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Headsup: China Beach on DVD. Yes, All of It.

China Beach cast with surfboard

I’m not sure what your relationship to the series China Beach is, but mine’s pretty simple: I had never seen it before. Oh, I was aware of it. I even knew Dana Delany had gotten her career started in the show. But it began at the end of my high school days and I had already drifted away from being able to spend lots of time watching television, so I just never had the opportunity to check it out. Thus in my head it was simply “MASH, but in Vietnam and with a focus on nurses.”

Cut to today and we’ve got the whole damn thing having hit from Time-Life on DVD (the same people who hoisted that tremendous Carol Burnett boxed set into the market recently, yes) and it’s a lot easier to take in and appreciate the thing when viewed in its entirety. Most impressively, as time went on…well, time went on. Whereas MASH lasted a helluva lot longer than the war that served as its backdrop, China Beach let time pass and its characters go home. Then it followed what happened after they got there, including the role of PTSD for those that did. Hell, it even visited the Vietnam War Memorial. Pretty intense stuff. Being a MASH fan, I can say with some embarrassment that speaking on that fandom…we just got AfterMASH. So.

[ad#longpost]But back to the boxed set. This is actually an excellent time to circle back and catch the show because we are, after all, in the era of “binge watching,” yes? One could probably knock out the series in a week or serious binging and get the full effect. And by “full effect,” I mean the show as it was originally broadcast, including damn near all of the music. 268 songs, in fact. I’ve never quite understood the need to have every single song as they originally appeared (normally this is impossible due to licensing issues–no doubt a lot of the holdup with this hitting)–I know some sequences are memorable because of the musical backdrop and such–but for those that require that, here you go.

And that’s not everything. And well, of course not. You get a cast reunion, a featurette about the shows beginnings, interviews with practically everybody, multiple retrospectives, and roundtable discussions with the creators. There are also commentary tracks for both the opening and closing episodes. As for tangible bonus bits, there are some China Beach dog tags plus a booklet containing images, bios, transcripts and more.

If there’s one thing that might throw a modern viewer is that there’s been no restoration attempted at the video in this series. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that after snagging the rights to 268 songs, the cost of doing a restoration might have just put the price tag through the roof…especially if the materials needed to do it right simply aren’t available. I believe we’re talking about another example of a show that was created without any idea that people would want to own the whole damn thing twenty-five years later. And VHS tapes had only started to go down from “rental prices” around the time of the show, right? (Something like that.) Perhaps eventually you’ll get some sort of restored best-of set that hits key episodes, and it’ll start there. Though knowing fans, somebody is already working on that in their basement right now.

China Beach: The Complete Series on DVD from Time-Life

For those who are the show’s hardcore, be aware that in addition to the boxed set as I’ve described to you (which at $199.95 gives you a price point of around $3.25 an episode–not too far from what you might be used to paying for an HBO show or the like–in other words, not too shabby), there’s also a Limited Edition 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition that also comes with three commemorative scripts (the pilot, “Vets” and the series finale) plus five 8×10 photos of the cast. That one clocks in at $274.95.

Is it everything the fan will want? Probably not, especially considering the video quality. But seeing as how it’s been a long time coming, fans will appreciate just getting to see this again in a format that’s not a well-worn VHS tape. And while the video quality doesn’t hold up, the show certainly seems to–it seems slightly ahead of its time for tackling the issues it did and doing so without slipping into the gravitas well but remaining dignified yet also entertaining. Recommended for fans or if you can borrow a copy from a fan, you would do well to sample it and see for yourself.

For all the information, check out the Time-Life site here.