‘McHale’s Navy’ made military life fun

Chances are, we won’t be seeing a sitcom on the wacky adventures of a misfit troop of Marines in Baghdad in the next 20 years. Methinks that spin won’t be in — then or at any future time. Yet in the early 1960s — less than 20 years after World War II — TV used the military for hilarity in McHale’s Navy, a show which ran for four seasons and 138 b&w episodes until it ran aground.

Shout Factory has just issued its third season, and the final one set in the South Pacific. In Season Four, the PT 73 crew shifted to Europe — specifically, Italy — for its fade-out. But the show worked better in tropical South Pacificterritory, as skipper McHale (Ernest Borgnine), Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) and a motley group of party-boys and schemers idled away much of the war playing cards or playing tricks on stuffy Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) while rarely enduring combat.  Hogan’s Heroes would tweak the formula soon after, with fun-loving Americans in a hapless German POW camp, just as MASH would tweak it not long after that — on the big screen, then the small — with the Korean War as a backdrop.

While much of the mischievous military mayhem stays the same, McHale’s NavySeason Three has some notable new guest stars, including Raquel Welch, Marlo Thomas and Yvonne Craig, who drew a year’s worth of leers. The five-disc set has no extras, unlike Season One, which has a cast reunion, and Season Two, which has a Borgnine/Conway interview. What it does have is innocent fun from a time when TV was often a refuge from receding wartime, not a grim reminder of its tragedies.

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