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"But general, you promised us help by noon! Well, what time is it now? 1300 hours? Well, uh... now, that's um... after noon, isn't it, sir? I mean, isn't it 12 up until it gets to be noon, and then you start all that hundred hour stuff? ...I wish the army would tell time like everybody else!"
DVD ReviewIn 1970, director Robert Altman created a Korean War film titled M*A*S*H. Ironically, the film was not as much a drama about the war as it was a comedic piece, showing how these MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) personnel used humor and tomfoolery as a method of coping with their dismal daily routines. The film is a work of comic genius, crafted from unlikely comic source material.
Shortly after the film's success, producer Larry Gelbart decided that its concept should be taken further, hence in 1972 he gave birth to the M*A*S*H television series. The show used many of the same major characters from the film, yet only one actor (Gary Burghoff as Corporal Radar O'Reilly) reprised his role. The crew consists of Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) and Captain "Trapper" McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), gifted surgeons with a love of booze, promiscuous sex, and a knack for trouble making. It is rare to find a moment out of the operating room when these doctors do not hold a martini in one hand and a woman in the other. The main focus of Trapper and Hawkeye's practical jokes are another surgeon, Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville), and the head nurse, Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit). Aside from their torrid love affair, these two are about as stuffy as they come. These characters are all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), a compassionate and understanding but often naïve commanding officer. The only one who is able to keep Colonel Blake's head on straight is his company clerk, Radar O'Reilly. Not as prominent of a character, but terrific all the same, is Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr), a batty soldier who wears a variety of women's garments in hopes of receiving a Section Eight discharge from the army.
While I am a big fan of Altman's film, I had never watched an entire episode of the television series prior to watching these DVDs. The few bits and pieces I had seen seemed to be missing part of the charm and allure of the film, and until now, I could not figure out why. When M*A*S*H was first released, the producers insisted on plaguing each episode with a dreadful "laugh track." This was not the type of laugh track where a studio audience provided naturally timed laughter. Instead, each joke was followed by unrelated chuckles that sound as if they were created on cue by a boardroom of stuffy businessmen. Thanks to the magic of DVD, viewers now have the option to view each episode without this irritating laugh track. This was the method I chose, and I feel as if I have now finally seen the light. Without the laugh track, the show possesses the natural sense of comedy that I believe was initially intended. The tone of the show has been drastically altered, in my opinion, for the better. What once seemed like a silly television show now feels more like a piece of art.
Now that I have watched M*A*S*H in its OAR (Original Audio Ratio), I finally consider myself a fan. The 24 episodes of Season Two are amazingly consistent in their entertainment value. I find myself hard pressed to think of another television show that has such appealing characters. A careful combination of humor and drama, it is no secret why M*A*S*H is highly regarded as one of the best televisions series of all time.
All 24 episodes of the second season are spread out over three discs. They are as follows:
Divided We Stand
"These impossible people are in an impossible place doing totally impossible work. They're mad, quite mad, all of them." - Captain Hildebrand
General Clayton hires a psychiatrist to diagnose the personalities of the various members of the 4077th, and assess whether or not they are fit to work amongst one another. This first episode of the season had the difficult task of re-introducing all of the major characters to the growing fan base, without making it redundant for those who were already familiar with the show. This obstacle is hurdled admirably, as the General briefly describes each character and their personality to the psychiatrist. Season Two starts off with a bang in an episode that maintains a consistently high level of humor throughout. Although the destination is a bit silly and contrived, the journey is extremely enjoyable.
Divided We Stand rates 4 out of a possible 5 ambulances:
Five O-Clock Charlie
Frank Burns: Nobody bet on the battle of Britain! He who controls the skies controls the war, Herman Goering said that!
Henry Blake: Yeah, well he also wore tutus and ate whole bakeries, Frank.
Like clockwork at 5:00 every afternoon, a Korean pilot (dubbed "Charlie") buzzes the 4077th in a fumbling attempt to bomb a nearby ammo dump. The fun seekers at the unit use Charlie's persistence and punctuality as an excuse to gamble on which area he will mistakenly bomb from one day to the next. This episode really dives into what I believe to be the heart of the show, which is how much these wearied men and women try to disconnect themselves from the horrific war around them. Colonel Blake is fully in on the company's antics as well, and I enjoyed seeing his likeable character developed further. Major Frank Burns' personality is also exemplified, as we find out how truly uptight he can be. This episode is a favorite of M*A*S*H fans, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did not find it quite as pleasing as Divided We Stand. Even though the premise of the episode is a bit hokey, the laugh factor is still high, and Five O-Clock Charlie is another winning episode.
Five O-Clock Charlie's bombs call for 4 ambulances:
"Father Mulcahy tried to calm the prisoner by yelling 'bungchow', thinking it was Chinese for peace and friendship. Unfortunately, it really means 'your daughter's pregnancy brings much joy to our village.'" - Radar
Radar's Report is essentially a montage of events at the 4077th, narrated by Radar as he types his weekly activity and personnel report. This episode is a failure on most levels, and one of the few episodes in Season Two that I severely disliked. The humor factor is surprisingly low, and all of the attempts at drama feel forced and awkward. The writers of Radar's Report seemed to have forgotten all of the elements that make the show so appealing, but I think they did realize it eventually, only too late. As Radar hands Col. Blake the activity and personnel report at the closing of the episode, he exclaims "Well, I guess every week can't be exciting." This fitting quote seems to have been thrown in as an apology for such a lackluster episode. The humorous Klinger moments are the only facets that save this episode from disaster status.
Only 1.5 ambulances make it to the scene:
For the Good of the Outfit
Hawkeye: We're in the army but we're not army. Little 'A' as opposed to big 'A.'
Henry Blake: Well, you file that report, and the army's gonna put your big 'A' and your little 'A' in a sling.
Hawkeye and Trapper voice their opposition to a United States cover-up regarding the accidental bombing of a South Korean village. For the Good of the Outfit is better than Radar's Report, yet still not up to snuff with the better episodes in Season Two. The worst aspect of this episode is its banality. It is not good nor bad; simply mediocre. It was during this episode that I realized how the show works much better when it simply uses the Korean War as backdrop rather than relying on it for the sake of storytelling.
A modest two ambulances:
Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde
"For the past couple of days I've been making some very careful observations. There's a war going on here." - Hawkeye
Hawkeye comes off of working nearly 72 hours straight, and his exhaustion combined with his boozing alters his personality more than just a little bit. This is where the season gets into the groove and, for the most part, stays consistently fantastic from here on out. The comedic aspects really hit home in this episode, and Alan Alda shines in doing what he does best. This episode finds all the right notes between humor and drama and executes them tastefully without becoming silly or melodramatic. Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde has its flaws, but overall, this is giddy fun throughout.
The good doctor sends 4 ambulances:
Major Houlihan: I am a woman.
Hawkeye: Is that true, Frank?
A cute little Korean boy named Kim quickly becomes the object of Trapper's affection, and he makes arrangements to adopt the homeless child. After reading the synopsis for this episode, I feared the worst, but Kim pleasantly surprised me. All of the emotional moments are handled carefully as to not weigh down the strong suit of the show, which is the humor. The laughs are abundant, and excellent use is made of Klinger's transvestitism. Even a tense walk through a minefield turns out to be a laugh riot as Colonel Blake blunders his way through trying to read a map of the mines' layout. The questionable story line of this episode is handled with kid gloves and molded into another uproarious event.
4 ambulances save the day:
L.I.P. (Local Indigenous Personnel)
Hawkeye: You're a married man.
Trapper: That's only an ugly rumor started by my wife.
L.I.P. is a dense episode concerning an enlisted man who wishes to marry a Korean woman. This is a strong episode that subtly deals with the threats of racism without becoming too preachy. The comedy is also strong; I enjoyed seeing Trapper and Hawkeye cook up yet another crazy scheme. L.I.P. is not one of the better episodes of the season, but it gets its message across and still provides lots of fun along the way.
3.5 ambulances for this admirable episode:
The Trial of Henry Blake
"I've always said, behind every great man there's a woman with a vibrator." - Hawkeye
Hot Lips and Frank desperately try to get Henry Blake ousted as commander of the 4077th, while Trapper and Hawkeye struggle to keep him around. This is the funniest episode of the season, and my personal favorite. The non-linear structure moves in a way that keeps the story exciting, and the laugh factor is tremendous. All of the main characters are given a chance to show off their distinct personalities; if the characters have not won you over at this point, try another television show. Klinger's antics are once again put to good use, and the generic special effects of him hang gliding provide one of the biggest laughs of the season. Trial is about as close to perfection as M*A*S*H episodes come.
A full 5 ambulances:
"The war goes on. And on, and on. Our biggest enemy is boredom." - Hawkeye
This is a tender episode that gets more deeply involved with the personalities of the main characters. Hawkeye writes his father letters, while Blake receives 8mm home movies from his wife. The episode touches deeply on the important emotional connection that each character still has with their families back home. It is a sweet and emotional episode, yet still does not forget to make us laugh. This is not so much of a story-driven episode as it is about providing an insightful portrait of who these characters are, and their conflicting viewpoints towards the war. These messages combined with good humor come together to create yet another winning episode.
4 ambulances bring it home:
Frank Burns: I happen to think that Man is more than just an animal whose every thought is motivated by sex!
Hawkeye: Well, there goes Hot Lips' evening.
The crew of the 4077th has to hide from a lurking sniper bent on destroying the entire camp. There is plentiful humor in this episode, much of which seemed very reminiscent of the humor in Altman's film. In the tradition of pushing the envelope of acceptable television, we also see a brief moment of nudity, as fully naked Radar skitters back into the showers after being shot at. I would be interested to hear from a M*A*S*H devotee if this shot actually appeared in the television broadcasts. This is another good episode, but the concept required a larger budget. Additionally, the writers forgot that the show is at its best when the presence of the war is kept entirely in the background. The Sniper has many flaws, but the abundance of positive moments overrides them.
3.5 ambulances drive their way to victory:
Carry On, Hawkeye
Hawkeye: Why do doctors always make such lousy patients?
Trapper: If you were a patient, would you trust you?
When everyone but Hawkeye is stricken with a flu virus, he is the only one able to successfully perform any medical operations. This episode is all about Hawkeye, and he delivers even bigger laughs than usual. Unlike The Sniper, Carry On keeps blinders on the war and focuses more intently on the specifics of the 4077th. This is an enjoyable episode with little to complain about.
4 ambulances carry on:
"We just got the barbecue, I can't pester them for an incubator!" - Henry Blake
Hawkeye and Trapper go to great lengths, which includes crashing an army press conference, in order to get the 4077th a much-needed incubator. This episode starts off with a bang as Hawkeye and Trapper wake up with raging hangovers. The storyline does not seem to be preaching about the ill effects of alcohol abuse rather than simply showing the humorous side of it. Whether drunk, hungover, or sober, Hawkeye and Trapper both provide an abundance of laughs in an episode that tickled my funny bone, despite falling a bit flat in the second half.
4 ambulances for my funny bone:
Deal Me Out
"Well, a warning is like an order. I mean, if you warn hard enough, that's sort of... order-ish." - Frank Burns
Deal Me Out is a great concept for a M*A*S*H episode; a weekly officer's poker game is continually interrupted by annoying medical emergencies. The writer's could have easily overstepped the boundaries of good taste and made this episode much too slapstick, but they sacrifice silliness for a more subtle approach. This proved to be the right decision. John Ritter is cast against type as an angry soldier who has been withered by too much combat. Ritter makes a strong presence, but it is unfortunate that he was not given the opportunity to showcase his comedic talents. Deal Me Out also marks the first episode of two that feature a cameo from Pat Morita of Karate Kid fame. This is another excellent entry that makes full use of the show's strong points, as well as a few new tricks, such as several moments of physical comedy.
Deal me in with 4 ambulances:
Hot Lips and Empty Arms
"Frank, the only way you're gonna get killed is if you operate on yourself." - Hawkeye
Major Houlihan was absent from the past two episodes, and I have to admit that I found this somewhat welcome. This episode deals almost entirely with her neurotic behavior, which I found to be quite annoying at first. However, when Hawkeye and Trapper give her too much to drink, she morphs into a quiet, naïve, vulnerable, and slurry girl, which is a breath of fresh air from a character who most often comes off as incredibly bitchy. It would have been very easy for the writers and Loretta Swit to simply enhance the irritable side of Houlihan when drunk, but instead, the audience is offered a look at her tender side. What I thought was going to be a dismal episode actually ended up as an entertaining romp. This is another job well done.
Major Houlihan's "hot lips" require 3.5 ambulances:
"Well, the Major didn't actually operate in the sense that he operated. His participation more or less took the form of offering to assist the surgeon who was assisting the surgeon who did the operation without further need of assistance." - Henry Blake
General Mitchell and Frank Burns design a club for officers only; no enlisted men are allowed. Hawkeye and Trapper are outraged by this, and do whatever they can to ensure that everyone at the 4077th can enjoy this new club. What is not seen in this episode is often just as funny as what is seen. When the boys commit a series of drunken antics at a Tokyo hotel, the only knowledge the audience is given of the event is that of Henry Blake's reaction over the telephone, which just happens to be priceless. This is not a great episode, but yet another winner.
3.5 ambulances to the club:
Henry in Love
"I think you'll agree that by trying to introduce more discipline, more order, I have hopefully made this a more enjoyable war for all of us." - Frank Burns
Going through a mid-life crisis, Henry Blake falls madly in love with a seemingly innocent American girl who is half his age. Radar playing the bugle (horribly, I might add) starts this episode off humorously. More great one-liners from Hawkeye dominate the humor while the dramatic ending proves to be poignant and tender. This story could have been disastrous in the wrong hands, but thanks to tight writing and skilled direction it is executed quite admirably. The humor is strong, and the dramatic moments fit in well, which is not always easy for a show intended to be a comedy.
3.5 ambulances can cure this love:
For Want of a Boot
"How much do you want for your boots, Frank? I'll give you 50 dollars and the Ten Commandments in pig Latin." - Hawkeye
Hawkeye's devotion to finding a new pair of boots begins a chain reaction of wheeling and dealing throughout the 4077th. I feel as if I am being redundant, but this is yet another winning episode. It is a blast to watch Hawkeye and Trapper play off of everyone's desires and ultimately setup an inevitable domino effect through bartering. Part of the power of this show is its consistently great episodes, and Boot is no slacker.
No boots, but 4 ambulances:
"I avoid church religiously." - Henry Blake
Hawkeye and Trapper arrange for a cosmetic surgeon to perform a forbidden nose job on an enlisted man. I suppose I cursed myself with my aforementioned words of praise for the show's consistency, seeing as Noselift is a terrible episode. Most of the failed attempts at humor had me rolling my eyes and groaning. The character of the cosmetic surgeon is intentionally annoying, yet his presence is so irritating that every time he appeared on screen (which is nearly the entire episode), I found myself uncomfortable. Unusually bad writing and a befuddled new director make for an episode that does not seem to belong with the other fine episodes in this season. This episode is what I feared the entire season would be like, so I suppose I cannot complain too much that it took me 18 episodes to find this dud.
1 ambulance cannot save Operation Noselift:
The Chosen People
Henry Blake: Sam, what's Korean for suicide?
Captain Sam Pak: That's Japanese. We don't do that shtick.
Radar is shocked when a Korean girl tells him that he is the father of her baby. The Chosen People is a giant step up from Operation Noselift, but still not on track with the rest of the season. It is a good idea for an episode, but making Radar the focal point proved to be a mistake. Like Klinger, he is much more effective in small doses. Trapper and Pierce get their laughs in, but they are too few and far between. The Chosen People is not a bad episode, but it did not hold my attention enough to warrant a recommendation.
2.5 ambulances do what they can:
As You Were
"I don't tell you half their stunts. Did I mention the oatmeal in my gas mask? How about when they stapled a whole roll of my toilet paper?" - Frank Burns
As You Were is essentially a two part episode, with the first half showing the 4077th dealing with boredom due to a lull in casualties, and the second half showing the crew hard at work after "business" picks up. I expected the first half to be much better than the second, but I found that theory to be reversed. Although not as comical, the intense focus on the operating room makes for engrossing entertainment. This episode does have a somewhat unusual ending, but overall, As You Were is tight as a drum. Watching Trapper and Pierce clown around in ape suits more than justifies a positive grade.
3.5 ambulances bring the show back to as it was:
"Attention! Due to shortage of oil and wood, tonight's movie will be burned at 1800 hours." - P.A. announcement
Without heat and supplies, the crew at the 4077th are forced to resort to drastic measures. This is another great idea, but I felt the episode was not nearly as developed as it could have been. Furthermore, Hawkeye is awkwardly out of character throughout much of the episode. The biggest laughs come from the P.A. announcer. The concept of Crisis was a good way to bring all of the characters together in one place, but I felt as if this was not fully realized.
Crisis call for 3 ambulances:
Frank Burns: May I remind you, sir, that we're fighting a war!
Henry Blake: Well, that certainly explains all the noise at night.
Yet another important episode, dealing with the fear of homophobia in the army. This issue could have easily become too preachy and melodramatic, but once again, the subject matter has been admirably handled as to not cram it down the viewers' throats. In addition to tasteful drama, the humor is back to an impressive level as well. Thanks to Trapper and Hawkeye, I have now learned a hilarious and interesting new way to play checkers.
4 ambulances for George:
"Klinger, the rifle makes me nervous. Actually, the purse does too." - Henry Blake
My second favorite episode of the season, Mail Call is a nonstop comical romp as Hawkeye takes advantage of Frank's naïvété. I was very happy to see the show get back on track before the last episode. Alan Alda's skilled direction offers a new spin on the style of the show, while still maintaining the essence of what makes M*A*S*H great. The laugh factor is tremendous, and the relationships between characters are developed even further.
Mail Call delivers 4.5 ambulances:
A Smattering of Intelligence
Flagg: I'm authorized to kill without requesting permission from my superiors.
Henry Blake: Well, I imagine that cuts down on the ol' paperwork.
Somewhat of a strange episode, Smattering introduces two government agents sent to spy on the personnel of the 4077th. This was an odd way to end the season, but an enjoyable episode nonetheless. A brief coda at the end foreshadows possible developments for Season Three. As I am a M*A*S*H newbie, I cannot wait to see what transpires.
4 ambulances for Smattering:
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: I am deeply impressed with the apparent amount of restoration work that has gone into this transfer. The 1.33:1 image does look dated, but given the age and condition of the source material, the picture looks fantastic. Colors appear lifelike and vibrant while still preserving the muted aesthetics of the gritty interiors. Video noise, such as shimmering and pixelizaton, are occasionally present, yet never terribly distracting. Black level is consistently deep and clean, while accurate contrast provides stunning shadow detail. The picture is a bit rough by today's standards, but far better than many transfers I have seen of a 29-year-old print. This is truly a beautiful visual experience that will have M*A*S*H fans fervent with excitement.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: I was not expecting much from the mono soundtrack, nor was I given much. The overall sound is incredibly thin and quiescent, with a dynamic range of only about +/- 5 dB. Do not expect any low end whatsoever; even at a volume setting near reference level my subwoofer did not engage. Dialogue is the main component here, and while always intelligible, it often sounds strident. Otherwise, fidelity is clear and the soundtrack properly remains locked in the center speaker with no excess bleeding into the other channels. This is an unexciting yet suitable sound mix that serves its purpose well.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 240 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsM*A*S*H fans should be delighted by this three-disc set, which also just might bring new fans out of the woodwork. Season Two is a consistently good run with big laughs and few disappointments. All of these episodes are presented in their original running time, offered without the annoying laugh track, and feature terrific transfers to boot. My newfound M*A*S*H fandom is proof of how powerful a DVD set can be when done just right.
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