1. M.A.S.H. seasons do become more and more anti-war (and preachy). The change was enabled by a fundamental shift in the underlying philosophy, mostly due to Alan Alda. The initial philosophy, perfectly encapsulated by the impressive Larry Linville, was about jesting in the face of tragedy--how to handle cognitive dissonance. It's the same reason Shakespeare includes jesters in the middle of his tragedies.
The later philosophy was WAR IS BAD--IT UPSETS PEOPLE. If this seems kind of obvious, that's because . . . it is!
2. Larry Linville as Frank was genius. Unfortunately, as the actor himself recognized, he reached the point where he was no longer funny. When I watch M.A.S.H. from the beginning (as I did recently), I always reach a point (about Season 4) where I want him to simply die, he is just so tragically awful. If he had been allowed to change (like Howard of Big Bang Theory), he would have remained interesting and sitcom-usable. But Larry Linville was too good! The Franks of the world rarely change.
|A cute "problem" episode: "Picture This"|
I don't much mind "problem" television. What is so interesting to me here is that although M.A.S.H.'s family-focus is obvious in the later seasons, it started much earlier than post-Radar.
By Season 2, for example, Trapper John is still playing around with nurses, but he talks about his children more; Henry Blake makes *many more* references to his wife and even gets jealous of her supposed infidelity.
Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan also change from being the weird couple in camp because they are so kinky to being the hypocritical couple in camp *because* they are having an affair. Eventually, they become the dysfunctional couple.
Personally, I think the last was a mistake. In a Season 6 or 7 episode, Houlihan remarks to Hawkeye that she would like her future husband to be 10% him and 3% Frank Burns, which struck me as an insightful line. Despite Frank's awfulness overall, he--like Spike and Buffy--provides a decent counterpoint to Houlihan's toughness. They have similar goals and care about similar things. His honest sadness when she marries is one of Linville's most perceptive moments.
From a popular culture standpoint, what fascinates me about M.A.S.H. is how the writers and producers began adjusting--almost immediately--to their audience's expectations and moral frameworks. It's a great example of why arguing that television creates culture (rather than reflecting it) misses the mark. We are not victims of television; we are its fodder and inspiration.