Rolling Stone

25 M*A*S*H

CBS 1972-1983

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The United States’ involvemen­t in the Korean War lasted about three years. M*A*S*H stuck around for more than a decade, including a supersize finale that is and will likely always be the most-watched single episode of television ever. That elongation of the core concept gave the show about Army doctors and nurses plenty of chances to reinvent itself. At the beginning, it was an anarchic anti-establishm­ent comedy in the spirit of the Robert Altman movie it adapted, with Alan Alda’s Dr. Hawkeye Pierce staging wild pranks as a means of protesting the violence around him.

By the end, it had become a sensitive drama about the physical and emotional toll of war, with former comic-relief characters like Jamie Farr’s cross-dressing Max Klinger or Loretta Swit’s imperious nurse, Margaret Houlihan, now taken as seriously as Hawkeye or Harry Morgan’s dignified Col. Potter. And a few lovely periods in between managed to straddle those tonal extremes.

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