Comparing MASH seasons and characters

I guess there are two dominant schools of thought where MASH is concerned: those who think the earlier seasons were better and those who find the later seasons better (and a third group that thinks the show sucked from start to finish - damn those idiots driving AC Nielsen ratings…;))

For my part I prefer the latter half of the show’s run. I cheered the day they got rid of the Frank Burns character (start of season 6) and replaced him with Major Winchester - a much better foil, who could actually hit back rather than being a pathetic loser with no redeeming qualities.

How do you think the characters compared?
Frank Burns vs Charles Winchester
Henry Blake vs Sherman Potter?
Trapper John vs BJ Honeycutt?
dress-wearing Klinger vs “serious” Klinger?

Lastly, for the benefit of those who despise the show, do you think it would have been better if they did without all the sanctimonious preaching and just stuck with the original (Robert Altman) formula you saw in the movie?

It’s not a matter of characters, but as scripts. Their best scripts bridged both casts, but the show did jump the shark toward the end.

The loss of Radar also hurt the show. Klinger was better in a dress and better as a minor character.

Robert Altman thought the movie was something of an antiwar film, but it wasn’t. It actually was a service comedy akin to Martin and Lewis’s At War with the Army. I didn’t mind the TV show having a point of view, and it could be used effectively, but it could also be cringeworthy.

In your comparisons, I go for the latter in all choices. If you had a choice for “no Hawkeye”, I’d take that in any season! :slight_smile:

Don’t forget there really are three breakdowns: early, early season 1 was much more like the movie. Different tone, more characters. I personally didn’t like it as much. (And the fourth breakdown would be the “sanctimonious” episodes, but they’re everywhere).

I tend toward preferring the latter half of the series. I prefer Winchester to Burns, Honeycutt to Trapper and Potter to Blake. I tended to like Klinger regardless of whether he was ‘crazy’ or the replacement Radar.

I agree that Winchester was a better foil. It was far more satisfying to see him lose because sometimes he won. I also watched the show almost exclusively as a child and the hypocrisy of Burns’ affair with Houlihan bothered me deeply so I appreciated him being replaced with someone lacking that baggage. While Blake’s inability to command effectively was amusing, I found Potter’s grandfatherly attitude and homespun efficiency to be more attractive. I also liked Houlihan getting to develop her character more and I thought the more nuanced major in the later seasons was far more interesting to watch.

Frank Burns>Charles Winchester

Burns’ character was more in line with the original comedic formula. I liked his character up until season 4-5 when the support of Henry Blake and Hot Lips was removed. Without any support from above, his character became to weak vs. the captains and had to be replaced by a more worthy adversary. Which in turn brought Winchester. I liked his scripts in his first season (6), but the show declined in subsequent seasons.

Henry Blake>Sherman Potter

Same as Burns, his character was more in line with the original comedic MASH, and provided some degree of support to the Burns character. Also, he was originally slated to be the leading character and didn’t come across as much like a grandfather as the old windbag Sherman Potter, though I liked Potter more in season 4 than subsequent seasons.

Trapper John=BJ Honeycutt

I don’t really have a preference between the two although pre-mustached Honeycutt>mustached Honeycutt.

Klinger’s cross-dressing was kind of funny the first few seasons, but it grows old after awhile so I didn’t mind when he started playing it straight.

Seasons 1-4, 6 and 8 are my favorite as season 5 was the lame duck season for Burns and season 8 beats season 7 in terms of scripts. Seasons 9-11 had a few good episodes each but aren’t really essential though I watched them at the time so they do have some nostalgia value. By the time Colonel Potter was wearing hawaiian shirts as much as Pierce, the show had gone downhill.

As for Pierce, his “preachy” liberal slant that many loathe was actually in place from the get-go, season 1, but didn’t eclipse the comedy until later seasons.

Winchester was just a fish out of water character. Burns was a distillation of all that is silly and messed up with military culture.

My favorite seasons are 1-4. When Radar left that was pretty much the end of the show.

I’ve seen all episodes so many times now that I can tell when to keep turning the channel. Mustached BJ = find something else to watch. Klinger in Mudhens uniform = find something else to watch.

I like Winchester way better than I like Burns, and Potter way better than Blake. Trapper vs BJ is pretty much a wash, but I have a slight preference for BJ, who was significantly different from Hawkeye rather than just being a second Hawkeye in the cast. Wacky Klinger was way more fun to watch than Responsible Klinger.

The anti-war preaching was really over-the-top. They acted like no one in the Army in the 1950s could coherently justify the US’s involvement in protecting South Korea from North Korea. It got to the point where, in one episode, Colonel Potter, who’s a career army man, breaks down crying to “stop this stupid war!” Obviously, it’s a Vietnam-era sensibility superimposed on a Korean setting, but it got way out of hand.

What really hurt the later seasons was that the writers seemed to forget how to end an episode with a decent punch line.

I don’t really prefer any of the characters over others. What I will say is that episodes that had a minimum of Radar, Klinger, and Hotlips are preferred. Episodes where Alan Alda was still on a leash are preferred. “Message” episodes should be avoided.

I always felt the casting/ character changes were all for the better, however the better stories happened earlier.

Lol…a service comedy. The movie was a dark comedy about the tragedy and boredom of war. Imagine the stress of 12 hours of basically life and death surgery? No way to battle the stress and boredom excepting alcohol, sex and hijinks.

Imo it was far better than the tv show because it didnt romanticize the characters nor the situation. It was human beings trying to make it through a horrendous period in their lives.

^^^This. (Reply to DrFidelius) But the characters that remained throughout the run of the show got progressively worse as time went on. Army Margaret was a lot more fun than Compassionate Margaret, just like Drag Klinger was more fun than Vanilla Klinger.

Winchester and Potter were actual characters while Burns and Blake were caricatures. The transition was necessary to keep the show going - you can only have so much distilled silliness. Winchester and Potter were great straightmen to the Hawkeye and Honeycutt.

But really, I don’t judge the show in terms of which characters were around. I think the quality of the show was inversely proportional to how much creative control Alan Alda had. The longer it wore on, the worse it got.

As stated above, as Alan Alda got more creative control and pushed his agenda the show got preachy and declined dramatically.

That said, I liked Potter over Blake, Winchester over Burns, Hunnicut and McIntyre were pretty much a wash, the two Klingers were pretty much a wash too. I did prefer early Radar over later Radar when they dumbed him down. And I prefer Radar in general over Klinger.

You don’t think Winchester was simply a caricature of a upper class Bostonian Yaleman.

I was a kid through most of the show’s run and the first time I saw/heard David Ogden Stiers speak in his normal, non-BAAASTEN accent (in a PBS documentary about the show) it was almost as much of a shock as the first time I heard House’s Hugh Laurie speak with his native British accent*!* Almost, as when you’re a kid these things are harder to grasp. Interestingly, Stiers went on to do a lot of voice over work for PBS shows.

I definitely liked Winchester more than Burns, as once Hot Lips left him he became a lonely, pathetic yet unsympathetic, disturbing, semi-psychotic character. And although as a kid I liked BJ, when watching the show later on I found his whole ‘nice guy’ persona to be more a deliberately limp, milquetoast sidekick to not get in Alda’s way. Wayne Rogers had much more personality. And the reason he quit is he saw that he was only ever going to be second banana to Alda.

And although the phrase wasn’t around back then, once Houlihan’s hair turned silver it had jumped the shark. Actually it was a while before that. They turned her and Winchester into total ‘good guys’ always on the same side as Hawkeye and BJ, and the show had absolutely no conflict left. That’s when it became the Alan Alda soapbox show…

“A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show.”

Huh. I was going to say I didn’t know, but then I realized that I liked all the later characters better. So I guess I like the later version better. Though I did prefer when Radar was present. And I didn’t like when the show got too maudlin.

Robert Altman, who directed the movie, referred to the actor who played Hawkeye on TV as “Alan Albert, or whatever his name was.”

#FunFact Robert’s son Mike made more money writing the lyrics to the theme song than dad did for directing it.

The bottom line is that the show, no matter how great it was, was on too long. They told some very good stories but there was no more war, the show lasted longer than the war. And long before the end all the character development that could be done had been done.

Col. Flagg and Dr. Freeman and any other recurring characters were wrung dry by the end as well.

The patient/observer with the guitar. He had a bunch of episodes that were all directed by the same guy. I hated those.

Frank and Margaret were great characters in the early seasons. They weren’t interesting after Potter took command. He was too experienced an officer to listen to their complaints about the Doctors.

Winchester was a very good character. I soon liked him better than Frank. Margaret got pretty bland in the later seasons. There just wasn’t much for her to do in the stories.

Klinger was best in a dress.