We conclude our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1972’s “Dear Dad” from M*A*S*H.
Written by Larry Gelbart, the creator of the M*A*S*H TV series, “Dear Dad” was one of the most important episodes of the iconic long-running TV series about a mobile hospital unit during the Korean War, and the surgeons and nurses who make up the unit. You see, this is the episode that Gelbart came up with the concept of framing the episode around a letter that one of the doctors was writing to someone back at home. The first doctor to get one of these episode was, naturally, the main star of the series, Alan Alda as Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce (of course, Wayne Rogers didn’t know that Alda was definitely the star when the series started, as he figured his Trapper John character was the co-lead, but it was soon obvious he was very much second fiddle to Alda’s Hawkeye).
The reason this was such a great innovation is that it allowed us to get DEEP into the minds of the characters, as they are able to express their true feelings about all of their comrades when talking frankly to a relative. It gives us a great deal of insight into the inner workings of the character’s minds, and this episode really went deep on Hawkeye.
The big action moment in this episode is when Hawkeye, who is playing Santa Claus for a Christmas celebration for a group of orphans, is needed on the front lines. The M*A*S*H units were behind the front lines, but on occasion, combat surgeons were needed for wounded soldiers who could never make it back to the M*A*S*H units, so Hawkeye travels in a helicopter to the front lines to perform surgery on a wounded colonel dressed as Santa Claus. It’s an iconic image.
The rest of the episode is just typical excellent writing by Gelbart, one of the best TV writers of his generation. Some dark stuff, some light stuff, the mixture that made M*A*S*H so great was fully present throughout this episode, and there is enough of a festive spirit (especially Hawkeye’s message at the end to his father before he passes out from exhaustion) that it really feels like a Christmas episode, even among the war and the strife. Just a brilliant episode.