Episode Spotlight: Dear Uncle Abdul


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

“Dear Uncle Abdul” (#181, 08×12)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 3rd, 1979
Written by John Rappaport & Jim Mulligan
Directed by William Jurgensen

Capsule Summary: Klinger writes his uncle a letter, Hawkeye gets upset when B.J. steals his joke, and a soldier shows up at the 4077th looking for his buddy.

“Dear Uncle Abdul” opens with Klinger reading over a letter he’s writing to his uncle. He mentions his new job at the 4077th, a niece bit of continuity for M*A*S*H following Radar’s departure earlier in Season 8 and Klinger’s transition to company clerk.

Before I get into discussing the episode, I just have to ask: Is there anyone who thinks Hawkeye’s joke is funny? I’ve always figured the writers intentionally came up with a joke that isn’t actually funny. Am I missing something? Is there something funny about a wannabe circus performer who can fly through the air just by flapping their arms that I just don’t get?

There is so much going on in this episode it’s hard to know where to start. Based on the title, the A Story should be Klinger’s letter but the episode really isn’t about Klinger writing to his uncle. That is to say, he isn’t writing about past events at the 4077th that are seen in flashbacks. Things happen–a lot of things happen–and he writes about them after the fact. The episode features very little narration from Klinger and it’s easy to forget he’s even writing a letter.

Rather than split every little plot into a separate story, I suppose the A Story could be everything that Klinger does ultimately decide to include in his letter: Colonel Potter’s painting, Father Mulcahy’s Korean War song, Margaret’s footlocker, and Charles hunting quail. If not for these little vignettes, none of these characters would have anything to do other than react to the joke.

Father Mulcahy’s song is terrible yet still emotional: “Perhaps at least we’ve asked ourselves / What we should have asked before / With the pain and death this madness brings / What were we ever singing for?” I wonder who actually wrote the melody and lyrics.

The feud between Hawkeye and B.J. over who tells the joke better is thus the B Story, which is the weakest part of the episode in my opinion. Focusing so much of the episode on a joke that isn’t funny backfires. Rather than provide a sort of joke-within-a-joke for the audience to enjoy, it just falls flat. That said, seeing Alan Alda walk around furiously flapping his arms is amusing. Klinger putting the two of them in their place is the high point of this storyline.

That makes Eddie, Hank, and Dave the C Story. It’s a decent storyline but feels too cut and dry. Eddie shows up, Hawkeye and B.J. can’t believe someone like him is in the Army, his buddy is sent home, and he gets a new buddy to look after him. There’s no real tension, no real concern about Eddie’s fate.

Final thought: Hawkeye’s sad little mustache in the tag scene is hilarious.

Hawkeye’s mustache.

At the start of the episode, Klinger is typing the letter to his uncle. At the end, he’s writing it by hand.

Although not the last episode in which a character wrote a letter, this was the final episode to use a variation of “Dear [Somebody]” as its title.

Richard Lineback later played Pvt. Scala in “Trick or Treatment” during Season 11.

17 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Dear Uncle Abdul”

  1. First up, I don’t think that Hawkeye/BJ’s joke is funny either.

    If more time was spent on Klinger’s storyline, and the camps’ antics, and less time on the ‘joke’, I would definitely like this episode. It had potential, but the ‘joke’ ruined it.

    If the joke was funny, I would enjoy that storyline, but it isn’t, so I don’t enjoy it.

    The C story is interesting, but it needed more ‘feeling’ in it, if you know what I mean.

    Overall, an episode that had potential, but that potential wasn’t capitalised upon.

  2. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Margaret’s travails with her defective foot locker and how she tried to obtain a new one. I thought her cockamamie story about a sniper in her tent really turned me off. In spite of that, a rather humorous episode with a hint of thought-provoking content.

  3. I don’t think the joke itself is all that funny. After all, Margaret admits in the episode that it’s a dumb joke. To me, what makes the story arc funny is how Hawkeye and B.J. tell the joke (seeing Alan Alda flap is arms around like that is hysterical) and the drama that develops over such a silly joke. Klinger’s line at the end (“all you guys do is walk around and tell jokes, what’s funny about that”) is pretty funny as well. Oh, and random fun fact: the guy who plays Dave in this episode also played Putzie in ‘Grease’. 🙂

  4. Not one of the best episodes. It highlights one of the many reasons why I kind of hate BJ as character.

    Where as Trapper always ran with Hawkeye’s jokes/personality or just played them off, BJ either gets annoyed with it, or does something underhanded like in this episode with the joke. He’s basically a passive aggressive jerk alot of the time. Just another reminder of how awesome Trapper was and how I wish he had stayed the entire series or been allowed back when he tried to come back.

    I too, ever since I was a kid found the joke to be really unfunny and always thought it was kind of dumb how everyone loves it so much. I figure that was done on purpose to be dumb.

    1. Thank you so much for saying that about BJ. He shows himself to be a petty liar in this episode. Instead of joining Hawk in the humor of the joke, he had to turn it into a stupid feud and try to take the credit for himself. Why couldn’t BJ just laugh and they could all share the joke? Why did he have to make Hawkeye angry in order to use any pleasure? I resent Mike Farrell for being there because he messes with an otherwise perfect show. If Trapper had stayed things would be almost perfect (Henry would have also needed to stay too). Of all the new characters who came on, BJ is by far the worst. Glad I’m not alone in feeling this way.

      1. Don’t blame the characters…blame the writers. Margaret stayed and look what they did to her.

  5. The fact that the joke isn’t funny is what makes it funny, if you’ll pardon the paradox of a pair o’docs so involved in one-upmanship over a stupid joke. The actual joke here is Hawkeye’s determination to not be upstaged in anything, and B.J.’s seeming effortlessness in upstaging Hawkeye anyway.

    Hawk’s attempt at a cheesy mustache of his own — and a sad little ‘stache it is, very nearly as bad as the one I attempted in college — only underscore’s Hawk’s pettiness, and as such is the perfect punchline.

    If the circus joke had actually been funny in and of itself, it would have undermined the story. When a joke’s that bad, it really does matter who tells it better, and that provides the tension (such as it is) that propels the story..

    (Props, by the way, to Alda for being willing to let Hawkeye come off as less-than-noble for story’s sake.)

    The side-story about Father Mulcahy’s attempt to write a war song is a kind of counterpoint to two educated men fighting over a joke. Mulcahy attempts a sprightly ditty — a musical joke, as it were — before coming to the realization that the situation is, in fact, no joke. Preachy and heavy-handed, maybe, but an emotional counterpoint to the joke story.

    1. Believe it or not, Alan Alda is an actor who doesn’t allow his ego over what his character is doing get in the way of his feelings about himself. He has said many times he would rather be a hated character than it who is liked because it’s more interesting. A good actor has to be willing to make an ass of himself or be disliked by the audience. Alda is willing to do that. Others on the show…not so much. Mike Farrell argued to change scripts based on his own personal feelings instead of the good of the character. Actors know it’s their job to play a role, or they should know it. I shouldn’t think they would expect accolades for following the script as written.

      1. I may have been a bit harsh in reacting to your anti-Mike/BJ stand. But, I think I get it now. Never been a big Alda or Hawkeye fan, but it’s cool to hear your take on the man. Thanks.

  6. Would Winchester really have been able to go hunting in a combat zone-in full hunting garb, sticking out like a sore thumb? He literally almost gets himself (and Klinger) blown up when he shoots a bird that lands on a land mine (?)

    There may have been more people like Eddie in earlier wars, especially when there was a shortage of qualified recruits and standards were lowered.

    Father Mulcahy’s song sounded more like a world war one era piece. It’s easy to imagine his personal disgust at the war.

    The joke of the joke was that it wasn’t funny. It was funny seeing how peeved Hawkeye, who considered himself the premier jokester of the camp, was when BJ got praise for his efforts.

  7. While I’ll grant it isn’t the side-splitting Hawkeye makes it out to be, the joke is amusing. The idea of the joke is that it *should* be impressive that this man can actually fly. He flies all around the room trying to impress the owner of the circus. The circus owner chooses to reframe the impressive action of a guy who can fly as simply being a bird imitation, along the same lines of somebody who imitates a bird by imitating its sound. Plenty of people can imitate the sound of a bird. Never yet met anybody who can imitate the flight of a bird in the sense of actually flying around.

  8. DSL is correct. The joke wasn’t funny, that was the joke. The actual joke is how competitive Drs. Hunnicut and Pierce become over a non-funny joke. In fact, that is the point at the end when Klinger points out that one Major shoots luggage, another shoots exploding pigeons and the priest writes war ditties. If the joke had truly been hilarious Klinger really couldn’t have pointed out that neither of the docs were funny. I disagree that this is the weakest subplot of the episode. If that subplot were gone the juxtaposition of the other stories wouldn’t work.

  9. How different would this episode have been had it been written during the Trapper years? Would Trap have been as competitive as BJ at telling the joke or would he have just said flat out “Hawk, that joke’s no joke”?

  10. Everyone is different, but I’m surprised that none of you found the joke funny. Did you understand it? I thought it was very clever and funny.

  11. It’s a dumb joke, the competition between Hawkeye & BJ is dumb, forced & painful. Writers should have stuck with just Klinger writing to Uncle Abdul & the C story.

  12. First of all, taking someone else’s joke and running with it…especially after saying it’s not funny…with great success has become a joke unto itself. This may have been one of the first times it was done. (I don’t know).
    I agree that the slow witted soldier watching his mentor go home while staying to fight could have been an episode on its own. They totally left us hanging on that one.
    But, and finally, what I love about the show is the almost unbearable sadness of these people, struggling to keep their sanity, and the conflict over there. The laugh track is painfully sarcastic.
    Father Mulcahey (sp?) putting together that song at the end, while somewhat predictable, had me crying like a bitch. Clinger’s commentary just before got me going in that direction.
    I loved the episode so much it got me to this site and (something I NEVER do) inspired me to weigh in.

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