M*A*S*H (1976) – The Interview, and Bug Out

The season four finale, is a black and white episode, shot as interviews and and as a documentary (with Loretta Swit glaringly missing, she was busy on Broadway). Clete Roberts, who actually served as a war correspondent, plays the Interviewer, and the episode is a collection of interactions between him and Hawkeye (Alan Alda), B.J. (Mike Farrell), Potter (Harry Morgan), Radar (Gary Burghoff), Frank (Larry Linville), Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher).

Series developer Larry Gelbart directed this episode, and the script was actually developed by the cast with some assistance from actual experiences. Before the episode was shot, the actors were given the questions they would be asked, and to come up with in character dialogue to respond (with some assistance from the series writers).

Consequently there’s an honesty to the character beats in this episode, which first aired on 24 February, 1976. There are a few light laughs, but most of it plays out dramatically, as the characters are asked about their home life, what they miss, how they deal with the boredom and the terror, and life in general at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

There are poignant moments, there are funny moments, and that is emblematic of the series in general. It has always been able to balance the tightrope walk of drama and comedy without cheaping out on either.

We’re closing out the fourth season, but the Interviewer lets us know we’re in the second year of the war. Those poor souls.

Season Five premiered with Bug Out on 21 September, 1976. Written by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum and sees the camp dealing with the possibility of a move, causing Hawk, Margaret Houlihan (Swit) and Radar agreeing to stay and look after the patients who can’t be moved.

It’s a one hour season opener, and rumours are circulating the camp of a bug out, which would mean striking the unit and moving it. Potter refuses to believe it, and even confirms the non-existence of the order with a friend higher up the chain of command. This allows him to give Hawkeye the okay to perform an operation that will require the patient not to be moved for 24 hours.

No sooner has Potter called the camp together to dispel the rumour, and the operation is underway, when the order comes down… BUG OUT!

While Potter scouts a new location, Frank oversees the disassembly of the camp (and won’t allow Radar’s animals, the Swamp’s still, or Klinger’s dresses to be transported by government vehicles), and Hawkeye and Houlihan operate, and watch over the patient. Finally the camp pulls out, having found a new site, and securing its purchase with the Klinger collection (much to Klinger’s chagrin), and the new front is under Hawkeye’s feet.

This is a great season opener, and shows the series could totally work as a hourly as it continues to show the ease with which it walks the line between comedy and drama.

Next week, we dive into more of season five, as I re-up for another tour at the 4077th.

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