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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Laughs between tears

Most generations have a defining comedy, and none is more notorious than “M*A*S*H.” As legend has said, the sewer system in New York failed because so many people went to flush their toilets during the commercial break of the show's finale. During this weekend, I watched a couple of episodes and I was taken aback by the subtle genius of the writing and the impeccable way that the show balances the seriousness of the setting against the humor of the characters. It, like “Parks and Recreations” and “The Office,” is a workplace comedy, but while the superficial and larger than life characters in the other shows are what makes them funny, it is the purity of the writing that makes “M*A*S*H” one of the greatest comedies of all time.

The fact that war is completely humorless is challenged by “M*A*S*H.” It is set against the Korean War, and the seriousness of their situation is not only noticed but put on the forefront with episodes that go from witty conversations and ridiculous situations to tragic losses showing the complexity of war. The show covers PTSD, losing friends, a soldier’s fidelity, homesickness, civilian casualties, the loss of innocence and the pure hell of war. These subjects usually belong to dramas but the comedy hijacks them and places them in between sharp dialogue. The show's lack of laugh breaks and attention grabbing follow-ups to jokes cause some of the brilliant writing to fall dead. This is one of the ways that I believe it is great the viewer is forced to listen in order to be entertained, and if you put in the effort you are rewarded with the clever comebacks. The wittiness of the conversation allows me to live vicariously through the characters as I listen to comebacks that I would never be able to form in such a short amount of time.

Along with the drama of the war and the comedy, there are moments that show the mundanity of deployment and jokes and situations that have applied to every war since. For example, the cast gets letters from fourth graders and they are full of innocence and anger alike. I saw a similar photo while flipping through a photo book of my dad’s during the Iraq war of a nineteen year old who held up a letter saying, “I hope you don’t get shot.” The comedy of “M*A*S*H” is timeless. That’s why I can turn on my parents’ favorite show from when they were kids and enjoy it myself.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.