Yeah, so I've been a M*A*S*Her for ten years now (okay, I don't remember exactly when, but I seem to recall it was around the last of May 2005 when I started watching the show regularly), and I wanted to share my story of why M*A*S*H still remains such an important show to me to this day.
But for starters, before I started watching M*A*S*H regularly, I had already seen snippets of it a year earlier in 2004. I think I shared this before, but it was one summer night, I was bored, and was channel surfing to see if I could find anything interesting to watch, and I ended up catching a little bit of what turned out to be "Good-bye, Radar, Part 2". As I've said before, for some reason, I mistook Alan Alda for Dick Sargent, and wanted to see him in a role other than "Darrin #2", so I continued watching; what intrigued me about what I was watching was that this was clearly a military/medical show, so you would think it would be dramatic and serious, right? Well, apparently not, because I was hearing a laugh track. I thought to myself, "Wow, they really did put a laugh track on everything back then, didn't they?" (that same year, I was also introduced to H.R. PUFNSTUF, a trippy Saturday Morning kids show with life-sized puppets, and a laugh track). I didn't think much on it after that random viewing, so that was that.
Then as 2005 was under way, there were nights throughout the months of March and April where I was stuck in a hotel room with not much to do, so once again, channel surfing kept bringing me to M*A*S*H, of which I caught snippets of episodes like "The Grim Reaper", "Mail Call Three", "Temporary Duty", and "They Call the Wind Korea". It wasn't too long after that that I started intentionally tuning in to see more snippets, because I was intrigued by this show: a military sitcom? That's something different I hadn't really seen before. After catching more glimpses from episodes like "No Sweat" and "Father's Day" (and one where I seem to recall Charles lying in his bunk in the Swamp in the middle of the day while Potter chews him out), I finally made the decision that the next time I see the show's pilot was going to be on, I would actually sit down and really watch the show and see what it's like.
So at the end of May 2005, the pilot did show up on Hallmark Channel, so I sat down and watched it. I don't remember what my initial thought of the show was from that one airing (this was when Hallmark had their four-episode weekday rotation, and the pilot was the last episode airing that particular day in the cycle), but I do remember that after catching more episodes that next day that this show was really worthy of my attention, because it was quite an interesting show: yes, it's a military sitcom, but it didn't make fun of the war, or treat the war like a party, and the characters weren't just flat sitcom characters . . . this show was oozing with substance. By my third day of viewing, I was officially hooked.
My first-time viewing of M*A*S*H during the summer of 2005 was quite an experience. I really came to appreciate how appealing and believable the characters were - they were well-rounded, and fully dimensional, and the writing was really sharp with anti-war satire, yet it knew when to pull on the reins with the comedy and also knew where to draw the line when it came to the horrofic side of the war. And the ensemble. Many sitcoms back in the day usually had two leads while the rest of the cast were merely supporting players, but M*A*S*H treated all of the character as a true ensemble . . . sure, Hawkeye was the unofficial lead of the show, that was a given, but the dedication, commitment, and talent of Alan helped give Hawkeye that driving force that really made him the anchor of the show. Henry became one of my favorite characters, because he was so funny in how so sincere he could be in his intentions to not be the bungler that he occasionally could be and he really could be one of the boys, which is why I was shocked and disheartened to not only see him leave, but to learn he was also killed on the way home from Korea. That was so deep - and to think, this was a first for television history to try such a thing. So, naturally, I wasn't really happy about the arrival of B.J. and Potter at first, because I became so used to Trapper and Henry and invested so much in them that I had trouble adjusting to B.J. and Potter; my initial reaction was that I found B.J. to be too "straight" in comparison to what a pair of hooligans Hawkeye and Trapper was, and I found Potter to be completely unfunny and dull . . . at first. I apparently eventually got used to both of them later on, because at one point when the weekend reruns on Hallmark came on and were still back in the early seasons, I found myself thinking, "Oh yeah, Trapper and Henry, I remember them. . . ." In hindsight, I just needed time to get to know B.J. and Potter just as I had Trapper and Henry, and I find that after watching the show multiple times that B.J. was allowed more room to grow as a character than Trapper was given, and while Potter wasn't as laid back and incompetent as Henry, he did give off a very grandfatherly vibe that made him an endearing character as well, and he was funny in his own right, he was just more cerebral and dry in his humor than the more comical Henry. Now Charles took no time getting used to, but I was already familiar with David Ogden Stiers prior to watching M*A*S*H due to hearing his voice work in Disney movies growing up, so it was nice to be able to put a face to the name, and Charles, like Frank, could be a downright unlikeable character at times, but whereas Frank was definitely one of those characters that you actually love to hate, you couldn't really hate Charles because he could actually hold his own, and at times even prove to be a worthy adversary to Hawkeye and B.J. Out of all the characters on the show, I came to identify with Radar the most - particularly the more naive version, because I was that guy in my teenaged years: I was alway the naive and immature one who didn't know beans about sex or the "real world," and as such, my peers took advantage of it and would tease me about it (I even was the receiving end of the same question Radar was asked about if it's true about being a virgin, and I didn't know how to answer). It was also a kick for me, as a life-long Muppet Freak to figure out that Radar O'Reilly is who Big Bird's teddy bear was named after. So when Radar went home, I wasn't particularly happy about that, but I had also seen that during this time, the show was suddenly different than it was before, it just didn't feel right: there was no music, there was minimal laugh track, there wasn't as much humor, Klinger stopped running around in dresses (and I gotta tell ya, my initial reaction to Klinger was pretty much a freak out, seeing a weird, hairy man running around in flowing dresses), and the horrors of war seemed to suddenly take a front seat in storytelling - I had trouble following the show by that point, so I kind of stopped watching by then, and to this day, I still usually skip Seasons 8-11. Later in the summer, Hallmark did air GFA, so I watched it, and got very emotional watching the war die down and seeing everybody go their separate ways.
I can't remember a time where I got so hooked on a show so quickly, but as I said, M*A*S*H was always such an alluring show that it really commanded your attention. It even became something of a "comfort" show for me too: from the spring of 2006 to the summer of 2007, I was suffering with my second (and so far, last) bout of clinical depression (partly due to a side effect on an acne medicine that I was on that was so strong it had to be monitored by the government because of how dangerous the side effects were, including thoughts and attempts of suicide, which I thankfully never had), and even though I was having trouble finding any kind of pleasure in shows that I've always enjoyed, somehow, M*A*S*H was able to, as Charles once said, "Lower the bucket into the well of my dispair and raise me up to the light of day," if only temporarily. Televisual prozac is what it became for me.
And what I find fascinating is that to this very day, I never tire of watching M*A*S*H. Never. I haven't experienced that with any other show that I've been a fan of, even long before I discovered it: BEWITCHED and I DREAM OF JEANNIE, for instance, I used to watch both of those shows religiously for a few years prior to M*A*S*H, but now it's like I only watch them if I feel like I'm in the mood for them; same with shows I grew up with, such as COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG or ED, EDD N EDDY, both of which I was obsessed with as a kid. But M*A*S*H? I can't go for extended periods of time without breaking out the DVDs and watching them. I don't really know, I guess unlike all these other shows (which, admittedly, a lot of them did seem to reach a point where they became formulaic and repetetive), M*A*S*H seems to never grow stale, and after multiple viewings, it also seems to get better with age. Again, I attribute it to the things that most other shows tend to lack: character development (other characters on other shows seem to either stay the same, or become Flanderized), sharp and intelligent writing (as opposed to just straight-up traditional sitcom hijinx), the balance of comedy and drama, as well as treating a serious subject matter (in this case, war) with respect and not trivialize it. As I've said, I've never experienced that with any other show except for M*A*S*H, and that's why even after ten years, the show's still really important to me.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start up my annual ritual/tradition of recreating the experience of my first-time view of the show on Hallmark Channel, starting with the pilot tonight, then watching the rest of the series with four episodes each weeknight.
Talk about all things M*A*S*H -- the novel, the film, the television series, even the play. Not to mention the spin-offs, merchandise, cast, crew and anything else you can think of to talk about.
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