Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Military Series: MASH meets Little House on the Prairie

Operation Home Base: A Combination MASH and Little House on the Prairie

Several people have commented that they simple can’t envision how two shows as vastly diverse as MASH and Little House on the Prairie could be combined into one show. My answer--it was very simple. I just had to think outside the box and look at the core of both shows. MASH dealt with the emotional and physical issues arising from war. Little House was about family and community. Operation Home base combines the two premises by exploring the emotional, psychological and physical effects of war with the conflicts and misunderstandings that are frequently connected to the civilian world.

Premiering on September 17, 1972 and ending on February 28, 1983, MASH spanned 251 episodes. Until recently the final show held the title of the most watch episode of all time. Unique for its time, MASH was a front runner in TV programming. Considered a medical drama and a black comedy, the producers and writers chose to do the research and bring a realism into the show that had never been tried in a fictional venue. They had the courage to tell the truth about war and show how it affected those who serve. The simple fact is that war changes not only the landscape of a country, but the very soul of everyone that it touches.

The alcohol, the dark humor, and practical jokes were the most obvious of the coping mechanism the characters used to emotionally and psychologically survive. Radar had his teddy bear. Klinger dressed up like a woman. Hawkeye and Trapper John chased women, played practical jokes, and played golf. BJ and Sherman Potter focused on family. By seeking comfort from men, who weren’t always available, Margaret both sought and hid from love. Charles found refuge in music. They did what was necessary to cope with the death and destruction that surrounded them daily.

As in real life, sometimes it worked--sometimes it didn’t. Margaret getting married to someone else, caused Frank to have a breakdown. He was sent home. Hawkeye lost control after a mother smothered her crying child to keep the enemy from discovering them; instead of being sent home, he was hospitalized, treated and returned to the 4077. Throughout the run of the show, other characters became mentally unstable, but in each instance the topic was treated realistically and with great sensitivity.. From self inflicted wounds to shell shocked, the incoming wounded, special guests to the 4077 and the regulars revealed how the trauma of war has unexpected consequences.

MASH brought home the simple fact that sometimes good people don’t go home and even when they do, they are never the same. When Henry Blake died, it wasn’t just the characters who mourned his loss. The viewers also lost a beloved family member. Henry’s death cascade off the screen into the homes of the viewers. It reflected something Henry shared with Hawkeye--There are two rules. good men die in war.
and doctors can’t change rule number one. Although, other characters died, Henry’s death had more impact. Like in real life, it was totally unexpected.

Operation Home Base picks up where MASH left off. The characters of MASH became a family because of their shared experience and their desire to help. This is the foundation that OHB is built on. It shows how war permanently changes both those who serve and those who love them. Even though, military personnel changed location, it doesn’t necessarily mean they come home or that they have a home to come back to.
Not only do military personnel change, but so do their family members. OHB deals with the loneliness and fear of those who are left behind. When a family member is deployed, the others have to fill in that void. Not only are there practical issues like home repair, child care and financial concerns, but the emotional impact can be even more challenging on relationships. Spouse become lonely. Children grow up and away; sometimes, they resent the absent parent. Everyone involved changes and adapts to the new circumstances. When the family member returns, the challenge is to blend the old with the new.

It is What it is--A Vietnam nurse buried the trauma of her last days in country. When her grandson is killed in the sandbox, the old memories resurface and she is forced to remember what happened when she was evacuated.

Little Johnny Isn’t Little Johnny any More--Deek sees a friend from Nam that he thought was long dead. It forces him to not only deal with his own survivor’s guilt, but also with what he had to do to survive.

Right to Believe--New to the base, Sergeant Major Horse finds discrepancies in the billing of a food supplier. However, Horse is killed before he can investigate further. His tribal Elders and his family contact Stella when the base commander attempts to cover up the murder. Religious bigotry complicates the investigation when the base Chaplin steals the body in order to circumvent Horse’s religious practice.

Homeland--Airman First Class Steve O’Connell is deployed. Before he leaves, he arranges for the mortgage to automatically be paid electronically. The bank claims the deposits were never made and forecloses. The bank president disregards the Soldiers and Sailors Act, which legally protects those who have been deployed. Sheriff ignores proof of fraud by the bank and attempts to force the family to leave. The O’Connells with help of friends defend their home.

Dunk Tank--The killing of a Marine’s therapy dog sparks a fundraising campaign, which rapidly becomes a wild and crazy a free for all. While Special Agent Simon Behan investigates the death of the dog, the OHB team competes against military personnel and other civilians for cheesy prizes as way to raise money to help homeless dogs become helpmate for veterans dealing with PTSD. This storyline could easily be carried back over into real life

Listed as a western, Little House on the Prairie was more about family and community than a shoot’um up. Airing from September 11, 1974, to May 10, 1982., Little House primarily focused on the financial, medical and social issues, which challenged Ingalls family.

As much as the Ingalls’ home was filled with love, so was their life is filled with challenges. Several time Charles was forced to leave the family in order to find work during financially challenging times. When Mary become blind, she and her family had to cope with the physical aspects of her disability along with the emotional and psychological changes that came with it. When her baby brother died, Laura felt responsible. She went looking for God so she exchange places in heaven with him. The deaths, births, adoption and marriages changed the family dynamic as well as each individual member. How they coped revealed who they were.

Although the show was family oriented, it did reveal how bigotry and ignorance can be found in the least likely places. By dealing openly and honestly, with the topics of death, disability, bigotry and loss, Little House proved that a family and community is only as strong as its weakest member. In doing so, it mirrored real life back to the viewers.

Not only within the storylines, but within the characters themselves, OHB will be dealing with the same kind of family hardships and community challenges. It will address the emotional, physical, financial as well as many more of the life tests that those in and out of the military face every day. From the loneliness of missing a loved one to dealing with their return, military families live with uncertainty and the potential loss every day.

Half Potawatomi half Mexican, Master Sergeant Stella Garcia is woman in her late 30’s who planned to be a career soldier. However, the IED, which took her left leg, ended her active field duty. The sole survivor of the three vehicle convoy, she suffered from PTSD and depression. Emotionally, she couldn’t find the reason for her surviving when rest of her buddies were killed. Using alcohol and sex to numb the pain, she walked through life unable to feel anything. She settled into her new desk job, yet her dreams were haunted by the ghosts of her unit and the others. They asked her why she ran away from her duty--why she allowed their deaths to be in vain. Instead of seeking aid, she hides deeper within the bottle. It was only after her Tribal Elders helped heal her in ceremony that she was able to find a new purpose in life.

In her early twenties, Debra Ann Lee is a southern bell who grew up with seven older brothers most of whom join the military. A martial arts expert in her own right, she is proud of her family heritage that can be traced back to the civil war. Her mother used to say that Debra Anne walked where fools and angels fear to tread and was kicked out for being a smart ass. Having more moxie and intelligence than common sense, she is willing to take on situations and people that most people run away from. Using the immortality of youth as a shield as well as her passion and natural curiosity, she cons, charms, or connives her way to achieving her goals. Debra has only one fear--losing her husband. Newlywed at the time he was deployed overseas, Debra must cope with the fear and loneliness of the uncertainty of her soul mate being in the military.

OHB combines the issues of war with the challenges of family and community as it shows the good, bad and the ugly of military life. It will address the misunderstandings and the bigotries that arise between civilians and the military. But more importantly it will tells the stories of those who serve in a way that will not only entertain, but create a bridge of understanding and compassion.

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