June 12th, 2013

krazy koati

And I can take or leave it if I please

A footnote to my visit back east: there's a part-time MeTV affiliate in the New York City area, and I watch that a surprising amount of the time. (There's apparently a full-time affiliate in Lansing, but we'd need an antenna to get it.) When I would get home, most days, M*A*S*H was starting and that's a fine show to clean stuff up to. They were in the midst of the third season (Henry Blake and Trapper John were still there) and showed some of the scenes that always get cut in syndication runs. They had scenes which I have never, to the best of my knowledge, seen before, and they really affect the tone of the episodes.

My first example: the episode with crazy General Steele (played by Harry Morgan because you could just cast like that back in the 70s). Steele has the plan to move the 4077th closer to the front, to cut response time (and fuel costs getting soldiers to medical care), but it's dangerously close to the front. In every syndicated cut I've seen before it's just left as that. But the scene I saw for the first time shows Steele, Blake, and Burns at the new site, including them coming under sniper fire when Steele --- against Blake's advice --- demands he be saluted. Steele takes the sniper fire in stunning, mad stride, not even ducking and shooting his pistol roughly where he thinks the fire is coming from, which is the sort of thing that might strike soldiers in battle as heroic on the part of their leader but is insane in the context.

And, wow, how that does change the context: Blake's hatred for moving the camp comes across as a bit whiny without the proof that under no circumstances should a hospital be in the new location. Steele's craziness is, without this, that sort of playful amusing crazy that you see in sitcoms which don't want to make mental illness out to be a sad and horrible thing. It's not an important scene and I can understand why it gets cut --- it's not very funny, it includes two of the supporting cast plus a guest star --- but it gives the whole plot some stunning meaning.

Another example: yet another of the early episodes where Henry Blake is away so Frank Burns can go crazy martinet on everyone. In this one Burns orders the camp go dry, and there's various bits of silliness while everyone tries to sneak some booze in and gets mildly cranky without it suggesting anything too serious.

The syndicated cuts, which I was again seeing for the first time, include bits of Margaret Houlihan admitting her need for a drink now and then, and scenes of Hawkeye and Trapper John obviously in withdrawal, things that make Burns's point that the camp is drinking too much a better-grounded case. M*A*S*H would forget, too often, that conflict is better when the antagonist is at least a bit right; the episode as originally intended, though, does very well.

Another bit I'd seen for the first time was in Burns asking Father Mulcahy for a fire-and-brimstone sermon about the evils of drink. Both Burns and Mulcahy are surprisingly tender and vulnerable in this one, Mulcahy particularly in admitting that he can't really give forceful sermons, and that nobody seems to want sermons at all from him. It's not so refreshing to see Mulcahy as a kind of sad, lonely figure as it is to see Burns acting on real problems, but for the supporting cast like this one or two humanizing scenes like this can be as much as they have to hope for.

Plus, while I know I'm out of new episodes of M*A*S*H, at least the early seasons when it was at its peak, to watch, it's a delight to find new bits of it to enjoy.

Trivia: General Motors announced in July 1965 that standard equipment for the 1966 models would include rear seat belts, padded instrument panels, backup lights, padded sun visors, dual-speed windshield wipers, and left-hand rearview mirrors. Source: The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, James T Patterson.

Currently Reading: The New Space Opera 2, Editors Gardner Dozois, Jonathan Strahan. I think the ``new'' space opera seems a lot like the old, only it has more acronyms and they talk about memes and lawsuits.