85%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)
85%

The sitcom that charmed viewers for over a decade earned its place in the TV hall of fame.

 

How does one take the visceral, heart-wrenching horrors of war and turn them into a comedic satire? Such is the genius of the M*A*S*H team: producers Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalf and writer Larry Gelbart. Based on Donald Hooker’s novel of the same name, M*A*S*H debuted in 1972. The sitcom easily earned its place in the hearts and living rooms of the nation with its relatable combination of humor and human interest. Set in the Korean War, our cast finds itself assembles in a M*A*S*H (mobile Army surgical hospital) unit three miles from the fighting. As casualties roll in, our team of medical professionals springs into action saving lives. After a surgical marathon, it’s back to hijinks as usual.

 

Comedic performances are delivered flawlessly throughout, with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye leading the way. Hawkeye is as forthcoming as he is arrogant: he is never afraid to give you a piece of his mind in medicine or in life. A habitual womanizer, Hawkeye is the impetus of most of the jokes. He has the funniest lines and Alda’s delivery and timing are nearly perfect. Playing opposite Hawkeye is leading lady Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit. Hotlips is frequently the butt of the joke, and takes every incident as another opportunity to give Hawkeye a dose of “regular Army” medicine. Her partner in crime is Major Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville. Burns is a spineless, chinless, wuss of a man who is completely controlled by Hotlips. Together, they attempt to ensure Hawkeye receives his comeuppance. Linville’s portrayal of Burns as a weenie of a man is flawless- never once does the audience believe that Burns could be a kind, likeable man with a backbone.

 

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The storylines throughout the series give us a complete portrayal of life in a M*A*S*H unit, from the medicine, to the Army’s nonsensical procedure, to the friendships forged under stressful circumstances. Although the series is set during the Korean War, it was released against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Much of the social critique waged through the jokes is ambiguous in nature and could be directed at the follies of either conflict. Toward the beginning of the series, the jokes were plentiful, light hearted and fun. As the show continued, plotlines often strayed toward the dramatic as characters’ personalities were explored and the lasting effects of war were examined in greater detail. The epic series finale truly showcases the journey each of our characters has completed, and is the pinnacle of the show’s dramatic musings.

 

As the original jokes began to wear thin over the course of the series, the writers explored other means to advance the story. One episode is filmed from the patient’s point of view, while another displays a ticking clock on the screen to alert the audience to the grave nature of the injuries our beloved cast is struggling to repair. Yet another takes us into the world of our favorite minor characters. Several cast changes throughout the series also worked to keep stories fresh.

 

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However, all good things must come to an end. On February 28, 1983, after 11 years on the air, the US said goodbye to its favorite M*A*S*H unit in an epic 2 ½ hour finale. The M*A*S*H finale is still the most-watched series finale in TV history. The show lasted more than three times as long as the actual Korean War because its use of loveable characters, physical comedy, and brilliant writing propelled it to a top spot in the hearts of millions of viewers. In addition to the series’ wild popularity, several well-known actors appeared as guest stars early in their careers, including John Ritter, Patrick Swayze, and Laurence Fishburne. The great writing, accurate sets, and believable acting all work together to transport viewers into the Korean War. This winning combination is what drove the series to the powerhouse status it has today. You can still find M*A*S*H episodes playing in syndication all over the television-sphere, not just on networks featuring “vintage” programming. The magic of M*A*S*H is carried on for new audiences to enjoy.

About The Author

Julia Butcher
Managing Editor

Julia has her BA in Communications and English from Grand Valley State University. During her tenure at GVSU, Julia also completed a web marketing internship at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. It was at Mary Free Bed where she honed her skills at website copywriting, editing, and marketing. In her spare time, Julia enjoys watching TV and movies, reading, collecting vintage furniture, and writing about all that vintage furniture.