M*A*S*H Is An Endlessly Groundbreaking Anti-War Sitcom

While plenty of television classics pioneered either a genre or a cinematic format or a particular ethos, “M*A*S*H” successfully did all three and then some. The show constantly broke the boundaries of what television was capable of. First, with kinetic filmmaking that clearly took place off the studio lot, then with gut-punch plots that expanded the boundaries of what TV comedy could look like, and finally, with episodes that broke from familiar structures in innovative ways. One episode, for example, takes place entirely from the bedridden perspective of a wounded soldier. Another, a season finale, takes the form of a somber black-and-white documentary about the M*A*S*H unit. The original telecast of the final chapter, a two-hour movie that gives each character a poignant and authentic goodbye, remains the most-watched TV episode of all time.

“M*A*S*H” also possesses an astonishing moral clarity that seems nearly extinct in television today. Although its willingness to engage in polarizing topics ebbs and flows across its seasons, it always stands firm in a progressive viewpoint: one that maintains that war is hell, America is imperfect, and compassion and cultural understanding is key. Its first three seasons aired during the Vietnam war, and while Hollywood at one point seemed scared to touch the topic, “M*A*S*H” used the Korean war as a clear stand-in for the more controversial conflict. Its duty, above all else, was to constantly remind viewers — in vivid detail and with example after heartbreaking example — of the senselessness of it all.

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