WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This article may reveal major plot points, especially considering the episode, season, or series had either been released recently or not in specific countries yet.
M*A*S*H (an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is an American war comedy-drama television series that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. It was developed by Larry Gelbart as the first original spin-off series adapted from the 1970 feature film M*A*S*H, which, in turn, was based on Richard Hooker's 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. The series, which was produced with 20th Century Fox Television for CBS, follows a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the "4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital" in Uijeongbu, South Korea, during the Korean War (1950–53).
Why It Goes to War
- The show manages to excellently merge the elements of comedy and drama, as it can have you laughing at one moment and be sincerely engaged the next, which is pretty hard to pull off right. This led to the creation of the "dramedy" genre, making this show the pioneer of it.
- Great acting, especially Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce and Gary Burghoff as Radar O'Reilly.
- The setting does a great job at establishing itself as a gritty war zone.
- The theme song is great and establishes the tone of the show.
- Lots of funny moments, especially from Hawkeye.
- Great production quality.
- Great cinematography.
- While the implication of Klinger being gay or crazy for wearing dresses to get out of the army and Frank doing feminine things was played up for laughs, the writers eventually abandoned this and instead treated things like Winchester's less masculine mannerisms as normal and characters would even compliment Klinger on his dresses. While it may be the bare minimum of LGBT support today, this was very respectful back then.
- The show tackles lots of serious topics including abandonment, loss, trauma and acceptance.
- All the characters are really likable and act like one big family that try to help each other in their time of need while trying to have fun whenever they can.
- As the show continued, it became more and more dark. The first three seasons are pretty goofy, though not without some serious moments, but then season 4 onwards switched to a more serious tone with the plots themselves being more serious.
- The final episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", was a great way to end the series as it works like a movie and features all the main characters saying goodbye to one another. It's also the darkest episode in the series as it sees Winchester destroying his classical music collection after a band of Chinese POWs he's mentoring is wiped out in an ambush, Father Mulcahy's hearing being permanently damaged in a mortar attack and Hawkeye being thrown into a mental institution after an incredibly traumatic experience.
- The show has lots of sad moments, such as:
- Hawkeye watching his friend die on the operating table in "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet".
- Trapper John having to let the young Korean boy he befriended return to his mother in "Kim".
- Radar announcing to the shocked OR that Henry Blake's plane home was shot down in "Abyssinia, Henry".
- Hawkeye's relationship with Kyung Soon falling apart in "In Love and War".
- The soldier finding out that his younger brother has been KIA in "The Billford Syndrome".
- Radar's departure in "Goodbye, Radar".
- Colonel Potter giving a toast to his deceased war buddies in "Old Soldiers".
- Hawkeye, B.J. and Hot Lips trying (and failing) to save a dying soldier on Christmas Day in "Death Takes a Holiday".
- Winchester holding a soldier's hand as he slowly dies in "The Life You Save".
- The reveal in "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" of what exactly got Hawkeye locked up in a mental institution.
- While there are many sad moments, there are also plenty of happy moments as well, such as when Hawkeye and B.J. give Colonel Potter a respectful salute.
- The "Chicken on a Bus" scene is considered one of the saddest scenes in sitcom history.
- During a bus ride back to the 4077th, the M*A*S*H crew had to stop and stay quiet to avoid attracting the attention of an enemy patrol. It's then revealed that a Korean woman broke the neck of a chicken she was holding because Hawkeye was hissing at her to keep it quiet... only for it to turn out that it wasn't a chicken, but a baby. Hawkeye replaced the baby with a chicken in his memory because he couldn't deal with the truth.
- The early seasons had certain aspects that didn't age well due to the culture of the time.
- Misogyny: The show was somewhat misogynistic in the beginning, as women are mostly treated as objects, something that Larry Gelbart acknowledged. Later seasons made up for this by taking the time to make the female characters into actual characters, something that can be seen especially with the character of Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan.
- A lot of the male characters in the show were womanizers and adulterers. Again, this is something that was fixed in later seasons with the introduction of Colonel Potter and B.J. Hunnicutt, who were loyal to their wives.
- Things like the implication of Klinger being gay or crazy for wearing dresses to get out of the army and Frank doing feminine things was played up for laughs. Fortunately, this was eventually abandoned (see WIR #8).
- Frank "Ferret Face" Burns can come off as a pretty unlikable character, as he always tries to get Hawkeye, B.J. and Trapper John court-martialed, acts like a dictator when in charge, and acts like a jerk to just about everybody just because he's a Major.
- Hawkeye can come off as a creator's pet. Every good character seems to love or adore him and, while sometimes justified for main characters, it may be overbearing.
- It's told throughout the show that Seoul is used for R&R. Bear in mind that Seoul was relentlessly fought for and changed hands 4 times between the end of June 1950, and March 1951. How relaxing could it have been for the staff to take R&R in a city that had been reduced to rubble?
- However, "Welcome to Korea" reveals that Tokyo is used for R&R as well, with Hawkeye being sent there to recuperate for a week after suffering a nervous breakdown following Henry Blake's death.
- The timeline for the events of the show has changed many times, as "Abyssinia, Henry" has Henry Blake receive a gift from Radar, with the date on it being 1952. However, in the episode "Point of View", the soldier (the episode's perspective is shown from) writes that it's 1951. This was likely done to extend the show, given how short the Korean War actually was.
The series premiered in the US on September 17, 1972, and ended on February 28, 1983, with the finale, showcased as a television film titled "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", becoming the most-watched and highest-rated single television episode in US television history at the time, with a record-breaking 125 million viewers (60.2 rating and 77 share), according to the New York Times.