M*A*S*H: “April Fools”

Premiered March 24, 1980.
“The festive spirit of April Fool can scarcely be contained within a mere 24-hour period.”
-Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester

In the midst of the Korean War, at the 4077th MAS*H unit, army doctors Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda), Capt. B.J. Honeycutt (Mike Farrell), Maj. Charles E. Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) and Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) are feeling more down and disillusioned than usual about their wartime surroundings. Their mood is brightened when a package from B.J.’s wife arrives containing brownies and a can of pralines. Charles is particularly excited about opening a can of pralines, only to be shocked when he learns…

.the can contains rubber novelty snakes!  

At that exact moment, nurse Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit) screams in horror when she finds dead minnows in her pocket!  Winchester takes credit for the fish and he says it’s an April Fool’s Day prank, even though April 1 hasn’t arrived.  

Col. Potter says they can prank each other, but he wants nothing to do with the seasonal festivities.  The April Fool’s pranks continue the next morning when Hawkeye wakes up to find oatmeal in his boot (courtesy of Maj. Houlihan).

The humorous atmosphere is broken up when Potter learns his M*A*S*H unit will receive a visit from Col. Daniel Webster Tucker (Pat Hingle), who Potter calls “lord high executioner of the surgeon general’s office!”  Col. Tucker will be inspecting their medical facilities and he’s a stickler for details who does not suffer (April) fools gladly.  Potter orders his company clerk Cpl. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) to organize files and order every medical supply he can think of.  

Potter fears that a failed inspection from Tucker will hurt his career and bans April Fool’s pranks until Tucker has departed.  However, Charles, B.J. and Hawkeye decide to pull one last prank on Margaret.

Klinger has a history of dressing in women’s clothes in order to get a Section 8 discharge from the Army.  After getting some advice from Sgt. Luther Rizzo (G.W. Bailey), Klinger decides his ticket out of the military is to act like the world’s greatest soldier in front of Tucker and then go back to his old methods.  

Later on, Margaret’s tent is ransacked by the doctors.  Col. Tucker arrives to witness Houlihan swinging a pillow at the pranksters. 

Potter is furious at them for continuing their April Fool’s activity.  Tucker is disgusted by everything he sees, with the exception of Klinger…

…who has put on a dress uniform and transformed himself into a model soldier.  
The next morning, Tucker observes the nurses and doctors during surgery and tells them he is not impressed.  Hawkeye gets fed up and confronts Tucker directly when he interferes with Pierce’s patient.  The others back up Hawkeye and ask Tucker to back off.  Tucker accuses them of conduct unbecoming officers and gross insubordination and plans to court-martial them.  

When Tucker visits Klinger, he is instead greeted by Cleopatra!  Tucker believes Klinger has lost his mind and needs to be discharged and sent home.  Potter is NOT amused.  

Facing a court-martial, Hawkeye believes they have nothing left to lose and he decides to cook up the mother of all April Fool’s Day pranks for Col Tucker.  Charles is ready to “nail the swine.”   

Will Hawkeye and friends be court-martialed?  Will Klinger get the discharge he’s been chasing for years?  
J.A. Morris says:
First off, let me say that I’m excited to announce that this is our first review of April Fool’s Day programming!

M*A*S*H was a big part of my childhood TV viewing (I can recall a few nights when I watched 3 different episodes in syndicated reruns), but I’d forgotten about “April Fools” until I stumbled on a re-run a few years ago.  It’s a good episode of M*A*S*H and there aren’t many April Fool’s Day episodes, so it was nice to rediscover it.  

Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) becomes an April Fool’s victim when his bathrobe is replaced with a house frock!

M*A*S*H was a series that started out as a more traditional comedy but it gradually shifted to more serious comic-drama format during its later seasons.  “April Fools” shows that M*A*S*H could still pull off the sillier episodes during the show’s 8th season.  Alan Alda cackles in a way that’s more reminiscent of Hawkeye’s earlier less-evolved stage.  
Harry Morgan has some great scenes in “April Fools.”  Col. Potter gets more exasperated with every prank.  Potter was always a nice guy, but his worries about his career being jeopardized by the doctors’ pranks are justified.  

It’s also fun to see the straight-laced Margaret and stick-in-the-mud Winchester take part in the pranks.  
In addition to the M*A*S*H series regulars, “April Fools” features guest star Pat Hingle as Col. Tucker. 

Hingle was a recognizable and prolific character actor who appeared in lots of memorable movies like On The WaterfrontHang ‘Em HighSplendor In The GrassNorma RaeSudden Impact and he portrayed Commissioner Gordon in four Batman movies.  On the holiday films front, Hingle played the Ghost of Christmas Present in Carol For Another Christmas

“April Fools” is a fun episode of a classic series and I believe it’ll be something I watch around April Fool’s Day every year from now on.

J.A. Morris’ rating:

.53 and a half April Fool’s Day whoopee cushions.

RigbyMel says: 
I’ve definitely watched a few M*A*S*H reruns in my time and was delighted to learn of this prank-filled April Fool’s Day episode.   

One of the basic tenants of the M*A*S*H series is that the medical team uses pranks and humor as a way to cope with the horrors of war, and this episode uses April Fools Day as a means to crank up the stakes a bit in this instance – I found myself genuinely worried that our heroes would be facing court martial and jail for taking on a spit and polish stickler for the rules like Col. Tucker.  

Here we see Klinger literally clinging to Col. Tucker in his Cleopatra get-up (said costume is likely inspired by the 1934 film Cleopatra, which starred Claudette Colbert) 

Some of the pranks on offer in this episode are truly impressive.  For instance, one wonders how Hawkeye et al succeeded in absconding with Maj. Houlihan’s tent undetected. 

In point of fact, the folks of the 4077th draw the festivities out over a couple of days which is NOT traditional in terms of April Fool’s Day celebrations.  But in a war situation, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay sane, I guess.  

Seeing the gang try to one up each other feels very “on brand” for the show and the April Fools milieu makes for an extra funny episode of a great TV series thanks to the ensemble cast’s comedic timing and skill.  

Like J.A. Morris, I rather suspect this will become regular springtime viewing.

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