike West, who tries to teach him how not to be so obviously an underclassman. But those are two of the only positive moments for John-Boy on a day when everything else seems to go wrong, from being the butt of a cruel practical joke to leaving an important document at home.

This episode marked a turning point in the continuity of the series, with many new story possibilities being created by John-Boy's departure for college (even as a commuter). The series thereafter in essence had two distinct tracks -- one involving John-Boy at the university and the other about the remaining characters left behind. This episode, for example, had a subplot dealing with Jason's faltering attempts to fill John-Boy's shoes during the first day back at the Walton's Mountain School for the rest of the children.

While there had been other shows dealing with John-Boy's preparation for college, given that this episode marked such a departure for the series, it's regrettable that it wasn't selected as the season opener -- that episode was a two-hour stand-alone story about the federal government wanting to acquire land from some Walton relatives for a park project. During the first season, the show's story lines had almost stereotypically involved the "outsider of the week" -- a deaf girl, a carnival troupe, a traveling writer, a gypsy family, an actress, etc. etc. -- and this continued to some degree in the second season; but the best episodes were often those that dealt with the relationships among the Walton family members themselves.

The college setting offered the chance to combine the best of those two plot lines -- John-Boy could make acquaintances among the people at the school while still maintaining ties to his family, as in episodes like "The System" in which he is accused of violating the school's honor code, or "The Job," in which he is hired to read to a blind woman who is bitter about her condition. Unfortunately, the possibility that some of the characters from this episode would become part of a new circle of semi-regulars at the college didn't happen -- the Mike West character reappeared only once, in "The Ring" a few shows later, and neither Polly Thompson nor Prof. Ghote, who played large parts in this episode, were ever seen again.

The pace of the series quickened after this, too -- while this episode is set in September, 1934 (only one calendar year after the first season, which was set in 1933), by the end of the series World War Two came and went in just six remaining television seasons. Of course, there was no reason to try to coordinate television years with real-life years per se, but it's interesting to note that, whereas the creators had actually tried to slow things down up to this point, they would instead speed things up from here on. When Richard Thomas left the series at the end of the fifth season less than three years after this episode, he had apparently finished his four years of school despite the passage of fewer years of "real" time.
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Beginning college has frustrations and comedy
FlushingCaps7 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The First Day focused mostly on John-Boy's first day at college, which was full of frustration for him, only partly due to his own blunder. For viewers, there were several humorous scenes and there were no fears of any disaster or death to darken this lively episode.

We begin with everyone in the family at breakfast, somewhat excited for John-Boy on his new adventure, commuting to Boatwright University in Westham. On a previous episode, it was stated that his commute would be 28 miles. Now there is no Boatwright, but it just happens that the distance essentially matches that of the real life Hamner home to the Charlottesville campus of the University of Virginia.

There is a Westham, Virginia, but it is 74 miles from Schuyler, according to Mapquest, which doesn't fit the location on the show. They would have been wiser to make it a fictional town, such as Weston, which is what I thought they were saying when I saw this episode. "The Runaway" a few shows later, spells out the location of the university.

Whether they ever went to college or not, anyone who ever began a year in a new school where they knew nobody can easily emphasize with John-Boy's situation. For that matter, beginning a new job is somewhat similar.

Before arriving at the campus, John-Boy is flagged down by a pennant-waving Boatwright freshman coed named Polly Thompson, who missed her ride, is pretty, and talks a mile a minute, who is thrilled to have him stop to take her to school.

As they arrive, John-Boy pulls into a parking space on a street, not noticing a partially obscured sign stating that that street was reserved for faculty parking. John-Boy and Polly part, temporarily, and he immediately encounters a fellow frosh named Mike West, who is full of advice to John-Boy about how to succeed at college, particularly the social life, by concealing everything he can about himself and trying to blend in with the others.

A small group of sophomores "welcomes" John-Boy to campus, and promptly hazes him with things like telling him he needs to wear his freshman beanie and call all upper class men "Sir." Before the day is over, he will have several encounters with a certain professor, including one where John-Boy is the butt of a joke, and all of which make the professor think John-Boy has dedicated his first day "to making an impression on him." He also gets into a pickle by forgetting at home one of the forms he needs to be properly registered. The penalty if he brings it a day late is a $5 fine, so he spends 15¢ to phone Ike and get him to get John Sr. to deliver the needed paper.

Meanwhile, Jason, now a senior, is trying to fill John-Boy's shoes, but he mostly irritates all of his siblings by not being himself. In what might have been her cleverest psychological ploy in her role, Miss Hunter helps Jason without doing it in a way as to make him feel embarrassed.

I couldn't help but flashback to my experiences as the new kid in school—which were five, not counting kindergarten. I may have never had anything happen similar to John-Boy's adventure, but I could definitely feel excited for him, as he started his new school.

The one earlier review points out that Polly and the professor did not return, which I agree was a big mistake. They could easily have helped in some other episodes as we followed John-Boy at Boatwright. I think this is about as enjoyable an episode as any in the entire series, and it easily deserves the highest rating I can give it—an easy 10.
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