I discovered the show when I was in the Army. I’d heard of it before that, but had the impression it was some kind of soap opera-type show. I’m not sure where I got that impression, but it was there. But then I found it on syndication and was instantly hooked. I owned a VHS of the original movie, as well as the final movie, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, which I watched several times.
To be honest, the original movie doesn’t do a lot of me, as much as I hate to say it. And I think it’s because I first got acquainted with it as a television series, so I’m used to the Alan Alda version of Hawkeye Pierce. The movie is okay, but the series has a different feel to it, and Donald Sutherland plays Pierce as a totally different character.
I used to own about six seasons of the show, but hit a hard spot financially and sold them. Now Walmart has the first two seasons and they’re only ten bucks, so I decided it was time to start building my collection up again. In my mind, it’s one of the best shows ever on TV.
The pilot episode feels like most pilots do, like they’re trying to find their way around what they want to do with the show. And there are characters in the first season that slowly fall by the wayside as the show progresses. But overall, by the fourth episode (“Chief Surgeon Who?”), the series started hitting its stride.
One of the things I’ve always admired about M*A*S*H was its integrity. It was still popular when they decided to call it quits, and I respect that. I used to have a book called The Last Days of M*A*S*H, and it was written by Alan Alda. In it, he states that the chief reason they decided to end the series was they were having more and more trouble coming up with good ideas. After eleven seasons, they’d explored pretty much every situation they could, and if they kept going, the show would become a weak shadow of itself. Better to get out while it was still good and leave the fans with fond memories than run the thing into the ground and be remembered for ruining a good show.
There are shows these days that could stand to learn that lesson.
Actually, there are shows these days that could stand to be cancelled before the end of the first season, but that’s beside the point.
Like old movies, many old TV series don’t stand the test of time. For me, one of those is The Dukes of Hazzard. I loved that show when I was a kid, and I understand it’s still very popular in syndication, but the last time I tried watching an episode, I came away wondering what I’d seen it. I finally decided it was Catherine Bach (who played Daisy Duke) and the General Lee. I still love a ’69 Dodge Charger, and if I ever get rich, I’m gonna own one. It won’t be a General Lee, but that’s just fine with me.
M*A*S*H holds up very well, in my opinion. Yes, some of the humor is a bit lowbrow, but that’s the way it was written. Overall, the show is intelligent, even if the cast members get away with things that us veterans know they’d never get away with. No matter how brilliant they were in the operating room. The Army really wouldn’t care about that, I don’t think. Especially in the 1950s.