10 February 2007

 

An Insufferable Character

Yesterday, Mustang Bobby had an open question on "Who's your favorite sit-com character?" He and a good fraction of his commenters replied with Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H. Since it seems just wrong to use someone else's blog-comments to criticize what's either an aesthetic choice or just a matter of preference, I'll bring it home here:

ARE YOU OUTTA YOUR GOURD? THERE ARE FEW CHARACTERS WHO HAVE EVER APPEARED IN TELEVISION COMEDIES WHO ARE AS VILE AND REPULSIVE AS HAWKEYE PIERCE AS PLAYED BY ALAN ALDA IN THE M*A*S*H TV SERIES CREATED BY LARRY GELBART.

He's smarmy, self-righteous, smug; unreasonably and unjustifiably self-satisfied. An anachronism bringing late 50s-hipness through mid-70s sensitivity to a character in the early 1950s. Yes, some of that came with the characters in Richard Hooker's novel—not a bad read at all, if my memory from 8th-grade or so serves me correctly—and some of that came from the characterization created by Donald Sutherland in Robert Altman's now-classic film.

But the smug/smarmy insufferable part comes from Alda's performances and increasing influence in the show's direction and tone through its (still utterly ridiculous to me) long run. Alda's Hawkeye has so many of the bad attributes, mentioned above, of some political liberals, it's not surprising the character is popular with a certain cohort, a cohort that speaks and listens in an echo chamber as disconnected from reality as that of the fundamentalist right. That some of said cohort have the unjustified gumption to describe themselves as "reality-based" is delightfully ironic. Yeah, I'm being harsh, but reality-based is, like attractiveness, a judgment to be made by the viewer/listener/reader, not by the producer/speaker/writer.

Disclaimer: Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John in the TV show with subtlety and grace, graduated from my prep school and spoke at my high-school commencement, so I've been biased against Alda since time immemorial.

Aside: "We're the pros from Dover."

Uh: Favorite sit-com character? Tim Conway as Rango or Bill Daly as Howard Borden—ironing, ironing, ironing—on The Bob Newhart Show.

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