While this might seem a made-up word, it isn’t: it is a subgenre in which drama and comedy are intertwined in order to create something new, in the lines of tragicomedies. It is particularly a television subgenre, which can be seen especially in long-running shows.
And M.A.S.H. falls exactly between these lines. And it is very hard to just call it a comedy or just a drama, especially since these two take each other’s places quite swiftly, letting you wonder if it is all for real (the best and most memorable example is the one with the chicken and the child from the last episode).
And it couldn’t be any other way, since the setting was the one of a war. Which prompts me to think that the comedy (or the humor) was not just for our own delight, but it was a way of coping with all the horrors: never again, in a television series, have I seen humor described as a defense mechanism in such an organic manner.
It falls right into place. It isn’t forced, even if at times we, the viewers, might think about it this way. It comes naturally. The best examples come even in the first episodes, in which we see Hawkeye and Trapper acting like some incompetent frat boys.
But they are not incompetent. They are actually indispensable pawns which make the war machine go on and on. And, rather than unknowingly, they realize that they do have their place in the grander scheme of things: while Hawkeye says that almost everybody is innocent during a time of war, I cannot help but think that it is exactly the opposite (again, the chicken – child example fits best this statement).
And it is a tragedy, knowing that you are one of those that perpetuates (in a way) the war. The same men that you heal today will be the ones that will kill tomorrow. Your intentions, as a surgeon, count only for you as an individual. But they don’t have any impact on the grander scheme of things.
In other words, you cannot change the way things are. And so the humor is just a way in which you can say that you do not agree with the natural order of things.
Humor is just a cheating card, a means of fooling yourself that everything is/will be OK, one way or another (I may have played a bit with the lyrics, but still I did the way I pleased).