My favorite TV show (and some thoughts about characters)

For my birthday this year, my husband, who is full of awesome, managed to find me something just as cool as what I got last year.  Behold!

I've made it almost to the end of season three, and I have to tell you, I LOVE this show. I loved M.A.S.H. as a kid, but as adult I have a whole new appreciation for the writing and character development involved here.

Would you like some examples? Of course you would!

Frank Burns

Major Frank Burns is the sort-of-villain for the first few seasons. And I say sort-of because Frank is the poster child for the Bumbling/Wormy Villain. He's cowardly, greedy and not very bright.

HOWEVER, the writers do something interesting with Frank. They write him as pitiful enough so that you feel sorry for him on a regular basis, while still keeping him so awful that you never pity him for longer than a few minutes.

After watching many episodes, I've decided that the way they do this is by never giving Frank any genuine moments of human connection. Even his infatuation with Margaret Houlihan is shown to be shallow and selfish. Everyone else in the show has times of sympathy, bravery, or understanding. Frank doesn't. This makes him a tad one-dimensional, but also allows for a villain who's nicely balanced between pathetic and dangerous.

Margaret Houlihan

Margaret is the head nurse at the M.A.S.H unit, and aside from Pierce (below), she turns out to be the most complex character in the whole series. She has her faults, not the least of which is her creepy affection for Frank Burns in the first half of the series. (They really are quite disturbing together. *shudders*)

Margaret is "regular army", strict, hard-nosed, and devoted to regulations. But she's also devoted to nursing. She cares about her patients, and can even admit that she's wrong if she has to.

Margaret goes through more actual changes than any other person in the series. She starts out with Frank Burns, but eventually tires of his selfishness and marries someone else. The marriage doesn't work out, but over time, Margaret becomes more open, happier, and gentler with those under her command. Her development arc takes time, over all eleven seasons, but it's believable, and excellently done.

Benjamin Franklin Pierce

Captain Pierce is far and away the star of the series, and it's most complex character. He's a classic Super-Competent, the chief surgeon of the unit and the best doctor around.

Pierce hates the army, his job, and the war in general. His hobbies are insubordination, chasing nurses, and fixing his gin still. But he cares very deeply about people. He's the series's champion for women, children, enlisted men and any wounded people that come in, regardless of race, creed, or what side of the war they are on.

Interestingly enough, Pierce is the person who has the most mental breakdowns over the course of the series. The war gets to him, more than anyone else. He has bouts of insomnia, sleepwalking, and even does a brief stint at a mental hospitable in the last episode.

He doesn't have as many changes in his life as Margaret, but Pierce's intense personality and deeply human flaws provide the perfect foil for the inhuman war that the show is set in.

What do you think? And if you could learn characterization from any series, which would it be?


  1. Dude, I love that show! When my hubby and I were first married we didn't have cable, and only got one channel on our t.v. That channel showed MASH reruns every morning. I watched it as I ate breakfast. Perfect way to start the day. :)

    My fav character is Captain Hunnicutt, but that might be because I have a little crush on him. :)

  2. One of the characters I find intriguing is Gibbs on NCIS. Gibbs is damaged goods due to the car bomb that killed his wife and daughter. He further carries around a feeling, not sure it is guilt, about his cold blooded killing of the man that killed his wife and child. After the death of his wife he remarried three times, all failures.

    He was a Marine and still lives by their code which comes into conflict with politics and NICS procedure. He also has a set of life rules, for example rule 9 never be without your knife. We learn in one episode that the idea to make this rules list was learned from his wife. He is very self contained almost never sharing his personal side to even his best friends. For example, he never told Ducky about his wife’s murder. The team learned of the murders as a result of events of a case and Gibb’s injury. He has an obsessive character trait as evidenced by his obsession for finding Ari and killing him.

    He is very smart and reads people well despite his own closed persona. He is also a Luddite, hating computers, throwing away cell phones, loving to work with wood using only hand tools. But even though he personally does not like technology he recognizes its importance in doing his job. Also, even though he is smart he believes in intuition, using his gut to steer the course of the investigation.

    His leadership style is rather unique. On the surface it looks like Gibbs the Marine tends to lead by invoking fear. This is seen in how DiNozzo & McGee sometime react, but I think the real leadership qualities are respect and trust. One fascinating relationship is between Gibbs and Abby. I have not done the math but I believe that Abby is about the same age his daughter would have been. There is certainly a farther/daughter bond. As for the rest of the team he is fiercely loyal and protective.

    Then there is Gibbs relationship with the Directors of NCIS. The first Director was a throw away character. But then came Jenny Shepard. Jenny and he worked together in the field and it is clear that their relationship became intimate at some point. This maybe where Rule # whatever was created. Never date a co-worker. I could write a whole paragraph on this relationship, but I won’t. Gibb’s relationship with new director, Leon Vance, is an enigma. At times it appears as if they are advisories sizing each other up. At others it seems almost collegial. But there has to be some yet unrevealed past history between them that creates the air of mistrust.

  3. Renee- I love B.J! My husband asked me last night if everyone on the series cheated on their wife, and I told him that B.J. was the family man of the group. (and Potter, come to think of it) I might do a further post with him in it, but I haven't gotten that far yet. :)

    DR- I do like Gibbs a lot, and much for the same reasons I like Pierce in MASH. Super-competent characters make me happy. Weird, but true! (Also, I'm interested to see where his character goes in the next season.)

  4. When I was in college in the Theater Department, rehearsal,which is never canceled, was canceled so that all the actors could watch the last episode.

  5. Brenda- The booklet that came with the set said over 125 million people watched the last episode, over half the population of the United States. I thought that was quite cool. :)


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