By the time “M*A*S*H” premiered on CBS, the staid television comedies of the 1950s and 1960s, set mostly in idealized suburbs, were giving way to more thought-provoking programs. Groundbreaking shows such as “All in the Family” shook up the status quo by addressing issues like race, feminism, homosexuality, politics, gun control, and America’s role in the world.
“M*A*S*H,” based on the movie of the same name, tapped into that zeitgeist by skewering authority figures in politics, the military, and even the clergy. As well, the show questioned the reasons for a war that was distant to Americans.
The show also flouted entertainment industry conventions such as replacing characters who had developed a following; airing full episodes without a laugh track; and capturing the unscripted reactions of the actors with the news that beloved commanding officer Henry Blake had been killed. “M*A*S*H” also succeeded in mainstreaming cross-dressing character Max Klinger who tries to get a medical discharge from the Army.
“M*A*S*H” evolved from a black comedy to a more mature, nuanced comedy-drama, and characters such as the one played by Swit reflected that shift. Swit’s “Hot Lips’’ Houlihan morphed from a military-loving, no-nonsense nurse to a woman fulfilled by her work who does not need to define her life through relationships with men.
To determine the top episodes of “M*A*S*H,” 24/7 Wall St. compared user ratings from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) for all episodes. Ties created by episodes with matching scores were broken by ranking the episode with more user reviews higher. Additional episode information also comes from IMDb.