Larry Gelbart adapted M*A*S*H from Robert Altman‘s movie of the same name (itself an adaptation), bringing this satirical allegory about “the war in our living rooms”… well, into our living rooms. It ran for eleven series, totalling 251 episodes, and ended up being one of the most awarded shows of its era. 14 Emmys, for starters.
At first, the show was very much a comedy, if a black one, though it shifted later, once the audience got to know the characters, and felt better embedded, to try out more dramatic and, at best, rather powerful story lines.
I have to admit that I haven’t watched any M*A*S*H in a good few years now, and that I do recall some of the episodes being slightly less than successful. Still, it’s undeniably a brilliant demonstration of ensemble TV. Indeed, the ensemble is so closely knit that characters who lead some episodes make up the walk-ons in others. They’ve kept superfluous “Who’s that?” extras to a minimum. Probably wasn’t a cheap decision, but it adds to the claustrophobia, not to mention the sense of ongoing, multi-level relationships.
Anyway, there’s one big reason I always enjoyed the show, and I’m sure I always will: Alan Alda. He’s the TV version of Hawkeye and, frankly, he’s consistently great.
And when it comes to the DVD version, there’s a special feature that I wish more comedy shows would offer: you can choose to turn off the laugh track. M*A*S*H on DVD has definitely got a leg up on M*A*S*H on TV there. Gelbart famously wanted the show to air without canned laughter and CBS refused. At least some kind of compromise was reached: a number of particularly serious scenes and episodes were aired laugh-track free. No need to meet them in the middle any longer.
Now, Amazon have dropped the prices of their standalone, series-by-series M*A*S*H box sets. Each is currently going for $9.99.
The full set is still almost $5 cheaper at $114.99, down from $199.98, but if you’ve already got a series or two, this is really the time to top-up. Or you might want to test it out a little, and take a ten dollar punt before going in for over a hundred.
Either way, the $9.99 deal is valid until next weekend or, presumably, stocks run out.