Saturday, February 28, 2009

Memories of 'M*A*S*H'

It was a big deal to stay up so late.

I don't remember much about Monday, Feb. 28, 1983. I do know I was staying with my dad. He let me miss my usual bedtime.

And, together, we watched the last episode of "M*A*S*H."

I don't remember much about that, either. I do recall Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) getting married. I recall that minute-long kiss between Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Margaret (Loretta Swit). I recall getting the distinct feeling that all this was historic.

So it was. The final installment of America's finest TV series (titled "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen") played as a 2 1/2 hour TV movie. Advertising cost more for "M*A*S*H" than for that year's Super Bowl. Tributes aired for days prior to the big night. Such publicity was unprecedented.

When it was all said and done, the last "M*A*S*H" attracted the largest audience ever to watch a TV program (an estimated 125 million viewers). It's a record that still stands.

I didn't appreciate "M*A*S*H" until I grew up. I've told you before that I prefer the later, more serious episodes, to the earlier, comedic ones. At its best, the show portrayed a group of doctors and nurses doing their best to exhibit grace in the midst of tragedy, humanity amid the carnage of war. And, yes, it could also be quite funny.

That final episode wrapped things up better than any TV series save "The Fugitive." The Korean War reached its end. The men and women of the 4077th went home. Hawkeye suffered a nervous breakdown. Winchester lost his love for Mozart. Margaret became her own woman. Klinger got married and stayed in Korea.

I like to watch "M*A*S*H" re-runs late at night when I can't sleep. I have seen all 251 episodes and never tire of my favorites --- particularly any show after Season 5.

"M*A*S*H" brought a dignity to the television sitcom, a sense of purpose, a gentle humanism -- all of which isn't found much on the boob tube anymore. It's too bad.

Since it was raining and I didn't feel like getting out tonight anyway, I watched "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen." Twenty-six years after I stayed up late with my dad -- and with most of America -- I was pleased to discover it still holds up.

I found myself wishing ol' Hawkeye Pierce was still around. Somewhere, amid reality shows and forensic dramas, surely there is room for something with depth.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your sentiments are much like mine. I watched them all with my late husband who was a veteran of WWII. It was his favorite TV show of all time, as it was also mine. Maybe part of the reason that I enjoyed it so much was the pleasure I got from watching him watch the show.

Thanks so much for this and all of your colums. I love your writing.


9:36 PM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

Well, thanks so much Jeanne. You have indeed made my day!

7:02 AM  

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