The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

MASH Revisited: S 1, Ep 1: Pilot

Our friends at Hulu having provided, I watched the first episode of a show that I was a fan of from childhood through high school, until it vanished, as 70s and 80s TV shows did, prior to the modern age of video, MASH.

Not having seen the pilot in--30 years? Probably.--it was not entirely what I remembered. The casual 70s sexism, the intrusive, studio-mandated laugh track, the crassness the scripts sometimes showed (some left over from the original film)--I'd forgotten those defects.

But even 47 years later, there's a lot to admire and enjoy. First, that the series had the sheer guts to be squarely anti-war in the middle of the Vietnam War. Second, Alan Alda's Hawkeye has a wounded, cynical tone in his voice over letter to his father, and the seeds are already sown of the man who will break in the last days of the war. Wayne Rogers and Alda have a casual comfort in their roles, and in riffing off each other.

No-one sulks like Larry Linville or glowers like Loretta Swit. The casting seems inevitable now, but that's an illusion--this is, after all, only two years after the original film, and it's inspired that Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds didn't try to echo the performances of Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman. If Linville lacks Duvall's underlying menace, he's a lot funnier. (Swit was pretty menacing though; don't mess with her!) Alda doesn't have Sutherland's faintly amused air of detachment--he's fully present in every moment.

One thing I'd never liked was the too cheery, slightly brassy theme music; I'd always preferred the film version. But in the pilot, we get a little of the original theme's controlled wistfulness, with the orchestra rising as the choppers descend on the second verse. The way the chopper rocks a little as the titles begin is a nice touch, too.

The story was slight--Hawkeye and Trapper throw a raffle to send a young Korean man to college in the United States (Hawkeye's alma mater)--but the jokes (mostly) worked, and the performances were strong.

The patient has a heartbeat...

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