Sunday, March 1, 2009

Episode 1 - M*A*S*H The Pilot

Season 1, Episode 1: M*A*S*H The Pilot
Original Air Date: 9/17/72
Written by: Larry Gelbart
Directed by: Gene Reynolds

The first episode of M*A*S*H opens in a way no other episode ever would--with a "cold open", where you go from commercial right to the show, without opening credits.

We see Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Trapper (Wayne Rogers), and Ho-John (Patrick Adiarte) playing golf, Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and a nurse opening a bottle of booze, Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Hot Lips (Loretta Swit) messing around, and other wacky hi-jinx around the 4077th.

Then we see Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) playing football. He catches a pass, pauses, and turns--he hears them. We then pan over his shoulder, and see the now familiar helicopters as they arrive with wounded.

Over an extended credit sequence, we see the formula for the show instantly laid out--while the staff of the 4077th might be crazy in their off hours, once wounded arrive, they snap into action like a well-oiled machine.

The episode is narrated by Hawkeye, as he writes a letter to his Dad. Like with the opening credits, we instantly get a sense this is not your typical TV doctor when we hear him ask Major Houlihan to move out of his way, otherwise he'll "have to cut around your B-cups." This is not Marcus Welby, or Dr. Kildare, or any of the god-like healers we've seen on TV before.

The plot concerns Hawkeye and Trapper's effort to hold a raffle to raise enough money to send Ho-John to college back in the states. They figure they best way to raise cash is for the prize to be a nurse--in this case, Nurse Dish (Karen Phillip), considered to be the most desirable woman in camp.

After Hawkeye and Trapper run-in with Frank (who smashes their still in a moment of anger, and suffers humiliating consequences), Henry cancels the party, but then takes a trip to Seoul to meet up with General Hammond (G.Wood, one of the few actors to reprise their role from the movie). Of course, that means the party is on!

After drugging Frank to get him out of the way, the party commences, and it seems like almost the entire camp is crammed into the Mess Tent. Except for Hot Lips, who goes on a frantic search to find Frank.

Col. Blake and Gen. Hammond make a surprise return to the 4077th, just in time to see Hawkeye announce the winner of the prize--Father John P. Mulcahy (George Morgan)!

Hot Lips, having discovered the drugged Frank, drags him into the Mess Tent, pointing a finger at Hawkeye and Trapper, exclaiming "Those two! They're ruining this war--for all of us!"

Gen. Hammond is about to put both the doctors under arrest, when wounded arrive. Hawkeye and Trapper's superb surgical skills impress Hammond, who decides not to have them arrested. He tells Henry to "make sure not to lose them...even to me."
Hawkeye and Trapper are disappointed, and have even handcuffed themselves, hoping this would be their ticket out. Henry informs them "Forget it...he was too impressed to have you arrested."

Fun Facts: As I mentioned above, this is the only episode not to open with the standard credit sequence. I had never seen this sequence until I bought the DVDs, since the syndicated version always just dropped in the regular credits.

Its interesting to see, early on, how much Nurse Dish was part of the show--she gets a lot of screen time, and she doesn't even seem afraid of Maj. Houlihan when confronted.

Nurse Dish pops up over Hawkeye's shoulder in the famous shot of him looking down at a patient in the credit sequence, further establishing her importance to the show. This same clip was used long after Nurse Dish was removed from the show--and, if you look fast, you can still see just the top of her head coming into the frame before it cuts away.

This pilot has another unusual detail, in that Father Mulcahy isn't played by William Christopher; here he's played by George Morgan, who only had one more credit after this, making him the Pete Best of M*A*S*H I guess.

Hawkeye is a lot cruder than the character he would eventually become, and the influence of the movie is clearly felt. But Alda and Rogers have an instant, easy chemistry, right from the get-go. All the basic relationships are set up, and the main dynamic: Hawkeye and Trappper vs. Frank and Hot Lips, with Henry in the middle and Radar as a backroom facilitator--are established.

Also, the idea of things are not what they might seem like on the surface is here, too--sure, Hawkeye and Trapper are raffling off a nurse like two pimps, but they're doing it to send the dirt poor Ho-John to the states to go to a school, certainly a noble cause.

In addition, Hot Lips and Frank look down on Hawkeye (who they spy getting romantic with Dish) for being an immoral animal, yet its Frank who is breaking the seventh commandment with impunity. This idea, of people who protest the most can sometimes be the ones with the most to hide, would really resonate with as a I grew up.

Favorite Line: Hawkeye and Trapper, when trying to determine what they can raffle off that would raise the most money for Ho-John:

Hawkeye: "What do they really want?"
Trapper: "Sex...except for those Baseball perverts."


Anonymous said...

My favorite line from this is when Hawkeye sees Margaret dragging a still-drugged Frank towards them, he says in his best Peter Lorre, "The mummy striiiikes!"

Makes me laugh every time.

Anonymous said...

Sorry-but this epsiode is typically fantasy MASH material-in June 1950 US Servicemen were fighting and running for their lives!

Anonymous said...

As Radar says,"here they come" you can actually see Gary Burghoff's deformed hand.

Bill Slocum said...

In addition to debuting the Father Mulcahy character on TV, George Morgan also appears as the token white executive at a black-run ad agency in "Putney Swope." One of the "black" characters in that movie is played by another future "M*A*S*H" alumnus, Allan Arbus, aka Dr. Sidney Freedman.

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