Thursday, January 03, 2013

Do You Smell What I Smell?

Hawkeye (Alan Alda): Jesus ate with the lepers.

Father Mulcahy (William Christopher): He was an exceptionally good sport.

On this day in 1978, the M*A*S*H TV series was about halfway through its 11–year run.

It is often said of sitcoms that, when they have been on the air that long, the episodes tend to become stale.

And it is true that M*A*S*H had some misfires that year.

But the episode that aired 35 years ago tonight was pure entertainment from start to finish. I've always thought of it as one of the series' best.

It wasn't like many of the episodes in the latter years of the series — in which a somber angle was inserted into an otherwise upbeat story. It was strictly comedy, all the way through.

As it opened, the surgeons had just completed a particularly grueling session in the operating room. To unwind, Charles (David Ogden Stiers) took to playing his French horn, much to the dismay of Hawkeye and B.J. (Mike Farrell), who decided to abstain from bathing until Charles stopped playing his horn.

Charles refused to back down, of course, and so did Hawkeye and B.J. It was a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

And the rest of the camp was caught in the middle. Charles' French horn playing was, to put it mildly, annoying, and Hawkeye and B.J.'s stench was, well, irritating.

Something had to be done.

The odor became so bad that Hawkeye and B.J. were ordered by everyone else to eat their meals outside the mess hall. When Father Mulcahy strolled by and observed that it was a fine day to be eating outside, Hawkeye and B.J. invited him to sit and share the noontime meal. He refused, prompting them to inquire if it was because of their smell. Mulcahy admitted that it was.

"Jesus ate with the lepers," Hawkeye said.

And, in one of the best lines I have ever heard, Mulcahy replied, "He was an exceptionally good sport."

(An interesting side story involved Col. Potter and a suicidal patient. The patient's girlfriend or wife — I forget which — had been a beauty queen or something like that, and in high school they had been voted cutest couple. Now, disfigured by his injury, the patient could only think that they would be regarded as beauty and the beast.)

Inevitably, I suppose, there was a rebellion. The camp forcibly bathed Hawkeye and B.J. with teams assigned to wash, apply soap and dry the two miscreants.

As for Charles, his French horn was taken from him and placed in the path of an oncoming Jeep that left it flat as a pancake while the camp cheered.

But the cheering died away as Col. Potter strolled onto the scene. He appraised the situation and announced to the hushed crowd, clearly fearing severe punishment, that they were to be confined "to the Officer's Club for the duration of the whiskey. Pierce, Hunnicutt and Winchester are buying!"

Winchester had an issue to discuss. "My French horn ..." he began, looking at the flattened instrument.

"By all means, bring it along," Potter told him. "We'd love to hear it."