Sunday, February 28, 2010

AfterM*A*S*H Episode 1 - September '53/Together Again

Season 1, Episode 1: September of '53/Together Again
Original Air Date: 9/26/83
Written by: Larry Gelbart

Directed by: Burt Metcalfe

Col. Potter returns home from Korea to his beloved wife Mildred (Barbara Townsend). He finds himself offered the job of Chief of Staff at General Pershing Veteran's Hospital, and even though he has doubts about his boss Mike D'Angelo (John Chappell), he feels he do some good, tending to the wounded veterans of multiple wars.

Meanwhile, his former clerk Klinger is not doing quite as well. When we find Klinger, he is before a judge, having been busted for running the kind of racket he would have back in Korea. With his wife Soon-Lee (Rosalind Chao) watching, Klinger asks for mercy from the judge, explaining that he's having a hard time readjusting to life as a civilian.

He mentions that the things he did back in Korea--while maybe not quite on the up-and-up--he would be commended for, but back in America he gets arrested for. The judge shows Klinger mercy, especially when Klinger mentions he has an honest job waiting for him in Missouri--as Col. Potter's assistant.

Klinger and Soon-Lee arrive, and Klinger finds dealing with all the hospital redtape difficult. His loose, cutting-corners-ways is especially disdained by D'Angelo's executive secretary, the stern and humorless Alma Kox (Brandis Kemp).

D'Angelo tries to keep Col. Potter under control from the beginning, preferring to run the hospital as if it was a for-profit, money-making venture, obsessed with paperwork and PR. In fact, the only people on staff who seem to appreciate Col. Potter and Klinger are the young, idealistic doctor Gene Pfeiffer (Jay O. Sanders) and a secretary named Bonnie Hornbeck (Wendy Schaal) who really takes a shine to Klinger.

Col. Potter makes contact with a troubled Korean war veteran named Danny Madden (Arliss Howard), who eventually shows up at Col. Potter's home, keeping Mrs. Potter a sort of hostage. Col. Potter arrives and talks Madden down.

Meanwhile, Col. Potter gets a call from a friend of Father Mulcahy's, telling him that his old friend is in bad shape--demoralized by his hearing loss, Mulcahy has turned to booze. Potter asks to talk to Mulcahy, realizing how serious it is.

Potter arranges a hearing specialist to perform a brand-new type of surgery on Father Mulcahy, which goes well, slowly restoring Mulcahy's hearing. Potter tells Mulcahy that the hospital needs a new chaplain, and offers the job to Mulcahy. He accepts, and Klinger is delighted to be with his two old friends again.

Fun Facts: Not having seen this show since it aired in 1983, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed these opening two episodes. It flows well, and its commentary about life in post-war 1950s America is, for the most part, spot on.

The only real problem with this episode(s) is--they're not that funny. There are a couple of funny lines, but nothing that you laugh out loud at. No, for these episodes, its the dramatic moments that really shine: during Klinger's scene in the courtroom, there's an especially sharp line about how his Korean wife is given looks "You wouldn't give to Eva Braun."

There's another particularly nice moment right at the beginning, when Col. Potter gets out of a cab and attempts to tip the driver. The driver waves off the tip and gives him a salute, a touching little scene. Watching these two shows over again, I was really taken with the dramatic moments--I thought some of them were as good as anything on M*A*S*H.

In the credits, right at the end, there is one of the strangest credit lines I've ever seen on a show:
"A continuation of M*A*S*H"--? I mean, sure, we all know that, but talk about putting the show behind the eight ball!

Favorite Line: Dr. Pfeiffer is embarrassed to mention that his female patient has VD. Klinger, misunderstanding, thinks he's referring to the rigid Alma Cox: "Alma Cox? Wow! Who volunteered?"


What the Parrot Saw said...

Great to read your reviews, again rob! In fact, I was somewhat hoping that you would go for the bait! :-)

I do agree with you here. There was something certainly missing from the stew here and it wasn't really even the absence of Margaret and the doctors. Some have sagely pointed out that without the tension of the war ever looming in the background, that the mood here is rather light. While true, this was the early Fifties which was a more or less placid time considering what came before and after. Still, the mood is different and does take some getting used to. The humor is largely gentle but (thankfully) seldom insults one's intelligence.

Morgan, Farr and Christopher (for my money) proved that they were capable of carrying a series on their own. Some disagree. The supporting cast are a tad bland. John Chappell and Brandis Kemp never really rev beyond the starting gate throughout S1, and I suspect that the creators didn't want to let the supporting cast outshine the MASH characters here.

D'Angelo and Cox, for example, are well-chosen foils but don't really progress much beyond stock characters. The rest of the supporting cast are somewhat more delineated, but old coot Bob Scannell is alternately very annoying or rather funny.

Later additions to the cast improved the show, in my opinion.

The show's creators were smart in placing much of the action in a veteran's hospital for it serves as a reminder that the horrors of war continue statewide. There is especially nervy example of that here, when the disturbed patient Danny Madden shows up at Potter's house (both Morgan and Barbara Townsend are fine in this scene).

I too long remembered Klinger's "Eva Braun" remark for years until I could see the series again.

Otherwise, this was a moderately successful start for a series which in retrospect couldn't quite escape the brilliance of its forerunner. Watching the series again decades later, I believe now that it was somewhat better than my memories at the time. I can't see the harm in an official release. I think that it would benefit from a fresh look- even if diehards would probably get the most out of it.

Onward! :-)

Melanie Young said...

I've also just "discovered" AfterMASH, and have been going through the episodes in more or less chronological order (I'm missing #28, too). My impressions, so far? No, it's not M*A*S*H, but I'm glad of that. I mean, how could it be? Toto, we're not in Korea anymore, after all.

What I do appreciate is how they tried to touch on the plight of soldiers who've returned home from war, and what they have to face once they do. Had any other series really done this before AfterMASH? And of course I'm glad, as I'm sure others were, to see Potter reunited with Mildred, Klinger back home with Soon-Lee and (eventually) reunited with his family, and to see Mulcahy regain his lost hearing. The gentle humor and character moments are largely well-done; it's nice to see these characters we've loved given even more depth.

Where I think things go awry is when they try to make it too much like M*A*S*H. Alma Cox is Frank Burns on estrogen, and even though I know her type exists (I've known a few real-life folks like her) she still annoys the hell out of me. They could have made her nasty without making her so cartoonish; she's borderline unbelievable. I also find that I don't care much for most of the supporting cast, with the exceptions of Soon-Lee, Mildred, and dear old Bob - Pat Crenshaw's lovable old soldier is a constant scene-stealer.

It's too bad this show didn't survive; I believe it could really have come into its own given a better chance. I look forward to seeing how I respond to the remainder of the series. And, oh - just wanted to note that the friend who called Potter on Mulcahy's behalf in the pilot was none other than Francis' good sister the sister!

"They tried to tell us we're too young . . ."

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