And yes, I’ve got the complete 11 season series in a beautiful box set and have been basically binge watching until I was finished. Why? After all, I wasn’t even born by the time the series started and the Korean war was even farther away for an Austrian. It’s all Alan Alda’s fault! And his memoir’s “Never have your dog stuffed”. Which I bought in 2008 and have to shamefully admit, just came around to reading it. But, in my defence, once started I could barely put it down and finished it in no time. And ordered the complete box set of M*A*S*H right away. His experiences and anecdotes from his time filming it – writing and directing several episodes as well – made it irresistible not to watch it.
Of course, I do remember the series in general from reruns and rereruns and rerereruns, watching the one or other episode over the course of the years on German TV. But – apart from being synchronized in German language – it didn’t make that much of an impact on me. Until now! I was hooked after the first few episodes and just loved it! Despite the serious background of the Korean war, it’s mostly about the relationships between the characters and their way to deal with the daily horrors of wounded soldiers and death with practical jokes and fun.
What comes to my mind, watching the episodes, is how lovable the characters are. Apart from brilliant Alan Alda as Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce, I just adore naïve Walter “Radar” O’Reilly with his teddy bear and kindness, beloved by everyone. Or Corporal Klinger, cross-dressing in lovely outfits and trying to find ways to get shipped home any way he can.
In the first three seasons “Trapper” McIntyre as Hawkeye’s sidekick and Colonel Henry Blake were part of the team, being followed by Captain B.J. Hunnicutt and Colonel Sherman Potter. I have to admit, I enjoy those two characters even more than Trapper and Blake.
Even the “villains” – stuffy, conservative, intolerant, annoying and incompetent – surgeon “Frank Burns” is kind of lovable. Or at least likable. Being replaced in Season 6 by Major Charles Emerson Winchester, the Third, from Boston. Who is more British than the British themselves, listening to classical music all the time, coming from a wealthy family, which tends to send him all kinds of luxury items (a warm parka, record player, caviar, foie gras, etc). His character I enjoyed much more than Frank Burns, who was kind of hysteric and loud.
And Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan … head nurse. Sometimes a bit shrill, but all in all a great woman. Or Father Mulcahy, the calming presence of MASH 4077, a fierce boxer and dedicated to orphans. My favourite recurring character? Paranoid, mean and ridiculous Colonel Flagg, the ultimate spy / CIA agent and his numerous aliases.
There are many episodes which have become my favourites. Among them “The gun” and the scene where Colonel Potter covers Radar with his blanket and carefully places Radar’s teddy bear into his arms, after he got drunk because he was accused of stealing a colt .45. Or “Dear Sigmund”, where the visiting and recurring psychiatrist Dr. Freedman is on “vacation” at MASH 4077.
“The Korean surgeon”, where a former wounded and treated “enemy” surgeon starts working at MASH with the help of Hawkeye and Hunnicutt. “The Colonel’s horse” – where the whole camp does everything to save Colonel Potter’s horse during his absence. “None like it hot” with a foldable bathtub being the main character in hot Korea, everyone standing in line – and starting fights – to have a cold bath. Ending with Radar having had to have his tonsils removed and Hawkeye trading the bathtub for two tubs of strawberry ice cream for Radar.
Or the last episode of Season 7 “The Party”, where the team shoots a picture of all of them together for their loved ones at home, who then meet up in New York for a “reunion” to celebrate together.
Season 8 starts kind of sadly with Radar leaving MASH and Klinger taking over his post. And even though Klinger is a marvellous replacement and great character, I did miss kind Radar. What I also missed in the later seasons? Klinger and his crazy lovely outfits. He did wear his fur coat occasionally but was seen in his green uniform more and more as clerk.
“Death takes a holiday” – the Christmas episode from Season 9 – shows another side of aristocratic Charles Winchester as he anonymously donates to a Korean orphanage and Hunnicutt and Hawkeye try to delay the death of mortally wounded soldier to save the soldier’s family the pain of having him died on Christmas Day.
Or “The Birthday Girls” from Season 10, where Margaret desperately tries to get to Tokyo to celebrate her birthday and is stranded on the road with Klinger. And Charles being unlike Charles in “Say no more” of Season 11 as he gets a famed doctor to MASH for Margaret, who had planned to attend this doctor’s lecture and couldn’t go due to laryngitis.
And then, of course, the final “Goodbye” episode, with the end of the war. A two-hour feature and I couldn’t help getting emotional too. A great ending to a great series. Kudos to Alan Alda, who not only played the main character but also wrote and directed several episodes! And I enjoyed every single one of them!
(By the way, for all those who tend to have forgotten what MASH stands for – like me – here the solution to the riddle: Mobile Army Surgical Hospital!)