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Celebrating 16 Years Online (1999-2015)

Episode Spotlight: Smilin’ Jack

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Smilin’ Jack” (#93, 4×21)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 3rd, 1976
Written by Larry Gelbart & Simon Muntner
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: A friendly but sick chopper pilot is willing to risk everything to break a record.

This was the eighth episode produced for Season 4 but the 22nd aired. I think it shows. The writers were still getting used to writing for new characters which could explain why so much of the episode focuses on Jack Mitchell. Colonel Potter is fleshed out a bit but B.J.’s role is limited. The end result is an episode that feels unbalanced with a plot that doesn’t work.

Jack’s motivation for risking his life and the lives of four wounded soldiers is his obsession with beating Dangerous Dan’s record of 842 wounded pickups and became Chopper Pilot of the Year. This makes no sense. Unless Dangerous Dan was no longer picking up wounded, beating his record would only be temporary. Jack’s plan was to keep flying until he tied or beat the record and then turn in his wings. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Dangerous Dan would quickly beat Jack’s record.

It’s not as if the episode took place on December 31st and Jack was racing the clock to bring in a few more wounded before the end of the year. The P.A. announcement during the tag references the references the April 1951 Battle of the Imjin River in which the Gloucestershire Regiment (known as the Glosters), 1st Battalion of the British Army’s 29th Independent Infantry Brigade, suffered heavy casualties.

In a June 2nd, 2000 post to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup, Larry Gelbart revealed the genesis of this episode:

After the seciond [sic] season of the series, Gene Reynolds and I went to spend wome [sic] time with the 8055th, still stationed in South Korea. The 8055th, as some of you must know, was the real unit that served as the model for the fictional 4077th.

We recorded 22 hours of tape (audio) with the unit’s personnel – doctors, nurses, orderlies, etc.

One of the people interviewed was a chopper pilot named Dan Sullivan[.] A very colorful guy, we created a character for the series based on his experiences. We added a twist by having our fictional chopper pilot fall victim to diabetes. This was purely a creative invention. Sullivan never had that condition.

Sometime after the episode aired, Dan – the real Dan – became afflicted with diabetes.

It was a bizarre case of life being imitated by art only to have art then be imitated in life.

Presumably, the never-seen Dangerous Dan was named after the real Dan Sullivan. I wonder, if the real life pilot was so colorful, why was it necessary to introduce the diabetes angle in this episode? Perhaps making it revolve around Smilin’ Jack was a mistake. Maybe he would have worked better in a smaller role.

The minor B story involving twice wounded Corporal Howard Owens doesn’t add much to the episode other than giving B.J. a chance to butt heads with Frank. Radar bonding with Owens is nice but isn’t very believable. Would Owens really be comforted by a four leaf clover given to him by a company clerk who’s biggest fear is being caught reading African issues of National Geographic?

Smilin’ Jack hustling drinks

This was the very first episode directed by Charles S. Dubin, the most prolific director on M*A*S*H. He ultimately directed 44 episodes.

Why is Radar dispatching a chopper to Battalion Aid 12 at the start of the episode? That’s not his job.

Colonel Potter knows Jack from the 121st Evac, where months earlier he patched up Jack’s hand before becoming CO of the 4077th.

The actress playing Lieutenant Cathy King, who Frank planned on reporting for smirking, is uncredited despite having six lines.

Klinger and Father Mulcahy do not appear in this episode.

Name That Episode III #64

The Name That Episode game is played Tuesdays and Thursdays, with images posted randomly between 12PM and 6PM Eastern. Players can participate as often as they like. An archive of past rounds can be found here. Today’s image can be found below. Can you name the episode it’s from? Feel free to post guesses in the comments section. As always, the winner gets bragging rights.

And the Winner Is: converse_craig, who correctly identified “Good-Bye Radar, Part 2″ from Season 8.

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Name That Episode III #63

The Name That Episode game is played Tuesdays and Thursdays, with images posted randomly between 12PM and 6PM Eastern. Players can participate as often as they like. An archive of past rounds can be found here. Today’s image can be found below. Can you name the episode it’s from? Feel free to post guesses in the comments section. As always, the winner gets bragging rights.

And the Winner Is: converse_craig, who correctly identified “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” from Season 1.

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Episode Spotlight: Bottle Fatigue

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Bottle Fatigue” (#185, 8×16)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 7th, 1980
Written by Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Disturbed by a high bar tab, Hawkeye decides to give up drinking for a week. Charles, meanwhile, is infuriated to learn that his sister is engaged to an Italian.

For the first time since I started my Episode Spotlight feature back in January 2013, two back-to-back episodes have been randomly selected. Last week I reviewed “Yessir, That’s Our Baby” (Season 8, Episode #185) and today I’m reviewing “Bottle Fatigue” (Season 8, Episode #186).

My main criticism of this episode is that characters are too over-the-top. I don’t know if it’s overacting or what but Hawkeye and Charles especially come off as exaggerated caricatures throughout the episode. B.J. does as well but to a lesser extent. And because Hawkeye and Charles each had a storyline, that meant a lot of hysterical arguing and overblown yelling.

With Hawkeye’s sobriety A story there is at least the understanding that he wasn’t acting like himself and that he was dealing with at least some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. There’s no excuse or explanation for Charles acting so hysterical other than a need to emphasize the emotion and turmoil of his telegram to Honoria at the end of the episode.

With few exceptions (this episode, “Alcoholics Unanimous” in Season 3, and later “Bottoms Up” in Season 9), M*A*S*H never really explored the impact of constant alcohol consumption on an surgical unit. Glossed over for the most part was the fact that none of the characters should have been drinking as often and heavily as they were because they could be called into surgery at any moment.

It’s questionable just how much of an alcoholic Hawkeye was supposed to be and thus how severe his withdrawal should have been. For the most part he just seemed overly excitable and energetic (and annoying). I’m not a drinker and I don’t personally know anyone who struggles with alcoholism, so I don’t know how realistic Hawkeye’s behavior is. The one thing that rang false for me was his vastly improved sense of smell. Forget for a moment that a sober Hawkeye probably wouldn’t have had any interest in examining the noxious odors of the oft-maligned mess hall. Does alcohol really significantly dull one’s sense of smell?

Charles being a bigot wasn’t the issue with his B story. That fit with his character and background. Nor was it his urgent desire to get in touch with Honoria to try to talk her out of marrying an Italian. It wasn’t so much his basic reaction to the news but his unrealistic behavior afterwards that bothered me: running round in his nightgown, screaming at the top of his lungs, flailing his arms in the air hysterically, his face turning a particular shade of umber.

It’s a credit to the talent of David Ogden Stiers that despite all this, Charles never quite comes across as hammy, although he certainly straddles the line at times. It’s also worth noting that Hawkeye and B.J. aren’t too involved in confronting the bigot that is Winchester, C.E. Three. That’s left to Klinger, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy.

Charles apologizes to Honoria for his narrowness of mind

Is Charles the only character other than Radar and Klinger who is seen talking to Sparky?

Notice that none of the characters have any blood on their surgical gowns when they walk into the Officer’s Club. Their latest sting in surgery couldn’t have been that rough.

Hawkeye’s singing when he walked into the Swamp after showering was not half bad but his rendition of “Hush, Little Baby” wasn’t that great. Chalk it up to fear for his life.

Charles calling bourbon “the Grape Nehi of alcoholic beverages” was a nice callback to Radar’s drink of choice.

Shelley Long, who played Nurse Mendenhall, would later go on to star in Cheers on NBC from 1982 to 1987. She hosted “Memories of M*A*S*H” for CBS in November 1991.

John Chappell (1939-2015)

Actor John Chappell, who played hospital administrator Michael D’Angelo during the first season of AfterMASH, passed away on March 2nd at the age of 75. AfterMASH premiered in September 1983 and wrapped its first season in March 1984. D’Angelo was Sherman Potter’s boss at the fictional General Pershing (aka “General General”) Veteran’s Hospital. When the series returned for its second season in September 1984, Chappell’s character had been replaced.

John Chappell as Michael D’Angelo

According to his Internet Movie Database entry, Chappell’s acting career started in the mid-1970s; his final acting role was in a 1998 film called Claudine’s Return. His only other regular TV series role was on The New WKRP in Cincinnati from 1991 to 1993.

An obituary can be found at ThePilot.com as can a lengthy memorial article (Chappell wrote for The Pilot newspaper for many years). A memorial service was held on March 11th and included a collection of memorabilia and photographs from Chappell’s life and career.

(Thanks to Dan for passing this along.)

Name That Episode III #62

The Name That Episode game is played Tuesdays and Thursdays, with images posted randomly between 12PM and 6PM Eastern. Players can participate as often as they like. An archive of past rounds can be found here. Today’s image can be found below. Can you name the episode it’s from? Feel free to post guesses in the comments section. As always, the winner gets bragging rights.

And the Winner Is: converse_craig, who correctly identified “The Light That Failed” from Season 6.

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Name That Episode III #61

The Name That Episode game is played Tuesdays and Thursdays, with images posted randomly between 12PM and 6PM Eastern. Players can participate as often as they like. An archive of past rounds can be found here. Today’s image can be found below. Can you name the episode it’s from? Feel free to post guesses in the comments section. As always, the winner gets bragging rights.

And the Winner Is: converse_craig, who correctly identified “Bombshells” from Season 11.

Name That Episode

Episode Spotlight: Yessir, That’s Our Baby

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Yessir, That’s Our Baby” (#184, 8×15)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 31st, 1979
Written by Jim Mulligan
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: When an Amerasian baby is left anonymously in front of the Swamp, the 4077th goes to great lengths to try to secure a good home for her.

This is a rare episode that only features one storyline. Unfortunately, spending so much time on a single storyline didn’t work in the episode’s favor. This probably would have gone over much better had it only been one of multiple storylines rather than the focus of an entire episode. It’s not a terrible episode, although I think everyone can agree that it is too heavy-handed at times.

Story editor Dennis Koenig had this to say about “Yessir, That’s Our Baby” in Suzy Kalter’s The Complete Book of M*A*S*H:

There was a show that didn’t turn out great but dealt with a very important story, That’s My Baby [sic], about Amerasian babies. It was a tough story to do because it dealt with an issue we had a tendency to overlook–what we did to the Korean people by being there. These kids were never accepted in Korean culture; they were shunned by society and had no future.

That M*A*S*H overlooked the plight of Amerasian babies until Season 8 is part of the problem with this episode, in my opinion. Watching the episode you get the feeling that the producers decided to tackle the topic because they realized M*A*S*H had been on the air for eight years and they hadn’t covered Amerasian babies yet, rather than doing so because it fit naturally into an episode.

(The issue of Amerasian babies was glossed over for the most part in Season 2’s “The Choson People” which saw a South Korean woman lie about Radar being the father of her baby. Although she later admitted that her own family had ostracized her, at the end of the episode she and her baby were readily accepted by a group of South Korean refugees (although one could argue they might not have known her baby was Amerasian).

Having only one storyline meant every single character had to be shoehorned in somehow. That actually worked quite well for nearly everyone. Margaret and Klinger didn’t really have much to do but their roles were believable. At least with everyone reacting to the baby in what could be described as an extreme fashion, nobody really felt all that out of character.

Except for Charles, that is. While it’s certainly reasonable that Charles would care and worry about the baby, his outburst at Roger Prescott was painful to watch, mostly because it was so bluntly telegraphed that the normally calm and refined Charles would eventually snap.

To sum up, there’s nothing wrong with the topic of the episode but the execution feels forced and, yes, perhaps too preachy.

“Run for your life, Prescott! It’s a wild boar!”

The closing credits contain the following:

Special Acknowledgement
to
THE PEARL S. BUCK
FOUNDATION, INC.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was a strong advocate for Asian and mixed-race adoption. Her foundation is known called Pearl S. Buck International.

It’s never mentioned in the episode but how did everyone at the 4077th know that the father of the baby was actually an American?

After Hawkeye and Colonel Potter were told by Chung Ho Kim that other countries like France and The Netherlands were far more accepting of babies of their military, I’m a little surprised nobody thought about trying to trick one of those countries into accepting the baby.

Howard Platt, who played Major Ted Spector, revealed in TV’s M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book by Ed Solomonson and Mark O’Neill, that he got the role at 10PM the night before his scenes was filmed and didn’t receive the script until 1AM that morning. I wonder who was originally supposed to play that character.

Colonel Potter compares the milk-filled surgical glove to “the business end of a Guernsey” which the Internet tells me is a breed of cattle.

Adam’s Ribs Voted Favorite Episode from Season 3

It was a nail biter but last month visitors to MASH4077TV.com voted “Adam’s Ribs” their favorite episode from Season 3 of M*A*S*H, wrapping up the Henry/Trapper era of the Great 2015 M*A*S*H Episode Poll. At several points during March “Abyssinia, Henry” was atop the poll but in the end “Adam’s Ribs” won out by just one vote. “Private Charles Lamb” was a very distance third.

A total of 147 votes were cast, down considerably from February’s Season 2 poll. Four episodes received no votes and three others received just one vote each. Here are the full results:

  1. Adam’s Ribs (23%, 34 Votes)
  2. Abyssinia, Henry (22%, 33 Votes)
  3. Private Charles Lamb (8%, 12 Votes)
  4. The General Flipped at Dawn (7%, 11 Votes)
  5. Springtime (5%, 8 Votes)
  6. Aid Station (4%, 6 Votes)
  7. A Full Rich Day (4%, 6 Votes)
  8. Rainbow Bridge (3%, 5 Votes)
  9. House Arrest (3%, 4 Votes)
  10. Alcoholics Unanimous (3%, 4 Votes)
  11. There is Nothing Like a Nurse (3%, 4 Votes)
  12. Officer of the Day (3%, 4 Votes)
  13. Bulletin Board (2%, 3 Votes)
  14. O.R. (2%, 3 Votes)
  15. Iron Guts Kelly (2%, 3 Votes)
  16. Check-Up (1%, 2 Votes)
  17. Big Mac (1%, 2 Votes)
  18. The Consultant (1%, 1 Votes)
  19. Payday (1%, 1 Votes)
  20. White Gold (1%, 1 Votes)
  21. Love and Marriage (0%, 0 Votes)
  22. Mad Dogs and Servicemen (0%, 0 Votes)
  23. Life With Father (0%, 0 Votes)
  24. Bombed (1%, 0 Votes)

When you have a classic episode like “Abyssinia, Henry” it’s sometimes hard not to want to vote for it even if it may not be your favorite simply because it’s such an iconic episode. “Adam’s Ribs” is a terrific episode but I’ve always loved “Private Charles Lamb” because of the spam lamb. Ultimately, I couldn’t decide which episode to vote for and abstained.

Hit the comments with your reactions to the results. Which episode did you vote for and why?

And don’t forget to vote in this month’s poll, which asks visitors to chose their favorite episode from Season 4.

Name That Episode III #60

The Name That Episode game is played Tuesdays and Thursdays, with images posted randomly between 12PM and 6PM Eastern. Players can participate as often as they like. An archive of past rounds can be found here. Today’s image can be found below. Can you name the episode it’s from? Feel free to post guesses in the comments section. As always, the winner gets bragging rights.

And the Winner Is: Chauncey Uppercrust, who correctly identified “Soldier of the Month” from Season 4.

Name That Episode