25 April 2006 | roghache
Fabulous comedy but with serious message of war's horror
This is surely one of the most popular TV series of all time and deserving of every bit of its popularity. Set at the 4077th MASH unit during the Korean War, it chronicles the assorted ill adventures, wisecracks & pranks, and touching relationships between the surgeons, nurses, and various support personnel.
The comedy revolves around the wise cracking but compassionate surgeon, Captain Benjamin Franklin ('Hawkeye') Pierce. His original surgical colleague buddy and partner in pranks, Trapper John McIntyre, is later replaced by Captain BJ Hunnicut. Fellow surgeon, Major Frank Burns, is a neurotic idiot and the usual butt of their jokes. The married Frank is carrying on a torrid affair with Major Margaret Hoolihan (Hot Lips), the unit's Head Nurse. Frank is later succeeded by Major Charles Winchester III, a pompous & arrogant snob from a wealthy, aristocratic old Boston family. The commanding officer of this wacky but competent surgical unit is the rather indecisive but affable Colonel Henry Blake, who is killed en route home to the States when his chopper is tragically shot down. He is succeeded by Colonel Sherman Potter, a strict but lovable father figure with a penchant for horses. Other regulars include the boyish & lovable Corporal Radar O'Reilley, the company clerk with a sixth sense for choppers bringing in wounded, Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Klinger, who, desperate for a military mental discharge, dresses in assorted women's fashions to prove his insanity, and Father Francis Mulcahy, the quiet, kind, & rather bumbling Catholic priest and company chaplain.
The jokes are endless with constant banter between the various characters. Klinger's fashions always elicit laughs, as he sports his legendary extensive ladies' wardrobe of evening gowns, nun's habits, peasant skirts, even an elaborate Statue of Liberty costume...all in combination with his hairy face and legs. Radar is warm, fuzzy, and adorable, everyone's favourite innocent young kid brother, as he sleeps with his Teddy Bear, misses his mom & Uncle Ed back on the farm in Iowa, is delightfully naive about relationships with women (i.e. sex), and sips grape knee highs while his colleagues all prefer stronger brew (sometimes from the officers' own personal still in their tent). As for Father Mulcahy, it is heartwarming to view a clergyman cast in such a kind, caring, unselfish, and totally sympathetic light. Although always devout and noble, this priest nevertheless experiences his own inner conflicts.
However, Hawkeye is the real star of the show, absolutely charismatic and appealing with such a kind heart beneath that witty & cynical exterior, as he womanizes practically every nurse within sight. As the series progresses, he experiences his own personal dramas, which include coming to grips with his own alcoholism. The episode is extremely moving when Radar berates Hawkeye (his idol) for being drunk during surgery.
I definitely prefer the later seasons with the more highly developed three dimensional characters, BJ, Potter, and Charles as opposed to the earlier shows with Trapper, Henry, and Frank. Trapper is a one dimensional adulterous trickster; I actually find his character tedious and unsympathetic. By contrast, BJ is totally endearing with his determination (despite temptations) to remain faithful to his distant San Franciscan wife, while also acutely missing being part of his little girl's early years. Henry is lovably incompetent but interesting only from the point of view of his touching relationship with Radar. On the other hand, Colonel Potter is a real leader, army strict but fatherly and with a heart of gold. Also, the insufferably pompous yet actually very human, insecure, & rather lonely Charles is so much more interesting than the idiotic, adulterous Frank. Frank's character grows boring after a handful of episodes.
Furthermore, Margaret's character is much better developed in the later episodes after she dumps Frank, when she becomes a more three dimensional individual herself. I love the episode where she longs to feel accepted by her nurses and included as one of the group with their bull sessions and illicit fudge making antics; it really shows Margaret's vulnerability. Also, some interesting chemistry develops periodically between Hawkeye and Margaret during the later seasons.
A tip of my hat to every single one of the magnificent stars...McLean Stevenson (Henry), Wayne Rogers (Trapper), Mike Farrell (BJ), Henry Morgan (Potter), Larry Linville (Frank), Loretta Swit (Margaret / Hot Lips), David Ogden Stiers (Charles), Gary Burghoff (Radar), Jamie Farr (Klinger), William Christopher (Father Mulcahy), and especially Alan Alda (Hawkeye).
Of course, despite the almost non stop laughs, the series features by sharp contrast, an ongoing deadly serious theme revolving around the horrors of war. The medical personnel constantly quip and play tricks so that they can cope with the horrific injuries and deaths they are forced witness on a daily basis. It's a message that is brought home in every episode, but through the clever use of humour. Thus it comes across as an extremely well crafted serio-comedic series.