|M*A*S*H - The Complete Third Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 18 February 2003|
Based on the film of the same name, "M*A*S*H*" was one of the most popular TV dramas of the late 20th century, and with the third season released on DVD as a collector's edition, it's easy to see why. Based on the real-life exploits of MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Unit) 8055, the series hit its stride, finding its voice and balance of comedy and wartime drama.
The third season, the final year for McLean Stevenson's Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers’ wacky doctor "Trapper" John, opens with "The General Flipped at Dawn," guest-starring Henry Morgan (who would later join the cast as Col. Potter) as a certifiable two-star general who has a quote for every occasion, and a penchant for bursting into song. "Iron Guts Kelly" is particularly hilarious, as a gung-ho general ends up dying in Hot Lips’ (Loretta Swit) tent, and his aide is determined to dump the body in a combat zone so that the general dies on record in a glorious hail of bullets. Trading slapstick for drama early on, "OR" takes place almost entirely in the operating theatre and was the first episode to air which featured no laugh track of any kind, as the network deemed it would be too insensitive to put canned laughter over the surgeries.
Later episodes also include recurring paranoid spy Flagg and army shrink Sidney Freedman (Alan Arbus), both fan favorites. The three-disc set includes all 24 episodes uncut (a real treat for viewers who only remember the series from the heavily edited syndicated cuts), finishing off with "Abyssinia, Henry," an episode that marks Stevenson's departure and the first time the characters lose one of their own. The episode is also famous for the fact that the final page of the script -- with Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) announcing Henry Blake's death -- was withheld from the actors, so that their shock and surprise would be genuine.
The discs preserve the full-frame aspect ratio of the television series and are crisp and clean, a real step up compared to the broadcast versions, which show their age as well as some wear and tear. Colors are somewhat muted, but true to the series’ palette of olive drab and army green.
The episodes were broadcast in mono, but the audio set-up includes the option of viewing the episodes without the laugh track. Would that all TV series box sets considered such a feature! While it does make for some odd pacing, as actors pause at the end of each joke, it does make it easier for one to lose oneself in the series without every line being punctuated by canned laughter.
The three-disc set has menus which feature stills from the episodes, and are easy to navigate, although it would have be nice to be able to play all eight episodes per disc continually, instead of needing to return to the main menu and then go forward to the individual episode menus in order to go to the next episode.
Also, the set includes no extra features of any kind. A commentary track or two would have been nice, particularly on the watershed season finale. However, the series stands on its own, and the Season Three box set makes an excellent purchase for “M*A*S*H*” fans wanting to relive the series at home on DVD.