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M*A*S*H:  SEASON ONE
Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Optional Laugh Track Deletion
Length:  624 Minutes
Release Date:  January 8, 2002

“Your man on guard duty is wearing a dress!”

“Yes…fortunately, he has the legs for it…”

Episodes ****

I have to confess something to you…for my entire life, I’ve lived under a rock as far as the M*A*S*H television show went.  Of course, I knew about the show, I knew what it consisted of and who starred in it…heck, I could even hum the theme song as well as anybody.  But, despite being one of the most popular shows in American history, despite accolades, awards, and legions of fans, I had never gotten into the show.  My best friend had even remarked on more than one occasion, “Let everybody else mourn Seinfeld…I still miss M*A*S*H.

Sometimes in life, you get a second chance.  Mine came in the form of a new DVD release from Fox.  M*A*S*H: Season One Collector’s Edition is a terrific three disc set containing all 24 episodes from the show’s first year, including the pilot.  And though I may not have gotten into the show when it was on the air, I’m definitely into it now.  It was smart and daring, filled with sharp dialogue, witty observations, and terrific performances by one of the best ensemble casts ever brought together for a television show.  Best of all, it was funny.  Damned funny.

I got a chance to peruse the first disc of the three disc set, which featured the first 8 episodes in broadcast order.  Right from the pilot, which introduced the hijinks of two American Army surgeons in the Korean War, Captains Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alda) and “Trapper” John McIntyre (Rogers), the show proved it was smarter, chancier, and fueled by considerably more talent than most other shows on air at the time…it’s no wonder the program ended up running for 11 years, about three times longer than the actual Korean War!

In the early episodes, most of the conflict came between the free-spirited Hawkeye and Trapper, and the more rigid (and basically, sillier) Majors Frank Burns (Linville) and Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Swit)…both representing the “real” Army, and neither approving of the Captains’ blatant disregard for respect, authority, and all things military.

They all work at the 4077th M*A*S*H unit, not far from the fighting.  Periods of restless boredom give way to marathon hospital sessions…these are what helps keep Hawkeye and Trapper’s butts out of the proverbial sling most of the time; despite their antics, they are amongst the best surgeons the Army has to offer.

Through the comedy, the show also touched on more serious issues, as evidenced on this first disc.  Be it racism (in “The Moose”), public relations (in “Yankee Doodle Doctor”), or simply the day to day toll war has on a human being (“Cowboy”), M*A*S*H was a show to tickle your funny bone, but touch your heart and feed your head at the same time.

Now that I’m finally embracing the show (about 30 years too late, but hey, better late than never), I can only hope that this introductory set won’t be the last we’ve seen of the 4077th on DVD.  As my own experience proves, M*A*S*H is definitely a show that can be visited and re-visited.

Video ***1/2

Fox did a great job with these old shows on disc…they look pretty terrific, one and all; in fact, even better than the movie release!  Having seen one or two reruns on TV now and again, I can say that this DVD set marks a noticeable improvement in brightness and coloring.  Images are well detailed and sharp, with clean lines and natural tones throughout.  The prints are quite clean, save for a few noticeable scratches during the opening of the shows (probably caused by assembling it from different sources).  Fans should be extremely pleased with this offering!

Audio **

The original mono soundtracks are perfectly good, if unspectacular by nature.  Dialogue is most important, and it rings out cleanly and clearly, with no noticeable noise or distortion.  A suitable effort.

Features *1/2

When M*A*S*H ran on television in Great Britain, it aired minus the laugh track.  Once, an episode ran with the track in place, and the BBC received a number of complaints about it!  On this DVD set, you have the best of both worlds…you can watch the show with or without its original American laugh track…a nice touch.

Summary:

At last, I’ll proclaim what everybody else has known for decades…M*A*S*H is one of the all time best television shows.  All the evidence you need is right here on Season One Collector’s Edition three disc set from Fox, which shows how smart, funny and brave this program was right out of the gate.  Highly recommended.

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