It’s been so long since I’ve seen an episode of China Beach (thank you whomever is responsible for making TV series into DVDs for being so lame) that when I found the pilot on YouTube today, I was all verklempt. I have signed up at Amazon to be alerted if a DVD ever appears for sale; I think I signed up over ten years ago.
I remember when I caught my first glimpse of China Beach. I was in college at Brigham Young University. I was at the apartment of people I didn’t know well; I don’t remember why. The people watching the show were excited because Brian Wimmer, who played Boone, was Mormon. I didn’t start watching the show in earnest until later when I caught the episodes in great succession on Lifetime.
What I most remember about China Beach was liking Marg Helgenberger’s character K.C., the prostitute, better than I liked Dana Delany’s goody-two-shoes, self-righteous nurse Colleen McMurphy. Of course, the two formed an uneasy friendship over the course of the show, primarily due to having to rescue the same set of friends over and over again. Wimmer’s Boone was likable because of his innocent romance with Ricki Lake’s overweight character, Red Cross volunteer Holly Pelegrino.
Apart from covering the Vietnam War (or any war) primarily from a female point of view, the show was innovative because it showed what happened to the characters after they came home from the war. Boone was missing a leg. K.C. had given a child up for adoption and gotten her daughter out of Vietnam. McMurphy developed a drinking problem due to post-traumatic stress. The bleakness and tragic misery of Vietnam Vets’ experience was made vividly real by these characters in a way that had never before been explored.
Oh, let’s be real: The show was campy and about as soapy as it gets, too. That was part of what I loved about it: It was messy. Despite it’s camp, it was gritty. It was also real. It was a standout series from the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s a shame it’s not available on DVD. Now, Helgenberger is on CSI; Delany is on Desperate Housewives; and Ricki Lake is best remembered for slimming down and getting a talk show.
I will always remember listening to the opening song, “Reflections,” by Diana Ross and watching their youthful beginning on a beach in Vietnam.