M*A*S*H Season 3 Review
The General Flipped At Dawn
Officer Of The Day
Iron Guts Kelly
Life With Father
There Is Nothing Like A Nurse
A Full Rich Day
Mad Dogs And Servicemen
Private Charles Lamb
Love And Marriage
At first glance, Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, does not stand out as the sort of film that would make a television hit. It's bloody, subversive and relies heavily on stellar performances from Donald Sutherland and Eliot Gould. Luckily for us, however, M*A*S*H the television series is as subversive as the movie and has the wonderful Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers playing the roles that Sutherland and Gould played so well. Alda is a true comic genius, playing the role of Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce with a world weary, cynical essence that can be said to carry the entire series on his drooped shoulders. His sidekick, John "Trapper John" McIntyre provides a worthy foil.
It's lucky for us as well that Fox has treated the series with some respect, by virtue of giving the viewer the option of removing the laugh track from the episodes. This is essential, as M*A*S*H is a series that has, as we shall see, as many poignant moments as comedic, and the patterns and loops of dialogue are so well written that to break the rhythm with the asinine hyena-like braying of some supposedly live audience tarnishes the whole affair and ruins the illusion of the series being set in a war zone. With it's obvious high production values, the laugh track is simply an insult. But before we look at this third series in depth, lets put the whole thing into some sort of perspective.
It is sometimes said that M*A*S*H lasted longer than the entire Korean War; this is, and isn't true. It might have lasted longer than hostilities, but the Korean war never officially ended. Indeed, in political terms it was never really a war and was called a "Police Action". In some respects, this could be said to give it the status as the first post-modern, or post-nuclear if you prefer, war; an ill-defined arena of conflict that was allowed to stagnate rather than a full-blooded fight to the end. The reader has only to glance at today's headlines to see that the threat that North Korea presents to the western world has never been greater. America, and the UN's, involvement on overseas theatres has not abated, however, in the fifty years since that particular war was a concern but what has changed radically is the way in which war has been presented to the media. The conflict in Vietnam was, of course, the catalyst for this change and this makes the transmission of M*A*S*H extremely interesting.
Despite the producers claims that M*A*S*H was about all war, it is difficult to wipe to specter of Vietnam from the mind whilst watching it. The army fatigues and the claustrophobic atmosphere combine to create an air of tension that is almost unique to any sit-com. By the time this third season aired, the show was really hitting it's stride. The episodes are well crafted, the dialogue honed to perfection and the characters fully realised. What M*A*S*H does, and did during the original transmission was make war almost palatable to the viewer; compare and contrast the horrific images that were beamed to viewers homes from the real conflict to the warm and loveable personas of Hawkeye, Trapper John and the rest. Subconsciously, at least, the dead and wounded seen on screen for real are, on some way, taken care of by the fictional archetypes of the army medic, the last great pure American hero.
To return to M*A*S*H, for a second, the reason for it's success has been hinted at above. The charisma of the central leads acts as a basis that the entire show builds on. The army, as portrayed in the series, resembles the corporate structure that is instantly familiar with a clear hierarchy that all adhere to. As is usual, the higher up the chain you go, the more madness and incompetence you encounter. Witness Harry Morgan’s Emmy Nominated performance as the General in "The General Flipped At Dawn" demanding the entire camp be moved to the frontline so that they can 'hear the bullets'. This characters descent into insanity is, of course, rewarded with even higher promotion. And so on and so forth throughout the series. What M*A*S*H does is present a system in which the real work, the really necessary tasks, are carried out by those at the bottom of the scale without whom the entire structure would collapse. The higher up you go, the more madness and irrationality you encounter. Sound familiar? It's basically Dilbert in a war zone and therein lies it's trick.
Alda's performance is crucial to the series, and throughout he provides sterling work; he is 'everyman', sick to the stomach of hypocrisy (See the book burning incident in "Big Mac"), funny and, most importantly, loved by all he works with. In "House Arrest", where he is confined to barracks after punching Frank Burns. This proves such a popular move he is fed steak and that evenings film performance is relocated to, you guessed it, his barracks. It's not quite the Alan Alda show, though, as each performer brings a vital ingredient to the whole mix. Whether it's Burns' relentless spinelessness or Rader's innocence, each character resonates warmth and personality whenever they are on screen.
This third season is something of a classic. There's not a single duff episode and it's clear that something sophisticated is going on almost from the off. There are episodes where the storyline bounces about from character to character like some crazed pinball, yet, by the episodes conclusion; everything has fallen neatly into place. Take, for example, "Bulletin Board" which manages to end an episode which has relied on the device of taking each story strand from an announcement on said board and still manages to end on a poignant and haunting image as each member of the cast wearily runs to greet incoming choppers covered in mud they were, until Radar's Ancient Mariner-like appearance, cavorting around happily in. Poignant is a word that often springs to mind whilst watching M*A*S*H. Between the laughs there are moments of deep sadness and loss. Whether it's Lt Col Henry Blake's tape recording home to his dad in "A Full Rich Day" or the season's finale, for which you are advised to keep a hanky ready for, there is never a laugh without an echo of futility just underneath it. Even Hawkeye's, often corny, one-liners seem born of desperation.
This set is marvelous entertainment and worthy of a place in anyone's collection, especially if you have a liking for TV series. It really is one of the best around. In many respects, the TV series works better than the movie which often seemed like a series of sketches strung together; over the course of time each characters foibles and quirks become as well known as a favorite chair. It's not often that migration from big to little screen works so well. It's worth mentioning that, at times, the series strays into political incorrectness but relish it whilst you can. Highly recommended.
Often excellent and pin-point sharp. Of course, there are times when the image seems loaded with grain, but this seems due to the different source materials used. As you would expect, there is some use of stock footage, but for most of the series, it's marvelous. The colour often seems gray but this is more to do with the dry and dusty location. The colours on Klinger's dresses look delightful.
The sound levels, though clear, seem a little quiet. The Fox intro is loud and abrasive as ever, but, watching the series at the same sound level reduces it to a whisper. This is the case on all language tracks so, unless it's a mastering fault, be prepared to turn yout amp up at least half way and then remember you have done so when you've finished watching.
It's only two channel stereo, but perfect for it's task. Just make sure you keep the laugh track off.
This is one of the best TV series America has produced, and this third season is pretty much perfect. Watched as a whole, it never really gets repetitive and the writing is superb. It's a shame that the presentation is slightly let down by a lack of extras and the apparent sound problems.