James Knows…DVDs: M*A*S*H – The Martinis & Medicine Collection
In my quest to consume as many aspects of pop culture as I can in my lifetime, I was led to M*A*S*H, an 11 season long series about doctors in the Korean War. Before diving into this massive box set my only exposure to the show was a scene from a rerun here and there when a show or event was postponed on TV. I quickly changed the channel. If I see an episode on TV now though I’ll probably check it out.
M*A*S*H seems to have a lot of history as it was the show on Television for awhile. The series finale still holds the record for highest rated show of all time. According to the booklet included in this DVD set, about 125 million Americans watched the show’s finale which was about half of the population of the country at the time. That’s insane.
Watching this show now was a bit of a challenge because I saw many aspects of it that felt like they were being copied from other shows. That wasn’t the case though because in many examples, M*A*S*H was the first to do it. These shows that I may have seen first came years later and looked to M*A*S*H for inspiration. The show that I’d compare it to the most would be Scrubs which was also about the medical field, albeit not during war time. The main reason though was not the doctors. It was the way that both shows managed to walk a fine line between comedy and drama. Yes, each show would have great laughs, but they never let you forget that these are doctors and sometimes people die.
There’s over 250 episodes included in this series set plus the movie. I’m not going to get into any specific episodes, however there are a few that really stand out. Many of them due end up being forgotten after viewing though but this was the first time I’ve seen any of them so subsequent viewings might change that. From what I understand this is like Seinfeld or The Simpsons to some people where they can quote every line of every episode.
I have to say though that I like the series more than I liked the movie. I thought the film was OK and I was excited to check it out so I can see more of Robert Altman’s work, but to me it felt like it didn’t really do much. It was a brief peek into the lives of these doctors and it just didn’t provide me with much. Meanwhile the series was able to expand on the characters a lot more.
At least mostly. I think that each character (with the exception of Trapper John and Henry Blake who left the show after the third season) had at least a couple episodes where they had a chance to shine and just grow. That is with one major exception: Hawkeye. Yes, the main character of the show doesn’t grow. He’s the same guy in the first episode as he is in the very last one. I don’t understand that at all, especially with how much involvement Alan Alda had with the show. You’d think he’d want to breakout a little bit. Instead Hawkeye keeps going back to the same well over and over again. We get it. War is hell and you like to mess around with nurses and crack jokes. What else do you got though?
M*A*S*H was also able to have actors leave the show and be replaced by others without too much of a hassle. I’ve heard many people say that they like the first few seasons with Trapper John more than the later seasons. After watching the complete series from beginning to end over the past month or so I actually disagree. Trapper John was fun, sure, but I didn’t really care much for him. Plus his character didn’t grow much (which was actually one of the reasons that actor Wayne Rogers left the show) so I didn’t have a chance to grow to like him. Similarly Major Frank Burns, the incompetent adversary to Hawkeye and whichever buddy he had at the time was OK, but there was only so much they could have done there.
Their replacements were a lot more interesting in my opinion. I grew to really care for B.J. Hunnicut. He was a father, a husband, and a great friend. Maybe it was just the fact that he just seemed to be like the more responsible older brother to Hawkeye. Meanwhile, Major Charles Emmerson Winchester III was much more than just the butt of a few jokes for Hawkeye. He was an equal (or in some cases superior) surgeon and far from an idiot so he was able to go toe-to-toe with Hawkeye without seeming like a doofus.
Two other minor qualms come in the weather and the nurses. I’ll admit that I don’t have the faintest idea of what the weather is like in Korea, but if it’s anything like it is in M*A*S*H then it must be horrible. There will be episodes where the actors are sitting in sweltering heat and then the next episode will have everyone bundled up tight freezing their asses off. What gives?
The nurse thing is just that aside from Major Houlihan and occasionally Nurse Kelly, the nurses are a revolving door of fodder for Hawkeye’s bedpost markings. They’re there when they’re convenient but mostly they’re in the background moving around and acting busy. There’s one episode where a nurse is having serious problems and the characters are very concerned. I would be too if I had any idea of who the woman was! This was the first time I’d seen her so how can I feel emotion here?
As I mentioned above, this DVD set is massive. Each season is presented on 3 discs, so that’s 33 discs with just the episodes, then you get 3 more that include the movie and 2 for special features. The features get a little redundant as they include a 30th anniversary reunion special and another special filmed around the 20th anniversary of the show. I must have seen the closing lines of the season three finale about 4 times between watching those specials and some of the other interviews included here. It is an impressive collection of features though. I would have really liked a commentary on the final episode but there are absolutely no special features on any of the episode discs which is slightly disappointing. With the impact and the place in history that that final episode holds, you would think that someone would have something to say about each shot. Then again, maybe that’s what’s mentioned in all these featurettes.
My minor issues aside, I did really enjoy the show. Yes, it got a little preachy towards the end, but I don’t think anyone can watch that final 2 hour episode without feeling something. Certain episodes really tug at the heartstrings and there’s definitely laughs to be had in each episode as well. And yes, some episodes are better than others. Overall, it’s still a very solid show that manages to hold up very well 30+ years later. I gave this a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. That’s my rating for the whole set. I don’t think I rated any one season below 4 stars. Some are more and I still think the movie is just OK so an overall 4 is where it’s at for me.