For the past couple of weeks my days in Korea have ended with me watching an episode of M*A*S*H. Kind of reminds me when I was back home and I also would watch a syndicated episode of the series—before shows like Friends and Seinfeld took over the syndication block in the evening from 10:00-11:00pm.
At the same time, when I started to watch these episodes of M*A*S*H it was the first time since I came to Korea that I have watched the show. It’s been a real treat starting with the first episode from season one and watching the series again.
Every time I make a phone call back to the States or even think about what is going on back home at any certain time, I often think about this dialogue exchange on M*A*S*H between Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Radar (Gary Burghoff) in the season 2 episode, “Mail Call.”
Frank wants Radar to call his stock broker in New York when he gets some information about a hot stock called Pioneer Aviation. However, there is no Pioneer Aviation stock–Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) are playing a trick on Frank who was boasting about how some stocks he had invested in were making some money for him.
Radar: Yes, sir.
Frank: I want to make a stateside call. It’s a New York number, Canal 7-9000.
Radar: Yes, sir. I’ll get on it first thing tomorrow morning.
Frank: Well, I don’t want it first thing in the morning. I want it first thing now!
Radar: Uh, well, I can’t reach them now, sir. I’ll be calling ’em yesterday.
Frank: That’s ridiculous!
Radar: They’re 16 hours behind us. Our today is their yesterday.
Frank: It’s five o’clock in the afternoon!
Radar: Well, that’s here, sir. Back there it’s one o’clock yesterday morning. Everybody’s gone to bed and said “See you tomorrow”, which, by the time their tomorrow comes, will be our yesterday.
Frank: Isn’t it 16 hours later there?
Radar: No, sir.
Frank: Well, what if it is? When would it be now there if it was our today here?
Radar: You see, we don’t have the same now. By the time their now becomes our now, this’ll be then.
Frank: OK, I think I got a bead on it. In order for me to talk to them at 9 o’clock in the morning their time, what time does it have to be our when?
Radar: Uh, one o’clock our tomorrow morning will get you 9 o’clock their today there, sir.
Frank: Then that’s what we’ll do.
Radar: Yes, sir. As soon as I get a circuit. There’s a two-day wait.
Frank: I can’t wait two days! That’ll be… three days ago!
Got that? Good.
It’s no surprise why the series was as popular as it was given this kind of writing. This is what makes good television and M*A*S*H definitely had the market cornered on good television writing during its eleven-year run.
After watching the series during that eleven-year and years after in syndication, I got burned out with and then, when I came to Korea I guess I didn’t want the show to tarnish whatever image or impressions I wanted to have of Korea. Ironically, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people (including myself) learned much about Korea and the Korean War (for better or worse) because of the series.
Of course now I think differently and watching the series again has been quite enjoyable to say the least. To be sure, it is just as funny—given that wonderful dialogue between Radar and Major Burns—now as it was the first time I watched these episodes.
I know some people still might cringe a little when they see a Japanese actor like Pat Morita playing a Korean doctor in a couple episodes (especially if they know a little about the history of Japan and Korea) but that sort of thing—the unintentional racial stereotyping was common in Hollywood. In one of the episodes with Pat Morita, his character quips that all Caucasians to him “look the same” –something I found rather amusing given the show’s producers to use any Asian to play a Korean. Then again, maybe it was the show’s attempt to call attention to—in a tongue and cheek manner—that kind of stereotyping.
There is also a bit of nostalgia attached to the series and watching these episodes again. It’s all been a part of this “turning 50” year and looking back on my life from the music and movies I grew up with to my favorite television shows.
As for M*A*S*H, after all the years, the show is just as fresh, innovative and enjoyable to watch as it was the first, second, and third times around.