Tuesday, March 06, 2007

DAY 6: Epistolary Situationary Comedery

March 6,2007
23:30 hours.

“Dear Dad” - Airdate: December 17, 1972
PLOT: Hawkeye writes a letter to his father, narrating the antics and miseries of the 4077th: Radar is mailing a jeep to Iowa, Henry gives a sex-ed lecture, Trapper helps birth a calf, and Father Mulcahy stops Klinger from murdering people.
FRANK BURNS ABUSE:
-Hawkeye says Frank resembles an enema.
-Pummeled by Klinger
-Smashed in a collapsing tent.
WEIRDNESS:
-Hawkeye calls Mulcahy “Red”.
-Hawkeye writes that his Dad lives in Vermont.
PIERCE SAYING “MEATBALL SURGERY” TALLY: 2
RARE, USELESS TIMELINE CLUE: It’s near Christmas, 1951.

“Dear Dad” opens with Hawkeye alone in the Swamp, looking sad and cold, and fixing a drink. The Dear Dad episodes and their later permutations are basically a clearinghouse for sketch comedy ideas the writers didn’t deem worthy of expansion into full episode plots. Because of the general silliness in camp the Dear Dads portray and sketchiness of the dramatic vignettes, it’s neat that the first of these opens with an image of Hawkeye both lonely and sinking into the ironically comfortable routine of the war: it creates a simple air of non-melodramatic melancholy as a backdrop for the comedy bits. This context should be enough to make the juxtaposition work, but unfortunately, Pierce’s letter opens with a thud, as he explains WHY the medical staff makes jokes to alleviate their misery. Come on, M*A*S*H, we get it already!

There’s an interesting attempt to lend coherency to the unconnected stories with running gags. Radar walks through the background of several scenes hauling chunks of the jeep he’s shipping home piece by piece. It doesn’t tie “Dear Dad” together, but does make the camp feel more like a functioning society in which people are going about their business and leading lives, involved in their own stories.

Big Battle In Post-Op: Priest Vs. Transvestite! Father Mulcahy and Maxwell Klinger both get their first scene besides throwaway gags in “Dear Dad”, as they share a story about Klinger flipping out in post-op. Mulcahy and Klinger will later become some of the most engaging secondary characters, but this is pretty ridiculous. Klinger, for no stated reason, is in uniform, but wearing a red bandana around his neck, a good luck charm from his mother, which he insists he has never taken off and will never take off. Yeah, sure. Frank demands the bandana come off, and though he told Klinger not to wear dresses constantly before, for whatever reason this sends Klinger into full-blown crazy mode. It’s a glimpse of later-Klinger’s devotion to family honor and life as a tough street kid, but it’s totally out of character when he slugs Frank, then threatens to blow up the post-op ward with a grenade. It’s insane. More insane than a man wearing a dress. There’s can very funny tension in Klinger between his desire to escape the Army at all costs, and his refusal to compromise his personal moral code. But blowing up patients, an officer and a priest with a grenade would do both. It’d certainly get him a Section 8.

Mulcahy talks Klinger down, because at this point his character is “nice” and has some doubts about his usefulness in a camp that thrives on debauchery, but that’s about it. Sometimes it seems Mulcahy’s heart is a little soft to guide him safely through the war, and I like when he has to struggle with real ethical questions and comes out a better man…. In this case, I’m not sure he shouldn’t just Crazy Klinger over to the MPs,

Which Looney Tune Are You?: Pierce compares Henry Blake to Daffy Duck in his letter. This is obviously wrong, and Frank Burns, with his short temper, petty, selfish drives, and arrogant stupidity is closer to the Chuck-Jones-modified Daffy Duck. There is not a regular M*A*S*H character like Daffy, though I can think of some guest stars that fit the bill. Henry, good natured, easily duped, weekend outdoorsman, is a cheerful, dope of ‘50s suburbia, and most at home in a recliner and house slippers. Henry is clearly Elmer Fudd, or possibly late Porky Pig, once a fedora and briefcase were added to his model sheet. Be sure not to miss Elmer Fudd’s tour de force lecture on “marital sex” in the mess tent.

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