1 9 8 8 – 1 9 9 1 (USA)
This Vietnam war series with a difference first aired on 26 April 1988 on ABC.
Set in a hard-pressed US Army field hospital during the Vietnam war, China Beach was a sort-of updated M*A*S*H without the laughs.
The ‘China Beach’ of the title was a combination evacuation and USO (United Service Organisations – a non-profit group that provides programmes, services and live entertainment to United States troops) entertainment centre located near the large US military base at Da Nang.
Most of the episodes centred on Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy (the delicious Dana Delany, pictured at right), the wilful head nurse who had affairs with several men at the centre, but who was in love with a married man, Dr Dick Richard (Robert Picardo).
Other regular characters included ambitious USO singer Laurette Barber (Chloe Webb), Red Cross worker Cherry White (Nan Woods) who was killed during the Tet offensive, officious Major Lila Garreau (Concetta Tomei) who married Sgt Pepper (seriously) from the motor pool, and Holly the Donut Dolly (Ricki Lake).
Taking advantage of the USO aspect of the show, guest stars sometimes performed on the series.
In its final season, the show took a considerable leap and followed the characters into their post-war lives, reconstructing key events at China Beach – and the end of the war itself – through flashbacks.
In an especially melodramatic plot, the show’s narrative was controlled by the investigative efforts of KC’s dispossessed baby, now a film student whose handheld video camera (an instrument of 1980s culture) became the show’s eye as she interviewed her mother’s acquaintances in an attempt to find where KC had gone.
In this season, the original ensemble had dispersed geographically, historically, and socially. Their separation placed the characters, sometimes disconcertingly and tragically, in situations which seemed approachably contemporary with the viewing audience. Screen time became equally divided between fictive “past” and “present,” making the entire narration an uprooted historical rumination.
The series wisely took a popular, strongly anti-war stand.
Lt Colleen McMurphy
Dr Dick Richard
Major Lila Garreau
Karen Colleen ‘KC’ Kolanski
Pvt Frankie Bunsen
Wayloo Marie Holmes
Sgt Bartholomew Pepper
Derek De Lint