Monday, January 26, 2009

Suicide is Painless

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

I had done an extremely long entry last Thursday, for the Oscars, so I decided to hold off until today for the newest topic. Being a Monday, I'm featuring another long-running television show. And for anyone who might be wondering how long I continue doing this series, I'm thinking maybe another three months, maybe less. Depends on how many other television shows I'm familiar with that fit the bill. I'll start taking recommendations for future series, though!

Today, I chose M*A*S*H. It's kind of an older show, in that it was finished almost a year before I was even born. My parents were big fans, as was pretty much anyone else I think I ever knew... growing up, I don't think I ever saw the television switched to something else if M*A*S*H was on. I can remember being seven or eight and being confused that a name as strange as 'Radar' was used for both the "radio guy in the army hospital" (my own words) and Big Bird's stuffed teddy bear. This was further complicated by the song "Radar Love" that my parents had on cassette.

Okay, since the show ran for eleven seasons, from 1972 to 1983, there's kinda a lot to cover. Luckily, the meta-narrative of the show isn't that complicated, so I'll cover the major characters and what happened to them throughout the show's run. Now, I have not seen all 251 episodes, nor can I even estimate how many I might have seen, particularly since the characters don't seem to age. A few Christmases ago, I gave my mother the entire boxed series, and I hope to borrow them at some point, since my husband and I watch the show every now and then, and I'm kinda dying to see the finale (which I'll get to in a bit).

Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is what the title stands for, and the show takes place in such, during the Korean War. Somehow they filmed eleven years of episodes while covering an event that only lasted three years. It had consistently high ratings, and the final episode was watched by 105 million people, which still gives me chills when I think about it, especially considering it was a record two-and-a-half hours long.

First, the four characters who took part in all eleven seasons: Hawkeye Pierce, Father Mulcahy, Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, and Klinger. Hawkeye (Alan Alda's character) played in every episode, and was the joker of the group. Father Mulcahy was the resident priest, a source of morality, an aide in surgery, and fulfilled the notion that not everyone in the service was close to his family beforehand. Houlihan grew up an army brat who entered the service and had been in it for ten years by the time the fourth season of M*A*S*H rolled around. Unlucky in love and a hidden alcoholic, Houlihan could speak Korean and took her position seriously, being in charge of all nurses in the 4077. Klinger is one of my personal favorites, particularly because of his early attempts to get a Section 8 discharge by dressing in women's clothing. He also tried to eat a jeep, claimed to be a Communist, and said he was a serial killer in his hometown. When the war ended, he was married to a Korean woman, and chose to stay behind instead of returning to the US.

Radar O'Reilly is my other favorite. He is kinda clairvoyant, and has exceptional hearing, which is how he earned the nickname. An Iowa farmboy, he was very young, earning his high school diploma by mail in the first season. He represented the young boys who were shipped off to war, returning as men, symbolized by his leaving the teddy bear in Hawkeye's possession. Trapper John McIntyre was a sidekick to Hawkeye for the first three seasons, and made a surprise exit, without Hawkeye even knowing. BJ Hunnicutt came to replace Trapper, and I like him a lot better. The chemistry between him and Hawkeye is pretty great. I can only wait until the day I see "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" to fully appreciate the sentimentality of his final scene with Hawkeye.

I don't know what to say about Major Frank Burns. I'm not a fan, mostly because of how strict he was, and what an idiot he was. He was on there for the first five seasons, and was sent stateside because of a psychiatric evaluations after he went AWOL and couldn't get over Houlihan after she married Donald. But, Winchester came to stay until the end, with great reluctance. He was an odd guy with a passion for classical music.

Then there was Colonel Henry Blake, who was too easy-going for Houlihan and Burns, but pretty beloved by almost everyone else. I was a big fan of Blake, and was heartbroken when it was revealed that he never made it home (his plane carrying discharged Blake was shot down). Then there was Potter. He understood the need for humor, but wasn't as easygoing as Henry was.

It sure is an entertaining show, and while I haven't seen a lot of the episodes, I've also seen some of them several times. Particularly episode twenty in the first season... the one with a propaganda bomb in the compound at the same time as the annual Army-Navy football game, for some reason I've seen it at least three times. But, I leave you today with just a nice collage of photos from the show set to the full version of the theme song.

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