M*A*S*H: Season Eleven
DVD Reviews | Dec 5th, 2006
Starring Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Wayne Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Larry Linville, McLean Stevenson
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Buy on Amazon.com link
You probably already know what M*A*S*H (or ‘Mash’, as I will use due to laziness) is, unless you’re some sort of hideous troll-monster who’s been living under a rock since the early 70s. But assuming you ARE a hideous troll-monster, here’s an extremely brief recap: Mash centers on the 4077th Mobil Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean war, where oddball surgeons and nurses try to keep their sanity while dealing with a constant flow of casualties from the brutal fighting all around.
Mash began as a rather bizarre comedic novel by Richard Hooker, later became a well-known Altman film, and was spun off into a goofy sitcom which itself became more of a drama. The show lasted eleven seasons, much longer than the actual Korean War, and by the end, only four of the original ‘regulars’ were still involved: Hawkeye, Houlihan, Klinger, and Father Mulcahy. And though a few losses are missed (particularly Radar), I personally like the “new” cast better, particularly BJ Hunnicut, the character I’ve most identified with on the show.
One of the criticisms most often cited against Mash was the way it eventually evolved from a straight comedy to more of a drama with comedic elements. Okay, just so we’re clear about my bias, I actually prefer the later seasons and their dramatic elements. But let’s look at this clearly. The important word there is ‘evolved’. If the show had remained a straight comedy for eleven years, it would have eventually become useless trash. By comparison, after seventeen (or so) years, The Simpsons has not ‘evolved’ one bit, which has more or less led to its de-evolution with its current seasons being vastly inferior to the older years. This is something that very well COULD have happened with Mash, but it did not. And while it was showing wear and minor decline by the end, it certainly hadn’t crashed as badly as The Simpsons has. But enough of that comparison nonsense.
Another common criticism is the preachiness of the later episodes. Call me a crazy liberal if you must, but I like the much maligned “preachy anti-war” episodes. Well, I first started watching the show years ago, when my brother played Father Mulcahy in a high-school play version. Back then, when I was a wee young’n, I preferred the earlier, wackier “Hawkeye and Trapper annoy Burns and Houlihan” episodes, but as I grew, I fell much more in love with the later episodes, which are far more mature and developed. And it sometimes seems that people forget what a terrible thing war actually is, no matter how noble its goals and achievements may be. There is always a wretched cost, and we need a reminder of this, especially in this day and age where popular right-wing talk show hosts preach the awesomeness of blowing shit up as the ultimate in diplomatic solutions. Even the brilliant final episode, showing the end of the war, is heart-breakingly tragic, but more on that in a moment.
Another improvement the show gained over the years was a much deeper development and enrichment of the characters. The show began with the characters being fairly dull and two-dimensional, mostly centering on drunken smartasses and strict army types, but they became much more. For instance, Hawkeye gradually changed into a bitter, troubled alcoholic with mental problems. Houlihan, while always a strict military-type, became much more warm and human as the series progressed. The show even benefited from its replacement characters, such as generic bad-guy/military stereotype Frank Burns having been replaced by Charles Winchester, a character who easily could have been another villainous stereotype he was a rich aloof snob, but had sporadic but brilliant displays of humanity and conflict.
However, the episodes in this final season do have a nice mix of comedy and drama, often in the same episode. But there are a few that lean almost totally in one direction or the other, such as “The Joker is Wild”, where BJ sets out to pull pranks on all his friends, causing a growing paranoia in Hawkeye; or “Friends and Enemies”, where Potter must deal with an old friend’s tragic fall.
And oh, there’s the finale. It begins with Hawkeye in a shocking spot, and is all the more jarring compared to the normalcy of the previous episode. And once he makes his way back to the 4077th, all hell is breaking loose. A cease-fire approaches the war is ending but intensified combat is still bringing in the casualties. Nothing ends on a shiny-happy sitcom note. And personally, I think it’s one of the greatest television episodes ever. It still holds the record as being the most-watched television finale in history.
All in all, Mash was a brilliant show, and despite its longevity, the final season still packs a punch, particularly the final episode. And though the DVD, like all prior seasons, has no extras, it does still have the fantastic ability to watch the show WITHOUT the godawful laugh track. And as far as extras go… well, some documentaries or retrospectives would have been nice, but laugh tracks are so evil that I’ll take that happily.
Optional Laugh Track (View With or Without Laugh Track) Interactive Menus
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Mono CC
FRENCH: Dolby Digital Mono
Standard 1.33:1 Color
Favorite Scenes: “Trick or Treatment”, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”
Running Time: 490 minutes