M*A*S*H (1975/1976) – The Price of Tomato Juice, Dear Ma, and Der Tag

Gene Reynolds and series developer Larry Gelbart penned The Price of Tomato Juice that first aired on 16 Decemember, 1975.

When Radar (Gary Burghoff) shares his tomato juice with Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan), the colonel recalls how much he enjoys it, but its actually a rarity at the front, so Radar decides they should get some for the colonel to enjoy it every morning. But that means they have to go to the camp’s requisition officer, Frank (Larry Linville).

Frank isn’t going to do anything for free, so he agrees to order the juice if Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and B.J. (Mike Farrell) procure him some nylons. Which leads them to Klinger (Jamie Farr), who agrees to give them the nylons if he can have a pass to Seoul.

A pass can be had not from Potter but from a general who has a thing for Margaret (Loretta Swit),and from there things get even more wacky, and laugh out loud enjoyable.

This is just a fun, and goofy episode that shows how the camp makes things work, and delivers a great ending for Radar, Potter and Klinger.

The series continues to be able to walk that fine line between delivering comedy episodes and dramatic episodes, and moments, while being incredibly true to the characters. It works, and everything about the characters continues to be so relatable.

I thought, perhaps, as I grew older my favourite characters would change on the rewatch, but nope, Hawkeye is still my fave, and I love how Alda portrays him, and how his character meshes with everyone else.

Dear Ma, sees Radar writing a home to his mother. Written by Everett Greenbaum and James Fritzell, this episode was directed by Alda. It first aired on 23 December, 1975.

While Hawkeye conducts foot exams of everyone in the camp, setting up a great final moment with Frank, Radar shares his thoughts with his mother via mail. He talks about the camp as we dive into another bit of slice-of-life episode. Potter’s wife calls as she has a premonition that something bad is going to happen to him (he gets shot in the butt), and Frank is worried about North Korean soldiers sneaking into the camp.

While a solid episode, this doesn’t feel like the writers’ or the director’s best episode. It’s great to let Radar tell the story, but it just doesn’t move as well as some of the other letter home episodes.

That’s not to say there aren’t some great moments, especially the Frank reveal at the end, but it’s just not quite as good as the other episodes leading up to this one, especially considering what both the writers and the director have given us in the past.

Having said that, I do like the glimpses of life in the camp episodes, and it helps create a reality for the series that I enjoy. And honestly, I love when Alda directs, he tends to know how to balance the comedy and the drama, an seems to do with ease.

Keep em coming Hawk!

Der Tag was also penned by Greenbaum and Fritzell and first aired on 6 January, 1976. With Margaret away at a conference, Frank is feeling lonely, and is proving to be more annoying than usual.

Potter pulls Hawk and B.J. into his office and requests that they look after him, and invite him to take part in a poker game. Frank not only wins, but gets very quickly soused and has a great night with the entire camp, before promptly passing out.

Walking him back to The Swamp, Hawk and B.J. fill out a toe tag for the major, and slip it on his toe while he’s passed out. When Frank wanders off to find the latrines, he eventually ends up at a forward aid station, which is under attack.

Hawkeye and B.J. have to go after him, while Frank sleeps the whole thing off.

This is just a fun episode, lets Linville cut loose a bit, and shows that pranks do always pay off. But man, Frank does tend to deserve his share of them, that’s for sure.

There’s more laughter and drama to come as I continue my tour of duty with the 4077th next week.

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