Before there was a Sam and Diane, there was a Hawkeye and Mendenhall. Years before she would get her big break on Cheers, Shelly Long had a one-episode arc on M*A*S*H where she goes on an ill-fated date with Alan Alda’s character.
The episode is called “Bottle Fatigue,” and it’s a fairly common late-season M*A*S*H episode that blends comedy and tragedy. After a night of drinking, Hawkeye racks up a massive bar tab and decides he’s going to quit drinking for a week to prove he can do it. No one believes he’ll be able to make it. But he is determined to give up the bottle, at least temporarily, according to the episode recap.
And as anyone who’s had a friend make a life change or go on a Keto diet, they won’t shut up about it. In fact, he drives the rest of the unit crazy with his sanctimonious and over-the-top lectures on alcohol. He nitpicks all of their drinking habits and scolds them for overindulging.
That’s how he ruins his date with Shelly Long’s character, nurse Lt. Mendenhall. He insults her drinking habits while they’re in the supply closet. So Mendenhall storms out, but not before getting in a parting shot at Hawkeye.
“If I would have known that I was going to receive a temperance lecture, I would have made a date with someone more fun… like a cadaver!” she tells him. It’s her parting line from M*A*S*H as well.
The episode culminates in a terrifying incident in the operating room. A medical chopper brings in an injured North Korean POW for emergency surgery, but he somehow smuggled in a grenade. He pulls the pin, but Hawkeye holds the man’s hands together so that the spoon can’t release, keeping the grenade from exploding. Father Mulcahy saves the day by finding the pin on the ground and putting it back in the grenade.
Later in the bar, everyone buys a round for the priest for his bravery and courage. Hawkeye decides to give in and have a drink to calm himself. But after realizing that he’s only drinking to cope with the savagery of war, he sits it back on the bar.
“I’ll be back when I want it, not when I need it,” he says and walks out.
Shelly Long Used ‘M*A*S*H’ as Springboard
It didn’t take long for Shelly Long to find fame after her one-episode appearance on M*A*S*H. She joined the cast of Cheers two years later. She then became part of the biggest will-they, won’t-they relationships in TV history.
The chemistry and writing around the relationship of Sam Malone and Diane Chambers is one for the ages. And shows are still trying to capture that magic 40 years later.