M*A*S*H: Season 8

TV's finest satirical sitcom starts to age by its eighth season. Stars Alan Alda (Hawkeye) and Loretta Swit (Hot Lips) sport middle-age paunches and grey hair, while the show's satirical bite and vaudeville-like irreverence start to sound formulaic and predictable. Ironically, M*A*S*H was riding the top of the 1979-'80 season as re-runs of previous seasons dominated the syndicated market (and still do). Spun-off from Robert Altman's 1970 hit film of the same name, M*A*S*H the TV series (1972-83) ran three times as long as the actual Korean War. From a crude field hospital near the front lines, Hawkeye and his fellow doctors and nurses perform "meatball surgery" on wounded G.I.s in between bouts of jokes, drinks and sex to stay sane. Early seasons cruised on a breezy, infectious Marx Brothers feel that never trivialised the horrors of war. By season eight, M*A*S*H had begun to look like any other sitcom, with too-lovable characters and canned laughter. Once in a while, however, the show's writers scripted a gem. "Dreams" is one of the series' most famous and haunting episodes. Done without a laugh track, "Dreams" showcases the nightmares of each character during an exhausting 48-hour marathon of surgery. Col. Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) imagines he's a magician dazzling his staff with tricks as a soldier lies dying in front of him. Similarly, a limbless Hawkeye (Alda) helplessly floats down a river strewn with body parts and corpses. Another highlight is "Goodbye, Radar," in which the show's most lovable character (played by Gary Burghoff) bids adieu at a farewell party that is poignantly interrupted by an emergency round of casualties. Completists will be satisfied with the latest season to hit DVD, but for my money the early seasons featuring Frank Burns, Henry Blake and Trapper John remain essential. The lack of any special features doesn't offer any incentive to purchase either. (Fox)