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The iconic show finally arrives in its entirety on DVD, but the results are mixed....
Star Vista / 3553 Minutes / 1988-1991 / Unrated / Street Date: April 16, 2013
China Beachwas ahead of its time. Watching the entire series on this expensive but certainly worthy TV-on-DVD box set, it’s difficult to get past the antiquated look of the thing, but one inevitably does, falling deep into the caverns of the show’s rich and provocative narrative dimensions. It stays within the confines of late 80s/early 90s TV, of course, but China Beach looks the audacity of its subject matter squarely in the eye – as a four-season drama, it always stays true to itself.
The show shrugs off its ‘M*A*S*H for Women’ expectations early on – China Beach juggles questions of life during wartime just as much as Alan Alda’s show did, but there’s a depth here that many war-themed series never plumb. We see doctors, nurses, and civilians dealing with the travails of war, we’re presented with their return home, we get uniquely aggressive presentations of inner monologues: China Beach takes aim at the Vietnam experience with a decidedly kaleidoscopic perspective, leaving no stone unturned in its assessment of the time and place at hand within its melodrama.
The only major detriment to a compilation like this one is its lack of technical prowess. Tons of TV shows don’t get an appropriate amount of TLC when it comes to preservation, but China Beach truly looks crappy here (there are even pre-emptive warnings about this at the beginning of every disc included). So while a definitive presentation of the show might still be a ways off, this is nevertheless rapturously engaging television: China Beach: The Complete Series is audacious, bold, unflinching television, and even with unremarkable presence on DVD, it’s a force to be reckoned with.