M*A*S*H* is another unequivocally great sitcom from the 1970s, American television's Golden Age of sitcoms. And, if I've not pointed it out before, I should, this list is for American tv only. I make no pretense to other nation's television offerings.
M*A*S*H* ran for 11 years on CBS and underwent many changes in personnel, ala Barney Miller. It also metamorphosed from a Buster Keatonesque type humor, in its early years, to a more Charlie Chaplinesque humor in its senescence. Not that this was always a bad thing, for along with every sappy, bleeding heart liberal episode there was a touching episode of depth; something the Trapper John era show could not muster.
It had a good cast, but the acting was never as consistently good as others of the great sitcoms listed, and the actors were also hit and miss. This is because it ran much longer than the other sitcoms.
The major players in the series- Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Harry Morgan, Larry Linville, David Ogden Stiers, and Mike Farrell, were usually spot on, but lesser characters, like those that played Father Mulcahy, Radar O'Reilly, Klinger, Trapper John, and Colonel Blake were less reliable.
McLean Stevenson, who played Colonel Blake, provided perhaps the most genuinely moving moment in all of sitcom history, when Radar came in and read a telegram that, after being transferred stateside, his plane had been shot down, with no survivors.
Now, compare that episode with the series finale- a bloated 90 minute schmoozefest that made the ending for The Mary Tyler Moore Show look like an Ingmar Bergman film.
That the series lasted three times as long as the war it portrays, and given that they really screwed up with the internal chronology of events (not unlike The Odd Couple), it is amazing that the series did last so long. Like many great shows, though, none of its regulars ever achieved the kind of success after the show that they did with the show.
There were many great episodes, but, of all the sitcoms so far noted, M*A*S*H* had by far the most filler. My favorite character was probably Col. Potter, and my least favorite was Corporal Klinger.
The oft-debated question is which was better? M*A*S*H*, the 1970 film by Robert Altman, or M*A*S*H*, the television series? But, as noted earlier, it's likely just a preference issue. The film was bolder and more sacrilegious, but also lacked the depth and humanity the series had. But, while the series had moments that went higher than the film it also reached nadirs the film could not. Again, it's preference. But, no matter what the answer, even its biggest detractors cannot deny M*A*S*H* its place in the pantheon of great American sitcoms.