REVIEW: ‘The Waltons’ Homecoming’

Pictured (L - R): Ben Lawson as John Walton, Bellamy Young as Olivia Walton, Christian Finlayson as Jason Walton, Richard Thomas, Logan Shroyer as John Boy Walton, Tatum Sue Matthews as Erin Walton, Marcelle LeBlanc as Mary Ellen Walton, Samuel Goergon as Jim Bob Walton, and Callaway Corrick as Elizabeth Walton in The CW's 'The Waltons' Homecoming'
(Image credit: Tom Griscom/The CW)

The Waltons’ Homecoming, a TV movie set in 1933 Virginia, offers viewers of the sentimental ‘70s series a unique gift: Richard Thomas, who played John Boy on the show, narrates the Christmas movie, and pops up on-screen in the beginning and the end. 

The Great Depression has enveloped America, and John Walton Sr. has found work far from the family’s Blue Ridge Mountains base. He heads home from Charlottesville the morning of Christmas Eve, but the dark clouds are rolling in, and the trip will not be an easy one. 

“Expect some flurries and possible sleet,” goes the radio forecast, but it gets much worse than that. 

John Boy, for his part, has little interest in the agrarian life that surrounds him, and wants to be a writer. Whenever he is able, he sneaks up to his bedroom, pulls a notepad out from under his mattress, and scribbles away. 

The writing has caused some strife between father and son, John Sr. thinking writing is a silly pastime that will not help the family eat. 

John Boy has five siblings: Mary Ellen, Jim Bob, Erin, Jason and Elizabeth. The whole of the movie takes place on Christmas Eve, day and night. In one scene, John Boy and his grandfather head outside to chop down a Christmas tree, and Mary Ellen, refusing to be told it is a man’s job, grabs an ax and joins them. Grandpa passes along some Walton family history from atop Waltons’ Mountain.

All the while, Daddy is on a bus, heading home as the weather worsens. He’s delayed, over and over, and wife Olivia’s anxiety mounts in each scene. John Boy borrows a car from the Baldwin sisters--creators of the famous moonshine “Recipe” from the series--and goes out to search for his father. 

The rest of the Waltons, meanwhile, head to the Black church in Hickory Creek, invited by a friend. 

Logan Shroyer plays the teen John Boy and Ben Lawson is Daddy, while Bellamy Young portrays mother Olivia. The Waltons’ Homecoming marks the 50th anniversary of another Waltons holiday movie, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which aired in December 1971, before the series launched. 

Is the new movie any good? It is very hokey, full of hugs and warm smiles and well wishes. Bicker as they may, the family truly loves each other. The outdoor scenery from atop Waltons’ Mountain, covered in snow, is quite picturesque. 

Schmaltz aside, The Waltons’ Homecoming is a bit of fun for those who watched John Boy, Mary Ellen and the rest of the clan a half century ago. It may also give parents who are sick of their children endlessly staring at phones during the holiday break some ideas for non-digital activity. Kid pastimes in The Waltons’ Homecoming include an erector set, a doll and a banjo, not to mention John Boy’s ubiquitous notepad. ■

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.