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‘68 Whiskey’ Strives to Be ‘M*A*S*H’ for the 21st Century

From its debut on September 17, 1972, until its farewell episode on February 28, 1983, M*A*S*H was arguably the gold standard for sitcoms. The show garnered more than 100 Emmy nominations during its run and its finale was, at the time, the most-watched show in TV history, with more than 125 million viewers tuning in. Set in the Korean War, the show was a nakedly angry indictment of the Vietnam War that was raging at the time. M*A*S*H depicted American soldiers at a surgical hospital dealing with the ravages of war by self-medicating with a hearty dose of sex and homemade booze. What kind of lunatics would try to fill those shoes?

Producers Ron “Opie Cunningham” Howard and Brian Glazer have teamed up to deliver 68 Whiskey, a show which wears its M*A*S*H-inspired ambitions on its sleeve, right down to the asterisk between the 68 and the Whiskey in its logo, and the opening shot of a shelf of medical supplies rocking under the weight of some stress-busting coitus. Created by Roberto Benabib (a former writer on Weeds) and based on the Israeli drama Charlie Golf One, 68 Whiskey is an hour-long dramedy that takes its name from 68W, the U.S. Army’s code for combat medics.

Set in Afghanistan, the story is centered on the exploits of medic Cooper Roback (Sam Keeley). He’s handsome, charming, horny, scheming, not above sampling the local hash, and possesses a certain moral flexibility….but at least he’s got a heart of gold. Roback also has a dark secret that’s only hinted at in the pilot, but is sure to become an issue in short order. Riding shotgun with him is Staff Sergeant Mekhi Davis (Jeremy Tardy of Dear White People), a young man from Chicago who shares Roback’s love of a good hustle, but appears to be a bit more restrained in his other appetites.

The primary object of Roback’s affections is Grace Durkin (Red Oaks alum Gage Golightly), a pretty blonde who, for reasons that are not quite clear, is desperate for cash. To that end, she has leveraged her romantic relationship with Sasquatch — a hulking mass of soldier — into a side job as a social media model who poses in swimwear while holding grenade launchers and other weapons. She can be, as Roback notes, rather “transactional.”

Like its predecessor, 68 Whiskey offers an unflinching look at the bloody reality of war and the strain it puts on the people doing everything in their power to keep their fellow soldiers alive. Blood flows freely on 68 Whiskey, and when too much blood flows, alcohol can sometimes follow suit. In addition to being every bit as “red” as M*A*S*H, 68 Whiskey is much more blue. The sex itself is still fairly chaste (certainly by today’s standards), but the talk is much more frank and F-bombs flow freely. That may be very different from M*A*S*H, but on the whole, 68 Whiskey suggests that, for better or worse, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

68 Whiskey debuts Wednesday, January 15, at 10pm ET on the Paramount Network