M*A*S*H: Season 1
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During its 11-year run, M*A*S*H won 14 Emmys® and millions of fans. Alan Alda leads a stellar cast through the groundbreaking 1972 season of one of television's most beloved series. Set in the 1950s near the Korean front, it's often hilarious, sometimes cynical, occasionally sentimental, and always engaging. All 24 episodes are the uncut original versions, digitally restored. Ten hours, 24 minutes on three DVDs.
Like the TV incarnation of The Odd Couple, the M*A*S*H series has supplanted the original film in the public's consciousness. Legendary comedy writer Larry Gelbart (Your Show of Shows) deserves a medal for developing Robert Altman's bloody, funny 1970 classic for television with much of its anti-establishment spirit intact. These 24 first-season episodes--bracingly less politically correct than the shows in the final seasons--chart the program's sometimes bumpy evolution as it tried to remain true to the film's anarchic spirit while finding its own voice. The most memorable episodes include "The Pilot," which establishes the characters in broad strokes; "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet," in which a friend of Hawkeye's (Alan Alda) dies on the operating table (look for "Ronny" Howard as an underage soldier); "Cowboy," in which someone is trying to kill clueless commander Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson); and the pivotal "Dear Dad," the first of what would be a series of multistory episodes in which Hawkeye writes to his father about life at the 4077th. It is interesting to note film characters who made early exits from the series, including Timothy Brown's Spearchucker and Karen Philipp's Lt. Dish (George Morgan, who plays Father Mulcahy in the pilot, we hardly knew ye). Klinger (Jamie Farr), bucking for his Section 8 discharge, doesn't appear until the fifth episode, "Chief Surgeon Who?" And Gary Burghoff's Radar is a much more wily and savvy partner in crime to "Yankee Doodle Doctors" Hawkeye and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) than in later seasons. In its 11-year run, M*A*S*H earned 14 Emmy Awards, and it remains one of TV's most beloved series. Though it is a staple of syndication, the episodes are presented here uncut, probably for the first time since their original broadcast. For M*A*S*H devotees, this three-disc set is just what the doctor ordered. --Donald Liebenson
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To get a few credits out of the way, Larry Gelbart deserves the lion's share of the credit for creating an incredibly lasting television series (tough to do these days) from Robert Altman's 1970 big screen offering. However, the missing piece to many of the accolades and praises for M*A*S*H is Robert Hooker (a/k/a Richard Hornberger, M.D.). Hooker penned the M*A*S*H novel in 1968 (his book created the introduction of the beloved characters of Hawkeye, Hot Lips Houlihan, and Trapper John McIntyre. Hooker sold the rights to the book and television show for only a few hundred dollars!). Regardless, we have a cast of characters to thank for this incredible tome of offbeat comedy (although Gelbart still reigns as King).
The Early years....Many of my friends as well as many reviewers feel that M*A*S*H was somewhat inhibited by the presence of Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan. While Margaret endured the entire run of the show and became an integral character, Frank was eventually removed in favor of Charles Winchester (not my favorite move). At a very basic level, Frank Burns was a focal character in the First Season so I must disagree with my friends and the reviewers. Frank was necessary to create the incredibly funny hijinxs pulled by Hawkeye and Trapper...there just needed to be a fall guy and Frank Burns (played stupendiously by Larry Linville) was perfect. For instance, in the first episode, "M*A*S*H - The Pilot," Hawkeye and Trapper are attempting to raise funds for Ho-Jon, a South Korean boy befriended by Hawkeye and Trapper, to attend college in the U.S. Hawkeye comes up with the nefarious idea of raffling off a weekend with Lt. Dish (played by Karen Phillip). However, before the idea can get off the ground, Henry has to leave the camp to attend a meeting in Seoul and rescinds the weekend passes. Radar clandestinely has Henry (unknowingly) sign the passes before Henry's departure (quick aside...I loved Radar as the sneaky rather than the innocent, gullible clerk). With Henry gone, Frank is the temporary commander and immediately bans any and all social functions. Not to be outdone, Hawkeye and Trapper sedate Frank, wrap his face in gauze, and put him in a bed in Post-Op to hide him from Hot Lips. The raffle ensues only to be cut short by Gen. Hammond (played by G. Wood) and Henry (by the way, Father Mulcahy won the raffle!). Concurrent with the arrival of Gen. Hammond and Henry, Hot Lips finds Frank (when she turns him over to administer a shot!) and brings Frank into the Mess Tent where the festivities are being held. All-in-all, this story and its incredibly hilarious plot would not have been possible with someone like Frank Burns.
The episodes by disc: DISC ONE - 1) M*A*S*H-The Pilot, 2) To Maret, To Market, 3) Requiem for a Lightweight, 4) Cheif Surgeon Who?, 5) The Moose, 6) Yankee Doodle Doctor, 7) Bananas, Crackers and Nuts, 8) Cowboy. DISC TWO - 1) Henry, Please Come Home, 2) I Hate a Mystery, 3) Germ Warfare, 4) Dear Dad, 5) Edwina (one of my favorites), 6) Love Story, 7) Tuttle (another great episode!), 8) The Ringbanger. DISC THREE - 1) Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, 2) Dear Dad...Again, 3) The Longjohn Flap, 4) The Army-Navy Game, 5) Sticky Wicket, 6) Major Fred C. Dobbs, 7) Cease Fire, 8) Showtime.
For those who grew up with this incredible series, this DVD set is a must. I anxiously await the Second Season offering.
The big draw of DVD's, in addition to the Sound and Picture Quality, are the "Extras". Other than the ability to take out the laugh tracks (Yes!), this has none. There are no cast interviews, no bloopers, no Director's/Producers/Writers Commentary, not even Cast Biographies. Even the insert is rather plan and has nothing extra to it. The episode description look as though they were written by some one who hadn't even watched the show. I was hoping for more when the DVD's came out. Like the book "Complete Book of M*A*S*H" was not complete in it's fullest sense by leaving out that which would have made it truly complete (the secondary story lines, etc.), this is not complete in the DVD's fullest sense...the extras we've all come to expect in them. In that respect I am disappointed. But I am not disappointed in having a whole season on only 3 DVD's! I am not disappointed in the quality of the sound and picture (much better than the Video's from Columbia House and the Broadcast versions).
For the episodes themselves, M*A*S*H has never been better, more convenient, and funnier (thanks to long edited scenes rarely seen in syndicated TV)! If you've only seen M*A*S*H in syndication, by this set and hold on to your sides. They may just split from laughing!