Monday, 11 January 2016

TV Series Review: M*A*S*H

Last birthday, Mr Click got me the complete box set of M*A*S*H on DVD. I was thrilled. I've watched M*A*S*H ever since I was young and I've always enjoyed it. I've watched the first series in its entirety once but I've never seen the other episodes in order; some of them I've only seen once.

I had the box set on my wishlist for ages, but I never really expected to get it. Mr Click had watched the odd episode here and there but had never been particularly enamoured with it so I was really worried that he wouldn't enjoy it. I needn't have bothered, he really got into it.

M*A*S*H was inspired by the film which was inspired by Richard Hooker's book and went on to run for three times the length of Korean War. They actually celebrated one more Christmas in the series than was experienced by the actual people out there. At the time that it started, it took a while to gain popularity, before becoming such a big hit that the final episode broke all kinds of records which weren't broken for another twenty years!

It revolves around the staff and their escapades at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, predominantly focusing on Chief Surgeon 'Hawkeye' Pierce, played by Alan Alda. He's accompanied first by 'Trapper' John McIntyre and then by BJ Hunnicutt in both work and pranks. Other members of staff include Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan, Henry Blake, Frank Burns, Radar, Colonel Potter, Father Mulcahey, Max Klinger and Charles Emerson Winchester (the third).

The only two characters who are in the series right from the very first episode to the very end are Hawkeye and Margaret (though Father Mulcahey is technically in the first episode, he's just played by someone different). It's interesting to see how they grow and change over the course of the series, both apart and together. They begin as complete enemies and gradually progress to become friends (and possibly even maybe something a little more).

It's a growth which can be seen in every character, with the possible exceptions of the first three to depart from the series; Trapper, Henry and Frank. The former two wished to leave the series and Henry's exit couldn't have been handled better, with the revelation that he's able to go home only for his plane to be shot down before he can get there. It's a devastating end to the character and a stark reminder that in war zones not everyone gets to get home. It's something we're constantly reminded of with the patients they treat, but it hurts more when it's someone you've grown attached to over the course of several series.

Frank didn't really get to evolve that much as a character and once Margaret was married he had sort of served his usefulness. I understand why Larry Linville wanted to leave but I did enjoy the character of Frank Burns. It would have been easy to just replace him with another similar character, after all, his main purpose was was act as a foil for Hawkeye. Instead they brought in Charles, someone who was totally different to Frank. Charles is probably the person Frank would've likes to have been.

That's something that I really loved about the way they brought in new people. They never made them cookie cutter versions of the departing character. It would've been easy to make BJ a playboy character like Trapper, instead he was a family man who was utterly faithful to his wife; Henry was replaced by Sherman Potter, an army career-man who knew when to play by the book and when to break the rules; and Frank was replaced by Charles, an upper-class guy who came across as aloof but actually had a heart of a gold. It helped to keep the series feel fresh and real.

I also really liked the fact that Hawkeye was quite a believable character, especially in terms of the finale. This begins with Hawkeye being admitted to a psychiatric hospital following a breakdown. The whole way through the series, we see him teetering on the edge with sleep walking, a strange allergic reaction, his defensive mechanism where he defaults to jokes rather than other more serious reactions. And as we've seen him deal with each of these issues in the past and resolving them, we're unsurprised when he makes it through the breakdown as a changed person but still the familiar Hawkeye we've come to love.

There are so many fantastic episodes that it's hard to pick a favourite. The last episode is easily the best one of the lot, but there's another which is told through the eyes of a patient which is brilliant. I also like the interview episode where a war correspondent comes to the camp and interviews the staff. This episode was filmed largely by giving the actors questions and asking them to answer them in character; it gives a brilliant insight into the characters.

It's also fun to watch the episodes to see lots of actors and actresses who went on to be in films and TV series later. I couldn't begin to list them all here, but it was fun to play 'what've we seen them in before?'

The box set also includes a whole host of special features, including bloopers, a thirty-year anniversary reunion special, as well as multiple interviews and behind the scenes snippets. It was really interesting to watch, especially to hear the stories of the series from the actors themselves. I'd never seen the film of M*A*S*H either, so that was a new experience for me. From watching the trailer I knew it would be right up Mr Click's street. There was an element of the 'Carry On' films about it. I found it a little weird watching it after having seen the series, it was tough to get my head around someone else being Hawkeye. It's definitely one I'm going to watch again in the future.

At the moment I've been watching Bones on a Saturday afternoon, off and on. As soon as I've finished watching Bones, I suspect that I'll go back to the beginning of M*A*S*H and I'll watch all those episodes all over again. It's the sort of series that you can watch over and over again. And I intend to.


  1. I loved M*A*S*H as a kid when BBC2 would show them. Thing is, I've never been able to watch them since, and that's because every other channel that broadcast it keeps the laugh track in; BBC2 removed it altogether, and I think that was the best thing to do. I regularly watch the film though, and I enjoy Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye just as much as Alan Alda. Its great to see what shows were influenced by M*A*S*H too; shows like St Elsewhere and the first couple of series of Casualty - Brock and Unwin who created it often claimed Hawkeye was a huge influence on Charlie

    1. Apparently on some of the DVD releases there's an option to watch it without the laugh track. I didn't see it on this set, but you might keep an eye out for it. It didn't bother me that much.

      It's interesting watching it having watched Scrubs. I think Scrubs wouldn't have come about if it wasn't for M*A*S*H.

  2. I love MASH! Though I think I might have seen the film first. I'm not sure if I have seen them all, and like you they certainly wouldn't be in the right order. We've been doing something similar with a box set of Frasier - it's nice to see things "in a straight line". I had forgotten how long it went on after Niles and Daphne got together.
    The Glasgow Gallivanter

    1. It's definitely one of my favourite ever series.

      I'd never seen them all in the right order before and like you, it surprised me where things actually fell in the programme. I always imagined Radar left near the end, but it went on for years after he left.

      I always liked Frasier but I don't think Mr Click's been keen on it in the past. I won him over with M*A*S*H so maybe we'll have to get the box set of Frasier at some point.


Let me know what you think. :-)