Tuesday, August 20, 2013

M*A*S*H Season 3 Ramblings

The third season of M*A*S*H is generally considered the “apex” by quite a few fans of the series, especially the ones who only like the original cast and faded during all the changes (between Seasons Four and Six). I acknowledge that it is an apex of the series, at least, in the sense of the various eras of the series, because one (that one being me) could argue that the entire eleven year run of the series is really at least four different incarnations.

I argue that the apex of that era came in Season Two, mostly because the writing was much tighter in nature than in Season Three; it is very good in Season Three, but there were many more head-scratchers present. Consider some of the lines emanating from Hawkeye:

It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day. Fish, liver, day after day! I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish! I’ve eaten so much fish I’m ready to grow gills. I’ve eaten so much liver I can only make love if I’m smothered in bacon and onions.” – “Adam’s Ribs”

I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I'll carry your books, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!” – “Officer of the Day”

There is nothing organic about these words; it sounds like a TV show, and that’s one of the key differences between Season Two and Season Three.

Before anyone gets on me for being too critical, let me remind you that I enjoy this season very much. As an entire season, it is very strong. While I do prefer Season Two, Season Three really is the “coming out party” for the series, and also denotes the first attempts at experimentation in the writing and direction of the series.

The only episode I really didn’t care for in the entire season was “The Consultant”, when Robert Alda (Alan’s father) plays an older doctor who comes to the 4077th and he cracks under the stress of having been in his third different war zone. It’s not a bad episode (as I maintain there are no bad episodes from a production standpoint), but I just don’t like it a whole lot.

When I speak of Season Three as a “coming out party”, take a look at some of the episodes that are stepping out of the comfort zone.

1) “O.R.” – the first episode of the series to go without a laugh track, and every single scene centers in the hospital area; there is nothing in the Swamp or the Mess Tent. It also has the origin of Sidney Freedman’s signature quote: “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

2) “Rainbow Bridge” and “Aid Station” – both of these involve great personal danger to the doctors and other personnel to help wounded in need, whether in a Chinese hospital or at an army aid station. I consider these to be developmental in the character of Klinger and the latter to be the first major defrosting in the Hawkeye-Margaret relationship.

3) “Abyssinia, Henry” – Of the first three seasons, this was probably the most shocking. Henry is going home, but his plane is shot down over the Sea of Japan and he is presumably killed. While the series had done death before “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” (Season One), it had not dealt with a main character being killed previously, and the final O.R. scene is about as genuine a shock as you will ever see (the actors did not know it was coming until just before).

One final point to end these ramblings, this season is the one (in my opinion) where Radar truly becomes Radar – that sweet, na├»ve farm boy. This actually takes place over two episodes in the middle of the season: “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” and “Private Charles Lamb” – the former has Radar being bitten by a dog which they think has rabies. It is also the first time we see the true extent of Radar’s menagerie of various animals and rodents.

The latter has Radar saving a lamb that was meant to be eaten for Orthodox (or Greek) Easter by forging travel orders and an identity for the lamb. In the first two seasons, we see Radar being a shyster and a meat-eating glutton on occasion. By this point, he is innocent, vegetarian, and more of (as my mom calls him) “the Radar we came to know and love.”

Instant Replay...Again...

Is this coming to MLB?
Yes, I am completely aware that it has been over four months since I last blogged.  It's funny - I actually do most of my blogging while I am in school; there's just something about being busy that allows me to concentrate and fire these things off, even in long form.  -- J.L.

Instant replay in a large form is coming to Major League Baseball, and I don't like it one bit.  I am but one man, and I plan to stand athwart history, yelling "stop!" (ok, so I probably butchered that William F. Buckley quote).

I actually covered most of my issues regarding full fledged replay over three years ago after a particularly controversial call in Miami allowed the Phillies to eventually escape and win a game against the Marlins.  The hooting and hollering for replay was very loud then, but Bud Selig wisely (how often does that word get applied to him?) avoided putting it in baseball at the time.  

Such wisdom went out the window last week, however, and while some or even many are applauding this "evolution" (although I know of at least one guy who isn't), it is going to be a system that will spectacularly and disastrously fail.  Consider the following:

1) Managers will get three "challenges" per game, but the first one can only take place between innings one and six.  The other two will be from the seventh inning until the conclusion of the game (how delightfully vague!).  I swear the NFL planted advisers to Bud, because this is the height of asininity.  No manager is able to see the play up close, nor are there any "eyes" up in the booth to talk to the manager over his headset to say "hey, challenging is a good (or bad) idea".  It will rely completely upon the emotion of the player who thinks (rightly or wrongly) that he got screwed on the call.  In other words, the players will call the shots. Baseball is a different game, and the NFL-ization of replay is a horrendous attempt at superimposition of another model.

2) Balls and strikes and traps are NOT subject to review.  That means no foul tips either.  The fact that there is selective review makes this a lukewarm system and will satisfy no one, except Bud, who fell for the Politician's Fallacy like an anvil.  I want a laser system for balls and strikes.  Keep the home plate umpire for calls at the plate and foul tips and the like, but if programming for a strike zone can be done in MLB: The Show, then it can be done in life too.  

3) As I said in the post from three years ago, I don't like using the "human element" defense, but the "human element" will show up no matter what happens.  Humans are designing the technology, humans are reviewing the plays and making the calls.  So there is no perfect system, and even Candide would have to admit that replay is not "the best of all possible worlds."  The way to solve it is to hold umpires accountable for crappy calls, especially those who are consistently bad.  If players get demoted and managers get fired, then the same should happen for MLB umpires.  It's only fair, and "fairness" is the big buzzword of the past few years, after all.

4) What to do about base placement on fair/foul calls.  This is the real issue.  And a Pandora's Box.  No assumptions can be made.  Ever.  Why?  Because it is a judgment call.  And replay is supposed to relieve judgment calls.  All this does is bring us back around to the problem that prompted the calls for replay in the first place.  

Down with replay in MLB!