Thursday, August 6, 2009

M*A*S*H Season 9 Ramblings

I have to say that Season 9 of M*A*S*H is perhaps my least favorite, at least in the sheer amount of episodes that I dislike. While there aren't too many of what I would call 'bad' episodes, the ability to make me laugh falls a bit and the ability to make me cringe rises exponentially. It is also home to my least favorite episode ever - 'Tell it To the Marines'.

The episode is an instance of the reputation M*A*S*H gained later (fairly or not) that it was an overly 'bleeding heart' type of show. One of the consequences of a long-running show is that eventually, the characters need to be developed more deeply and human interest-types of plots start gaining more traction. 'Tell it To the Marines' is precisely that kind of episode. But the human interest aspect isn't what bothers me about it.

I have a healthy respect for the military and what they do. M*A*S*H had a long tradition of mocking some aspects of the military, which is ok, because some things just scream to be mocked. This episode showed the myopic view that was possessed by people like Hawkeye - the neglecting of the big picture that a particular branch of the service (in this case, the USMC) has a particular job to do and letting out a kid just to see his mother prior to her deportation just doesn't happen. However, the 4077 just becomes an outlet for mocking the supposed 'heartlessness' of the Marine colonel who is trying to do his job and not have to worry about malcontents like Hawkeye.

Now, plot aside, the writing of the episode is terrible. It is one long (bad) pun. For example - when MP's come to get Hawkeye over his story for Stars and Stripes, BJ quips 'Hawkeye, have you been rotten to the Corps?' UGH. Others are not much better; quoth Hawkeye, 'the Bill of Rights says I have a right to write, or am I wrong?' Yeah, real winning dialogue there! In other words, the episode basically reduces its villains to strawmen and caricatures - Hawkeye remarks after he had talked to the Marine colonel on the phone - 'I could practically hear his crew cut through the phone' - never mind the guy was bald, but we won't let facts get in the way of a good stereotype.

There are some really good eps in Season 9 - such as 'A War for All Seasons', which covers the entire year of 1951 at the 4077th in small vignettes. Another good one is 'No Sweat', in which a heat wave has overcome Korea and while Potter is asleep thanks to tranquilizers, everyone else needs him awake to order something over the phone, often to hilarious results. I also enjoyed the episode 'Blood Brothers', where Patrick Swayze plays a patient with lukemia and a Cardinal comes to visit the 4077th. Father Mulcahy goes nuts preparing the camp for the Cardinal's arrival, but forgets the bigger picture in the long run about his purpose.

Having covered my least favorite above, the (dis)honorable mentions for Season 9 are 'Death Takes a Holiday' and 'Operation Friendship'.

'Death Takes a Holiday' is a pretty good episode except for the heavy-handed and ham-fisted way it deals with BJ's desire to make sure that a soldier dies on December 26 rather than Christmas. I understand the desire and even applaud it, but the way it was written and executed just doesn't get it done.

'Operation Friendship' has one of the biggest jackass bit characters ever - Dr. Norm Traeger, who is there to operate on BJ's hand from an injury suffered in an accident (and Klinger's nose was broken too). The scene where Potter is applying 'roles' as if a movie casting director is as cringe-inducing as any M*A*S*H scene in the 11 years.

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