MASH TV series: Blake or Potter?

helicopter noise

More questions from the Buffalo-area blogger Kelly Sedinger. You can still Ask Roger Anything.

If you watched MASH, were you a Colonel Henry Blake or a Colonel Sherman Potter guy?

Harry MorganI watched MASH religiously every week for 11 seasons, on five different nights. In fact, for the first eight years, I’d often watch the reruns. But the last three were generally weaker, sometimes regurgitating plot devices. Moreover, the chronology was all over the place.

I thought that the show should have ended after Radar departed. Klinger became the company clerk and lost the dresses, but I never bought him in the new role.

Blake was a funnier guy, which made Abyssinia, Henry all the more potent. Potter, though, was more substantial. The Old Soldiers episode may have been my favorite; I learned the word tontine. So I’ll opt for Potter.

BTW, I was bemused when Harry Morgan was cast in the role. I watched him on a sitcom called December Bride (1954-1959; I must have seen it in syndication) and its spinoff, Pete and Gladys (1960-1962). He appeared in various series before starring in the return of Dragnet (1967-1970). Then he was a doctor on a western called Hec Ramsey (1972-1974).

What was confusing was that in 1974, the year before he became Potter, Morgan played on MASH Maj. Gen. Bartford Hamilton Steele, a loony officer who wanted to move the camp closer to the front.

Oh, and BTW, Winchester over Burns, BJ over Trapper John (because Trapper and Hawkeye were too similar), and Margaret over Hot Lips.


And this might seem random, but a helicopter just flew over my house. We get helicopters flying over ALL the time. Are there lots of helicopters where you are? What’s the common “white noise” of your neighborhood?

Actually, planes and helicopters DO fly over our house a lot. The choppers are traveling to and from Albany Medical Center, which is a Level One trauma center, the only one actually in northeast New York State; the hospital in Burlington, VT is the nearest, followed by ones in Westchester County and Syracuse.

About 50 years ago, a plane crashed in the city of Albany, and in fact in my neighborhood, about a mile away as the crow flies. After 9/11, of course, there were no planes in the skies for about a week, so when the first plane flew over my house again, it actually startled me.

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What was your favorite episode?

The fantasy of every child — to have unlimited power against grown-ups — is made horrifyingly real.

clete robertsThe evil Tom the Mayor, who I used to like before I realized he was evil, asked:

What was your Favorite episode of MASH? Or Twilight Zone? Or Saturday Night Live? And what was your number one, favorite Movie of all Time? No lists pick one!

Evil, I tell you. But I’ll play along.

MASH: It has to be from the first eight seasons because the last three were retreads.

The Interview (season four, episode 24):

“Larry Gelbart left MAS*H at the end of the fourth season, having helped the show transition from smart-ass tomfoolery to something more frequently somber and daring. Gelbart went out on a series high: “The Interview,” in which real-life reporter Clete Roberts asks scripted questions about life in the Korean War and the cast (mostly) ad-libs responses, in character. Shot in black-and-white, with long takes for the more serious monologues and quick cuts for the jokes, “The Interview” is both unusual and exceptional.”

It was the first of the really oddball episodes used on the show.

Here it is on Vimeo
Twilight Zone: one of the two series I own on DVD

Oh, Amy the Sharp Little Pencil, interjected:

Yes, Twilight Zone! Is it the Helen Foley episode, because you went to Binghamton?

No, it’s not Nightmare as a Child from season 1. It’s It’s a Good Life (season four, episode 8):

“The fantasy of every child — to have unlimited power against grown-ups — is made horrifyingly real in 1961’s “It’s a Good Life.” Bill Mumy plays six-year-old Anthony Freemont, a boy with incredible psychic powers who holds everyone around him hostage. It’s sort of like Game of Thrones if little King Joffrey could simply think you out of existence for displeasing him. The adults tiptoe around the kid, but it never really matters, because he’s six, and six-year-olds aren’t particularly rational in the first place. That ever-present sense of menace exuded from the adorable face of Mumy is what makes things work.”

I think I related to this strongly because I was only eight years old at the time. When I watched Billy Mumy in Lost in Space four years later, I still found him a tad scary.

That episode is available on Hulu
Saturday Night Live: I watched it nearly religiously for 24 years, much more sporadically subsequently.

William Shatner (season 12, episode eight)

“The late ’80s represent a peak of professionalism; with solid pros like Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Dana Carvey, and Jon Lovitz in place and more or less sober, things were running as smoothly as they could be without the show becoming less-than-half live, the way it sometimes seemed to be under Dick Ebersol. These conditions must have been highly amenable to the guest performers, and Shatner used his hosting gig to launch a second (or third, fourth, somewhere in there) phase of his career by publicly announcing that he was in on the joke. He was greatly assisted by the Star Trek convention sketch (‘Get a life!’) contributed by a writer who established himself as one of the most distinctive behind-the-scenes comic sensibilities connected to the show since Michael O’Donoghue: Robert Smigel, whose “TV Funhouse” cartoons were often all that the show had to hang its hat on in the ’90s.”

I seldom thought of SNL as whole shows. Like most people, I do remember specific sketches. “Get a life” was perfect for a guy who worked in a comic book store, and attended conventions; in fact, I would leave FantaCo within a year of this episode. Coincidence?

One can have the “separating the artist from his personal life” discussion ad naseum.

For me, it’s Annie Hall, for reasons explained HERE.
Amy also asked:

My question. Hmmmm… OK, which Republican candidate do you think will drop out next? Not the strongest question, but you know me, hee hee hee.

See, I have NO idea why Jim Gilmore or George Pataki even gotten in. I’d have to think Jindal or Santorum go. Walker leaving gives Kasich more reason to stay to get that “centralist” governor vote that won’t support another Bush, though maybe there isn’t an audience, given his sagging poll numbers in New Hampshire.

Lindsey Graham I think wants to stick around until the South Carolina primary. Christie thinks too highly of himself to quit. Paul is enough of an anti-surveillance guy to think he distinguishes himself. Cruz and Huckabee are ideologues who want to stick around if/when Trump folds. And Rubio can fly under the radar as everyone’s second or third pick, and, arguably, most electable.


Wars real (Iraq) and fictional (MASH)

Much of the first season, MASH was a standard sitcom, and a pale comparison to the film.

MASH.signpostMore of those Ask Roger Anything answers:

New York Erratic wants to know:

What should we do about Iraq? Go back, send just humanitarian aide, leave it alone or some other option?

I found it hysterical to listen to Jeb Bush, and others, thrash around trying to figure out the answer to the question, “Knowing what we know now, should we have gone to war in Iraq?” Given the fact that the REAL, CORRECT answer is that we should NOT have gone to war in Iraq, knowing what we SHOULD have known THEN, then the hypothetical question should have been a cakewalk.

I hate going to the Jon Stewart well again, but the Daily Show’s Mess O’Potamia segments have been so dead on. In particular, two segments, one from July 2014, noting that the “U.S. is like the Oprah of sending weapons to the Middle East”, and if our friends don’t use them as we intended, whatcha gonna do? Watch that HERE or HERE.

Even more on point, a segment from June 2015 that says, sarcastically, “Just arm the rebels, that never backfires,” that “learning curves” are not for folks like us. Watch HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE for this succinct description:

“We spent the ’80s giving Saddam Hussein’s Baathists weapons to fight against the Iranians. The ’90s helping Kuwait fight against Saddam’s Baathists that we armed. The 2000s heading a coalition to destroy Saddam’s Baathists, and the 2010s fighting against those very same unemployed Baathists now going by the name ISIS that we originally armed in the ’80s to fight Iran.” In fact, our ONLY success is when we armed those Afghan rebels c. 1980, and they became the Taliban.

Those unemployed Baathists, BTW, were largely the strategic blunder of Paul Bremer, our head civilian honcho in-country, who, at least last year, was pushing for US troops back into Iraq. Let’s just say that I don’t find Bremer to be a reliable expert.

I listen to Ash Carter, the current Secretary of Defense, complain that the Iraqis aren’t “standing up”. The problem is that, in many ways, there ARE no Iraqis. I didn’t hear anything about this until the summer of 2014, in anticipation of the centennial of the start of World War I, but the terrible map-drawing in the region after that conflict is part of the problem that remains to this day.

Back in 2006, Senator Joe Biden suggested allowing Iraq to be broken up into sectarian areas, i.e., Kurds, Shia, and Sunni, though he now denies it. I think he may have been right initially.

Of course, the real problem, beyond the fact that we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place is that, after going in for the wrong reason, and us torturing people, thus undermining our credibility, has provided “terrorist groups and their supporters with yet another chance to tap into a well of anger and frustration,” essentially creating the situation where perhaps we should respond militarily.

What was the question again?

Whatever the current administration is SAYING our actions are going to be, it will almost certainly be more. War has a funny way of developing mission creep. Perhaps America needs a 12-step program to cure it of its war addiction.

Surely we need to help with humanitarian aid, for the refugees dislocated from Iraq, in particular, is our responsibility.

Beyond that, I have no idea. I’ve seen interviews with Iraqi troops, and there seems to be no consensus as to what the US role should be. The fact that we’ve been wrong for SO long suggests another strategy. I think the idea of transferring CIA drone strike capacity to the Pentagon would presumably give more legitimacy, more transparency, to whatever defensive action we’ll be forced to take.

But I’m no good at unscrambling this omelet.
Jaquandor, living on the Byzantium Shores, asked:

If you ever liked MASH: Colonel Potter or Blake? BJ or Trapper?

I LOVED MASH, or MAS*H, if you prefer, and watched it religiously through six time slots on five different days. When it was on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, during its second season (1973-74), it became part of the best television lineup ever, preceded by All in the Family, and followed by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Bob Newhart Show and the Carol Burnett Show.

In fact, when the series DVDs, plus the 1970 movie upon which it was based, has been on deep discount on Amazon, as it was recently, I was tempted to buy it, but the reviews of the packaging scratched some discs made me wary.

The show took a while to find its footing, its voice. Much of the first season, it was a standard sitcom and a pale comparison to the film. As most critics noted, it wasn’t until the episode Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, in which Hawkeye’s friend visits him and (40-year-old SPOILER ALERT), later dies after being wounded, that the show developed any real level of gravitas.

For me, the show should have ended when Radar (Gary Burghoff) went home, which shows up in the eighth season, but, I believe, was filmed during the seventh. I never bought Klinger (Jamie Farr) out of the dresses. I would hope, however, that they would have included that Dreams episode from season eight.

The problem was that the show started to repeat itself. The first eight seasons, I often would watch the summer rerun of episodes I’d already seen, but by season nine, the show was already in a sense of deja vu, and I only watched once per episode.

In fact, Ken Levine, who was a writer in seasons five through eight noted that he accidentally helped rewrite a previous episode, and that was back in season seven. Search his blog for more great stories.

Also problematic is that the chronology started to make no sense at all. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) were in trouble in 1952 in season two or three, Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) was celebrating Christmas 1951 in season nine. Someone put together a timeline of all the shows.

So, picking between Trapper John and B.J. (Mike Farrell) is complicated. Trapper was great in seasons two and three. B.J. was so earnest early on that he was initially irritating, but he grew on me until the later seasons when even his storylines started to repeat. First time he falls off the fidelity wagon, it’s great, but a subsequent possibility seemed forced.

McLean Stevenson’s Colonel Henry Blake also seemed to come into his own by the time he left after season three. The last scene in Abyssinia, Henry STILL makes me cry.

I had a bit of an adjustment of Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter because I remember the actor as a crazy general on the show two seasons earlier. But it was clear they needed a different type of character in that function, and he was great. The episode with the tontine, from season eight, was possibly Potter’s finest hour.

You didn’t ask, but I thought it was odd that Major Burns (Larry Linville) never really evolved from that one-note character, while Major Houlihan (Loretta Swit) changed from being “Hot Lips” to being Margaret, making the majors’ romance less viable over time. Gaining Major Winchester was clearly an improvement.

BTW, I saw the late Larry Linville at Capital Rep several years in The Importance of Being Earnest. His performance, in drag, was way over the top, yet unconvincing.

Watching that TV show again

There is even research to suggest that re-watching television shows is good for you.

good-wife-the-second-season-dvd-coverOne of the joyous experiences I have had recently is periodically watching episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) with The Daughter. I bought the complete five seasons a couple of years and we’re down to the last half dozen of 158 episodes. It’s interesting watching what she finds funny, or mystifying. I’m also fascinated by what programs I remember very well (the Christmas show early on, the ventriloquist Paul Winchell near the end), and others not so much. Mark Evanier has been revisiting the classic show too.

In some ways, I’m like this columnist who sometimes would rather re-watch a program she enjoyed, rather than venture out and try new stuff, even though there is a lot of quality stuff out there (The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad) I’ve never seen. Especially, as she does (and I don’t) when she binge-watched it in the first place. Of The Good Wife, one of the few shows I now watch regularly, she notes:

I’d binged… on some excellent series… But by the time I was finished with “The Good Wife,” I was spent. No more new characters, please. No more new cliffhangers. I needed some consistency and predictability in my life.

A better person than I would have seen my exhaustion as a sign that it was time to finally read “Middlemarch.” Instead, I re-watched all of “The Good Wife” and made a discovery: It was better the second time around. No need to gobble up an episode just to get on to the next. One episode, maybe two, in an evening, and then sleep.

I already knew what Peter Florrick was up to, how things would play out with Alicia and Will. Free from the suspense, I could savor the subtleties of dialogue and acting, marvel at how much I’d missed in my initial mad dash from episode to episode.

In exchange for the adrenaline of the first watching, I got the comfort of the re-watching. It was like hanging out with old friends: predictable, but not without pleasure and surprise…

My survey of friends suggests that a lot more people are re-watching shows rather than hopping from series to series without a breather.

There is even research to suggest that re-watching shows is good for you. A couple of years ago, a researcher at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions published a paper claiming that watching a rerun of a favorite show – not just any show, but one you like – gives you a mental boost. Human beings seek novelty, but we also crave familiarity.

Yes, she points out something I feel may be true, but since I don’t do myself, I cannot verify: you miss out on the subtleties when you binge-watch.

This clip of the congregation in The Simpsons singing an I. Ron Butterfly hymn still makes me chuckle, more than 20 years later.

One of the shows I used to watch religiously was MASH. Indeed, I liked it so much, I’d often watch the summer reruns. But somewhere about season 8, I stopped watching the reruns. This article by Ken Levine, who wrote for the show in the later years, touches on why; they started, generally inadvertently, recycling plotlines. Why would I need to watch the rerun when the story itself was being replicated?

Also, the chronology of the stories was too incredible; Trapper in a story referencing 1952, a Winchester story mentioning Christmas 1951. I’ve long thought the show should have ended when Radar went home early in season 8, though there were some great episodes after that, such as Dreams.

So, I’ll catch an occasional random MASH episode, but there’s no compulsion on my part to watch it in order.
Lost Cartoon Pilot: “Black, Kloke & Dagga” (1967) from Morey Amsterdam’s cartoon studio.

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