Of all the classic sitcoms that had viewers glued to their tiny, possibly black-and-white TV screens many decades ago, few – if any – hold up quite as well as M*A*S*H does. It had the same premise as the 1970 war/dramedy film of the same name, though softened up some of the edge that was apparent in that film, making the characters a little more kind-hearted while also leaning further towards emotional drama as the series went on, and the comedy became less goofy.
The main thing was, when M*A*S*H was trying to be funny, it usually was, and when it wanted to get a little more serious, it was also undoubtedly effective. The TV show’s also notable for having a great cast of characters, with a total of 11 being in the main cast at some point during the show’s 11-season run. All those main characters are great in their own ways, but aren’t all equally lovable, with the characters ranked below, roughly from least to most likable overall.
11. Major Frank Burns
A main character for the first five seasons of M*A*S*H, Frank Burns was undeniably effective as a rather cartoonish and incompetent antagonist. He had very few redeeming qualities, and as such, was often the butt of numerous jokes and pranks performed by others who worked at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.
That’s to say he was an effective target, and played the role he needed to in the show, but no one’s ever going to call him likable. The ordering of M*A*S*H’s other main characters, when assessing their likability, could well be debated, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d put Frank Burns in any position but last place.
10. “Trapper” John McIntyre
The extent to which you like John McIntyre (usually called Trapper John) might depend on whether you prefer the sillier, earlier seasons of M*A*S*H, or the later, somewhat more serious ones. Trapper John only stuck around for the first three seasons, leaving quite suddenly between the events of season 3’s finale and season 4’s opening episode, primarily because Wayne Rogers wasn’t happy with how Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye, had effectively become the show’s protagonist.
Trapper John (who was also played by Elliot Gould in the film version) was more or less a sidekick to Hawkeye, and not a particularly well fleshed-out or lovable character. He could cause chaos and anarchy as well as Hawkeye, meaning those who like the earlier, rowdier M*A*S*H episodes might well view him more favorably, but judging the show overall, Trapper John never really got the chance to shine or become as endearing as many of the other characters on the show.
9. Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy
From this point onwards, ranking M*A*S*H characters by likability gets difficult. Frank Burns is an easy pick for the bottom spot, and Trapper John – somewhat like Frank – left the show too early to get any genuine character development. After all, with the more serious tone of the show’s later seasons came a sense of deepening various main characters, in turn making them more complex/human.
Enter Father Mulcahy, who’s notable for being one of just four cast members who appeared in every single season of the show (he was a part of the main cast from season 5 onwards). He’s fine. He’s alright. He’s not hateable, he’s just not particularly lovable, and perhaps not as reliable a source of comedy/entertainment value as various other more endearing characters. But as a morally upstanding man and a U.S. Army chaplain, he serves his purpose within the cast and serves it well. He may be ranked low, but that’s more to do with other characters standing out more, rather than he himself being a flawed or unlikable individual.
8. Charles Emerson Winchester III
When Frank Burns was written out of M*A*S*H at the end of its fifth season, there was every opportunity to replace him with a very similar character, in effect potentially recasting original actor Larry Linville with someone new. Thankfully, the writers behind M*A*S*H didn’t do that, and effectively introduced the new and improved Frank 2.0: Charles Emerson Winchester III.
Winchester remains part of the main cast from season 6 until the finale, and though he clashes with Hawkeye and the others like Burns before him, such clashes are less frequent, and Winchester is genuinely intelligent, thorough, competent, and – beneath his sometimes cold exterior – good-hearted. He’s a flawed but continually interesting character, and given his positive qualities shine through more and more as his time on the show goes on, it’s easy to view him as surprisingly likable by M*A*S*H’s end.
7. Captain B.J. Hunnicutt
In a nutshell, B.J. Hunnicutt filled in the hole left by Trapper John’s departure at the end of season 3. At the start of season 4, Hunnicutt was quite literally the doctor sent in to replace the position held by Hawkeye’s previous closest friend, with B.J. also quite quickly becoming Hawkeye’s new closest friend, occupying that position once held by Trapper John, too.
Overall, he’s a more endearing character, too, being a little more grounded and disciplined than Hawkeye’s previous friend, though still able to engage in a bit of chicanery when the occasion called for it. He’s an overall strong supporting character, with his introduction helping to signify M*A*S*H’s turn towards having slightly more relatable and realistic characters in its later seasons.
6. Sherman T. Potter
Events that transpired in the final episode of M*A*S*H’s third season required the need for a new Commanding Officer for the 4077th, with such a role being filled by Colonel Sherman T. Potter. Compared to the Commanding Officer before him, Potter was generally less relaxed and emphasized discipline more, but never in a way that felt cruel or unfair.
As such, Potter represents one of the few authority figures in M*A*S*H who proved generally likable, and therefore didn’t clash too often with the more rebellious, anti-authority characters on the show (principally, M*A*S*H’s protagonist, Hawkeye). The CO from season 4 to season 11, Colonel Potter was an all-around decent guy, and a strong leader for the sometimes rebellious, though ultimately well-meaning doctors/staff under his command.
5. Maxwell Q. Klinger
Maxwell Klinger originally appeared once in M*A*S*H’s first season, and then ended up being a recurring character throughout the show’s second and third seasons before becoming a member of its main cast from season 4 onwards. This makes Klinger one of the few characters to appear in every single season of the show, and as a character, he grew tremendously in that time.
Klinger was something of a one-note character early on, mostly defined by the way he frequently attempted to get a psychiatric discharge from the Army through unusual stunts designed to prove his “insanity.” These became less frequent as the seasons went on, with Klinger maturing and accepting his place within the Army, going from a funny yet somewhat simple character to someone who felt like a genuine and compassionate person in the show’s back half.
4. Lt. Colonel Henry Blake
Before Colonel Sherman T. Potter, the Commanding Officer of the 4077th was Lt. Colonel Henry Blake. It should be said right from the get-go that Blake was not as strong a leader as Potter was, by any means, but his relaxed attitude and willingness to let Hawkeye and his friends wreak havoc did make him very endearing.
Henry Blake was sort of like a cool relief teacher who doesn’t mind what the students get up to, letting those below him run wild but all the while still being a decent guy, and willing to get serious when the situation really called for it. The endearing nature of his character becomes even more apparent after his tragic exit from the show at the end of season 3 – it always seems to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
3. Margaret Houlihan
For all the ways M*A*S*H has aged well, one way in which it hasn’t is the fact that of all its main characters, only one was female. It was a male-centered show, with most of the female characters (generally nurses) being recurring characters at best, and usually just background characters… with the exception of Margaret Houlihan, that is.
Had M*A*S*H only lasted a few seasons, it’s safe to assume Houlihan would be at a similar level of likability as Frank Burns, given she was generally opposed to M*A*S*H’s more lovable characters early on, and could be a bit cold. But as the show went on, she gradually grew and became warmer as a person, emerging by the show’s end as one of its most endearing characters. She’s the only character besides Hawkeye to be a main character in all 11 seasons of the show, with this sizable amount of screen time allowing her to grow and become more likable as the seasons went on, arguably being a fan favorite by the time it ended.
2. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly
Standing out as the only main character of M*A*S*H played by the same actor in both the 1970 movie and the TV series, Gary Burghoff’s “Radar” O’Reilly is easily one of M*A*S*H’s best characters. He’s a part of the main cast for the first seven seasons, ultimately leaving the show near the beginning of season 8, with his position being filled in by Klinger.
That position was the Company Clerk, with Radar being a loyal assistant of sorts first for Henry Blake, and later for Sherman T. Potter. He’s naive and innocent, but also incredibly competent and knowledgeable at the same time, having an endearing personality while also being a vital/useful member of the team at the show’s center. He’s certainly lovable enough that his presence is sorely missed, once Burghoff elected to leave the show.
1. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce
Though Donald Sutherland made for a good original Hawkeye, it was ultimately Alan Alda who made the character his own. M*A*S*H as a TV show may have started out as one with an ensemble cast, but Alda’s character did ultimately feel more protagonist-worthy as the show went on, with Hawkeye eventually becoming the show’s clear main character – indeed, Alda is the only actor who appears in every single episode of M*A*S*H.
Hawkeye’s complex, endearing, and sympathetic, though sometimes can lash out or antagonize others in a way that feels deeply human, and usually understandable. By no means is he a perfect person, but his flaws enhance his character, and make him more compelling, rather than acting to make him less likable. He’s the perfect protagonist for a classic sitcom that itself could sometimes be near-perfect, and as such, it’s pretty easy to call him M*A*S*H’s best/most likable main character.