Several years ago, one of my student employees came to work wearing a cap, like the one you see in the photo here, and the following Abbott & Costello-esque interaction occurred:
Me: Nice cap, Nick! Very Radar O’Reilly!
Nick: Thanks, but what?
Me: Very Radar O’Reilly!
Nick: What’s that?
Me: Not ‘what’ … ‘who’! Radar!!!
Me: Radar O’Reilly! From M*A*S*H!
Nick: Oh. I’ve seen commercials for M*A*S*H reruns, but I’ve never watched it.
This made me feel very old.
Anyway…for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I continue my series of posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.
…and, after having covered The Honeymooners and The Odd Couple in previous posts, let’s move on to M*A*S*H.
As mentioned last week, The Odd Couple was based on a play and movie of the same name, and M*A*S*H was similarly based on prior works: the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman.
Another similarity, because I didn’t see either movie before I’d already seen many, many episodes of the TV shows, when I think of M*A*S*H, I will always think first of Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre, McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake, Larry Linville as Frank Burns, and Loretta Swift as Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from the TV show, despite great performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Roger Bowen, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman from the movie, in those same roles respectively.
I love the Altman film and always will, but to debate the relative greatness of the movie and the TV show doesn’t seem appealing, given they’re so apples:oranges. Whereas the film is an experimental, absurdist, anti-war satire, the TV show, though also anti-war, was a 1/2-hour sitcom that employed writing and directing more rooted in the television tradition, an element that became more and more pronounced, and some, including myself, would say for the worse, starting about halfway through its 11-season run.
Continuing on that last point, I’ll be honest and say that of all of the shows from that late night lineup I was so fond of, M*A*S*H was the only show that declined so much in quality over the years that I have an extreme prejudice, preferring the first three seasons SO much more than the subsequent eight that I don’t have much of a desire now to re-watch anything but the first three seasons. Those early seasons retained MUCH more of the qualities of the movie that I like so much, but it all ended with a jarring loss of two of my favorite characters.
In the last episode of season three, we learn that Henry Blake has been honorably discharged and he prepares to head home. But, instead of this being the setup for just another U.S. Army screw-up, where in the end Henry would be told that, for some reason, he has to stay, he says his goodbyes, and the episode ends with news that his plane was shot down and he was killed.
And the first episode of season four begins with Hawkeye returning from a week of R&R, only to find that Trapper had been discharged and had left for home.
Henry Blake was replaced by Harry Morgan’s Col. Sherman T. Potter, Trapper by Mike Farrell’s B.J. Honeycutt, Frank Burns left at the end of season five and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers’ Charles Emerson Winchester III, Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly left near the beginning of the eighth season, and the change that many fans felt was the last straw, when Jamie Farr’s Corporal Klinger, upon taking over for Radar as Company Clerk, stopped dressing in drag, I’d argue, marked the loss of the last remaining element in the show that had any relation to the absurdism of the show’s roots, specifically the Altman film.
I hate to end on such a downer note, so let’s get to this week’s Video Fridays videos. Since I’ve extolled here the virtues of the earliest seasons of M*A*S*H for their closer resemblance to the film they were inspired by, I bring you a great, wacky episode from season one, and for kicks the trailer from the movie.
So, enjoy! Happy Weekend, everyone!
(Disclaimer: For some annoying reason, possibly to avoid draconian copyright enforcement, the episode is sped up, and so it sounds like it was filmed with the entire cast inhaling helium.)