Episode Spotlight: That’s Show Biz

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

“That’s Show Biz” (#215, 10×01)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, October 26th, 1981
Written by David Pollock & Elias Davis
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: A USO troupe spends a few days at the 4077th, providing entertainment while also causing some problems.

It’s a good thing this is an hour-long episode, because there is a lot going on as the five members of the visiting USO troupe interact with doctors and nurses at the 4077th. I think “That’s Show Biz” has a bad reputation among M*A*S*H fans. But with so many characters and storylines, there’s probably something for everyone to like, if they give the episode a chance.

It all starts when singer Marina Ryan arrives at the camp via helicopter. She needs to have her appendix removed. The rest of the USO troupe soon arrives: Brandy Doyle, Sarah Miller, Ellie Carlyle, and Fast Freddie Nichols. Brandy is a burlesque dancer, Sarah sings and plays guitar, Ellie plays the accordion and the piano and sings, and Fast Freddie is a comedian and acts as emcee.

Charles can’t stop laughing at Fast Eddie’s jokes, even though he knows they’re terrible. Hawkeye and B.J., on the other hand, can’t wait for the laughter to stop. Klinger is a huge fan of Eddie as well but fails miserably when given the chance to perform alongside his comedy idol. Klinger also annoys Eddie by constantly joking, an all-too-obvious comparison to the way Eddie annoys Hawkeye and B.J. Is there anybody out there who enjoys Fast Eddie and his jokes? I doubt it. He’s worse than Jackie Flash, the emcee in “Showtime” from Season 1.

Hawkeye soon realizes that Marina has fallen in love with him. He doesn’t encourage her, knowing nothing can happen between them. He doesn’t want to take advantage of her feelings and he’s also not the man she thinks he is. Their conversation takes a somber tone at the end:

Hawkeye: “I’ve seen too much ever to be wide-eyed again. We’re the wrong blood type. We don’t match. Innocence-positive and lechery-negative.”
Marina: “Let me stay. I’ll prove you’re wrong.”
Hawkeye: “No, no. It’s not worth the risk. Remember, you did ask me not to leave a scar.”

Would Hawkeye from Season 1 keep his distance from Marina? I’d like to think so, due to her age and the fact that she’s his patient. His storyline here is weak. Rather than fall for Hawkeye, why couldn’t Marina develop feelings for Private Nowicki instead? Maybe she convinces herself she can break him out of his shell. She does, the way the episode plays out, but what if she doesn’t? What if she fails and decides she has nothing to offer. Hawkeye has to convince her to stay in the USO and help other soldiers.

Margaret initially has doubts about Brandy but the two become fast friends. Brandy has her eyes on Colonel Potter. Potter is starstruck at first before realizing Brandy has more than friendship in mind. Neither of these storylines develop enough to make much of an impact. Potter and Brandy is vaguely reminiscent of “Lil” from Season 7.

Sarah is trying to find a pair of ballet shoes her brother had with him when he was killed. She asks Father Mulcahy for help. Margaret offers her support as well. This is one of the more interesting storylines and my favorite, if I had to pick. I also like Charles bonding with Ellie over their shared love of classical music. Both are thin, however, and I don’t know how they’d play out if expanded.

Ultimately, “That’s Show Biz” fails simply because there are too many characters and storylines. Cut out Eddie and Brandy and I think the episode improves dramatically. As is so often the case, the need to give most of the main characters substantial roles proves to be the episode’s downfall. Curiously, B.J. doesn’t have much to do in this episode. He stands around a lot and doesn’t like Eddie’s jokes, but that’s about it.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode That's Show Biz showing Klinger and Fast Eddie
Klinger flails during a comedy bit with Fast Eddie.

“That’s Show Biz” was the fifth and final hour-long episode of M*A*S*H. Although aired as the Season 10 premiere, it was produced during Season 9 as two half-hour episodes with production numbers Z419 and Z420.

Why is B.J. sitting on a bicycle at the end of the episode while saying goodbye to Marina?

Where did Klinger get an accordion on such short notice?

The medic who helps Marina at the start of the episode, the pilot who brings her to the 4077th, and the wounded soldier who gives Hawkeye the ballet shoes are all uncredited.

Actress Amanda McBroom, who plays Ellie Carlyle, later composed several songs for Cop Rock. The short-lived musical/police drama aired on CBS ABC for 11 episodes during the 1990-1991 season.

9 Comments

  • 007 says:

    Probably one of my least favorite episodes, mainly because of Fast Freddy and Brandy. Both are annoying and over the top, and completely unfunny.

    I always wondered if Charles is really laughing at Fast Freddy or if he was doing it to mess with Hawkeye and BJ. The laughing just seems…off to me, but maybe that was just David trying to act like someone who’s laughing but trying not to.

    The story line with Sarah is good, although a pair of ballet shoes is a strange thing to have with you in combat. Soldier’s already carry a lot of stuff, and a pair of shoes that you can’t wear just seems like it’d take up too much space and is just awkward.

    It was definitely nice to see Hawkeye not be a huge turd with women for a change. I do not agree however about Season 1 Hawkeye acting the same, especially since he’d be 10 years younger then and closer to her age.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      About the ballet shoes, they were from his fiancé, who was a dancer. To expand on Amanda McBroom’s songwriting prowess, she also wrote the title song from the Bette Midler movie, “The Rose”.
      Aside from Marina’s storyline, nothing really stands out about this episode.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    RJ: It’s a small thing but “Cop Rock” was ABC, not CBS.

  • Daniel says:

    Rj,
    I noticed an interesting detail in this episode. Maybe even a “goof”!

    In the scene where Marina is talking to Nowiki for the first time, his bed is pulled out from the wall a good 18″. But when the camera switches to looking at him from the other direction, his bed is all the way against the wall. So during the conversation, both he and Marina are moving back and forth 😀

    I’m guessing they did this for filming, as his bed is the corner, and they couldn’t fit a camera on that corner while still fitting him head to toe into the shot.

    Let me know what you think!

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Just noticed, the 8063rd’s Chaplin is apparently named Charlie (revealed as Klinger hands off the phone to Father Mulcahy)

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Wonder why they had Klinger say “breakfast cereal” instead of the obvious brand “Rice Crispies”. They were allowed to use the brand name in “A Night at Rosie’s” with Hawkeye’s Breakfast of Ex Champions.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    This episode suffered from a common MASH problem during later seasons: laziness/fatigue. Instead of coming up with a new storyline, they decided to repeat a previous storyline from season 2 which wasn’t a very good one then either. Both episodes thought the audience would enjoy being treated to the entire USO show complete with entire songs and jokes. I’m sure the 80s audience loved tuning in to MASH only to find an old vaudeville act taken from the “naughty 90s” (1890s that is).

    As has been said already told biggest problem is Eddie and Brandi. Neither are funny but what’s worse is they’re both pathetic. Eddie is disappointed because he’s trying to get to a gig in Hoboken so he can finally make it. He’s well past his prime and I think deep down, he knows it. His jokes are hacky and his act is dated. Klinger found a kindred spirit in Freddy. They even sounded alike. The suspension of disbelief ran out when he got stage fright performing in the post op show. He’s always talking and laughing loudly in the camp trying to get attention. Not to mention all his scams are basically a performance to bilk people out of their money. Is it plausible that he would forget his lines and mess up the show? And as RJ said, considering they had such a hard time finding a harmonica, now he’s got an accordion? Klinger has become such a caricature and cartoony that his presence drags down the quality of the show. Jamie Farr said in an interview that he enjoyed doing more dramatic storylines even though he was there for comic relief. His dramatic acting isn’t much better as he comes off phony and insincere. And his nasal voice sounded more and more like Bea Arthur on Maude.

    As for Brandi, she’s the worst of the lot. She struts around shaking her hips and winking at everyone trying to be sexy. It’s very embarrassing to watch an 80 year old stripper pretending to be Mae West. Early on, she laments to “Sherm” how it’s sad that none of the young soldiers even know who she is anymore. It seems like it’s better for their mental well-being that they haven’t seen a grandmother shaking her tassels at them. At one point, she and Margaret came strutting outside together popping their hips and dancing. It’s out of character for Margaret to act all bright eyed and naive with the “big star” in her tent. She’s way more worldly wise than to be impressed with a D-List star from 30 years ago.

    The way the soldiers were hooting and hollering when Brandi was winking and shaking her hips at them was odd. She made a joke about listening to music in the nude and they all cheered. Were they really turned on at the thought of an elderly lady’s naked body or were they just being kind? The war didn’t last THAT long.

    I do like when people come to the camp and touch the lives of people as it makes it interesting. I know the writers said they were trying to make the show more interesting in the final seasons because they were worried about becoming too formulaic. I just didn’t think it was necessary to do an hour on this storyline. Just wasn’t enough meat there to really hold interest.

  • Captain Tuttle says:

    I think BJ is on the front of a rickshaw bicycle with nowicki in the back, assumedly he wanted to say goodbye in person.

    On another note, I found the Brandi and Potter storyline kinda heartwarming. Both are no longer spring chickens, and I think Brandi appreciated a true fan, While Sherman got a piece of a giddy youthful fantasy from when he was a Doughboy. The back and forth is more charming between these two as it’s more pally and less worn out than Hawkeye’s schtick, especially when you know that they’re too old and respectful to take it any further.

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