Last night I watched the final episode of M*A*S*H for the first time since it first aired back in 1983, in what was then one of the biggest communal events in television history. I remember a large gathering in a dorm room at college, back in the days when TVs were a rare sight in dorms. I’d been curious to see it ever since, but while I’d seen the show occasionally since then in syndication, I’d never seen that particular episode, even cut into four 30-minute chunks. Now, of course, the whole series is on DVD. It a little hard to remember now, but at the time the show had by virtually all measures long since jumped the shark; in my estimation this happened somewhere between when Larry Linville left and Gary Burghoff left.
In some ways it is hard to believe it has been nearly 24 years since then, mostly because it’s hard to believe anything in my adult life could have occurred almost a quarter century ago. But in most tangible ways the show is clearly dated, from Alan Alda’s verbal tics and weak Groucho impressions to the total sincerity and lack of irony that occurs today only in the most formulaic of television programs. Of course, the show and more directly the movie on which it was based were never really about Korea, and it’s interesting to reflect on their relevance in light of the current situation in Iraq.