Episode Spotlight: Depressing News


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

“Depressing News” (#206, 9×12)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 9th, 1981
Written by Dan Wilcox & Thad Mumford
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: While Klinger works on launching a newspaper, Hawkeye builds a tower out of 500,000 tongue depressors.

While Klinger’s enthusiasm for his “MASH Notes” newspaper may at times have felt over-the-top, for the most part this is a solid episode. Hawkeye’s destruction of his monument to senseless destruction is very well done as is his motivation for doing so. M*A*S*H is often criticized for becoming too maudlin and moralizing in its later years. I don’t think that’s the case here at all. The absurdity of the Army sending the 4077th half a million tongue depressors sets Hawkeye off and that makes sense.

Sure, it’s a mistake. Colonel Potter knows that. B.J. knows that. Even Hawkeye knows that. But it still represents, to Hawkeye at least, how the Army — and by extension the United States government — doesn’t see soldiers as individuals. His conversation with B.J. in the Officers’ Club about how the Army considers doctors and soldiers interchangeable is superb, particularly when he runs down the list of past and present characters, symbolically snapping the tongue depressor representing the late Henry Blake.

The Hawkeye and Klinger storylines are intertwined, making it hard to decide which is the A story and which is the B story. Despite what Colonel Potter said, the newspaper was just another scam for Klinger. That’s fine but his eagerness was overkill. It was just too much. Part of me wants to believe that Charles only agreed to write the gourmet food column because he was bored. Otherwise that means Klinger was able to trick him quite easily. On the other hand, Charles is such a snob that he probably would be easily tricked by Klinger.

Potter’s painting of Hawkeye’s monument

There’s a relatively well-known anachronism in this episode. Watch closely 17 minutes in just as the delivery truck drives off. Hawkeye and B.J. are seen walking towards the boxes of tongue depressors. Alan Alda is wearing a pair of bright blue sneakers obviously from the 1980s. Mike Farrell, on the other hand, is wearing period-appropriate Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

Klinger’s proposed “Furious Physician Nixes Sticks Pix” headline is a reference to the famous “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” headline published in the July 17th, 1935 edition of Variety.

Some of the nurses at the start of the episode seem to be having quite a bit of fun tossing bedding around.

14 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Depressing News”

  1. That painting by Col. Potter of Hawkeye is the scariest thing ever!! He looks like a vengeful ghost.

    1. I think he was implying that it was the Army that had the who gives a crap felling to all soldiers, not just Trapper.

  2. I absolutely loathe this episode, it easily ranks in the bottom five on my list.
    It represents the nadir of Klinger’s personality change since becoming company clerk.

    Klinger was once a sympathetic, quirky character who stood by his friends; he has now become a cut rate Sgt. Bilko with none of the charm of the venerable Phil Silvers. A huckster with no qualms about cheating his friends to make a buck. An obsessive gambler who leaps at the chance to start a betting pool on any event in the vicinity …if Potter had a heart attack Klinger would start taking bets on whether he survives.

    In this episode Klinger starts a camp newspaper and immediately starts hustling his friends on subscription rates, delivery charges, advertising rates, etc. His adoption of the accoutrements, mannerisms, and lingo of a veteran newspaperman is idiotic, and his fawning over the real journalists in the camp is disgusting.

    The other plot is merely typical sanctimonious Hawkeye, usually enough to kill an episode by itself.

    Together these make for a truly atrocious episode, easily one of the worst. I never watch it.

    1. Klinger is beyond annoying in pretty much every episode after Radar leaves. His new hustler/huckster personality might have been acceptable if it had started from the beginning. He was a totally different person when he was wearing dresses. He was sensitive, caring, and concerned about others. Now he’s just a gambling, get rich quick scheme, callous annoyance.

      From interviews I’ve read with Jamie Farr, he was very worried when they had him stop wearing dresses because he thought he wouldn’t have anything to do. So he and the writers came up with the moneymaking schemes as his new gimmick. Even in the early 80s, I think the average viewer was too smart to find Klinger funny or entertaining. He had a very 40s way of trying to be funny. The overacting was embarrassing. He had no nuance to his acting style. Jamie/Klinger was beyond predictable. Not to mention they kept trying to pass him off as a 30 year old man living with his mother when the actor could easily pass for 60 with the black spray painted dyed hair and way too long bushy sideburns that have nothing at all to do with the 1950s. I believe Jamie was second oldest on set. That was my long-winded way of agreeing with you. 😉

  3. I thought Klinger might have been beyond scams at this point, otherwise his newspaper doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Hawkeye blowing up the tongue depressors was the highlight of the episode.

  4. Every time the scene went to Klinger trying to hustle someone for his stupid pointless newspaper and the price kept doubling, I found myself hoping someone would listen calmly to his shpiel and then instantly punch him in the nose. As has already been said, these people are his friends and they know he’s ripping them off but they give him money anyway just to make him go away. I know it’s supposed to be a lighthearted, fun episode, but if you give any thought to what he’s actually doing to people who are supposed to be his friends, it just makes you angry. What does he really need the money for anyway? He gambles like an addict all the time so it’s not like he’s sending it home to mother. Klinger has managed to completely break his word to Radar about making him proud. Instead, he has abused his position as company clerk by using army property and resources (phones, jeeps) to come up with scams to rip off the people who have helped him and stuck their necks out for him time and again. Remember when he forged Potter’s signature on a section 8 and then stole a jeep and went AWOL to get the form back so he didn’t get in trouble? Or any number of other schemes and scams at the expense of his closest friends? I can’t figure out if he’s ADD or mentally ill. Either way, he’s not a very likable character once he stopped wearing dresses.

    On an unrelated note, I thought it was a little strange when Father Mulcahy was poking and peeking at Margaret’s laundry just because he was bored. He often will do things like that because he’s either bored or just nosy. There was a previous episode where he was nosing around Charles’ private tax papers for what reason I don’t know. Do the writers forget that he’s a priest and probably would not invade people’s privacy that way?

    1. Oh and the look on Klinger’s face as he successfully tricks another person out of their money is infuriating. He knows he’s bilking people by giving them something that’s crap and he’s happy to do it. When Margaret agrees to subscribe for a month, Klinger makes a face that says he can’t believe he talked her into it. For some reason I thought he was actually trying to create a newspaper for the camp to combat boredom. Instead, he made it clear to the audience that it was all just a big con job and that made me really dislike him.

  5. When Hawkeye and BJ open a box of tongue depressors they are packed in a clear plastic bag, I don’t believe that such bags were available in the early 1950’s.

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