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What I Watched Last Night

Scott Buckner, our regular writer of this feature, hasn't watched TV (at least not any worth mentioning) in about a week. But he'll watch again soon.

In the meantime, I'd like to comment on something I saw last night - an episode of M*A*S*H that perfectly illustrates my distaste of what happened to this most beloved series after it lost a good chunk of its original cast.

In this episode, B.J. Hunnicutt, surely one of the blandest characters in dramedy television history, gets tired hearing about all the good times that were had when that great practical joker Trapper John - his predecessor in The Swamp - was around. So Hunnicutt sets out to prove himself Trapper John's equal.

It's the perfect self-satire of a show that began to recycle old ideas with inferior writing and lesser characters - truly a shadow of its formerly great self.

By the time of this episode, Charles Emerson Winchester had replaced Frank Burns, Sherman Potter had replaced Henry Blake, Corporal Klinger had lost the dresses and replaced Radar O'Reilly as company clerk, and Hawkeye and Margaret Houlihan had outgrown the edges in their characters that made them interesting and highly watchable.

It was truly M*A*S*H Lite.

The poor casting decisions made once Henry Blake's plane spiralled into the Sea of Japan snuffed out the magic that produced such classics as the Adam's Ribs and incubator episodes. The personal growth of the characters who stayed was a killer. No one wants to watch a grown-up, well-balanced, sensitive, thoughtful, sober Hawkeye and similar Houlihan stroll the grounds dispensing homilies. The old way delivered the messages much more effectively - through comedy.

Even last night's villain, a commander who kept sending his boys up a hill, only to lose 20 to 30 percent of his troops each time, was a dullard. The old-time villains were believable nutcases such as Colonel Flagg or the succession of simple-minded and badly flawed generals and savvy quartermasters sending pieces of Korea home one kinky deal at a time. This guy just wanted to take that hill.

I guess the lesson is that sometimes you've gotta quit when you're ahead, lest you mangle a franchise by simultaneously taking it in new directions while leaning on the past glories to get you by in the clutch. That's a recipe for disaster, and that, I'm afraid, is what became of one of the all-time greatest television shows in the end.

*

See the What I Watched Last Night collection.



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Posted on April 3, 2007


MUSIC - What FBG Duck's Mother Says.
TV - The Comedic LA Dodgers.
POLITICS - Wilmette Man Translated Nazis To Death. Heed His Lessons.
SPORTS - Tweeting Foles.

BOOKS - The Endurance Of The Rubik's Cube.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Charles E. Cheese Boo-tacular.


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