Follow TV Tropes


Series / McHale's Navy

Go To

McHale's Navy is an American sitcom that aired for four seasons (196266) on ABC, following the exploits of a Navy PT boat crew during World War II. Ernest Borgnine starred as Lt. Commander Quinton McHale, with Tim Conway as Ensign Charles Parker, Joe Flynn as Capt. Wallace B. Binghamton, and Bob Hastings as Lt. Elroy Carpenter.

The series led to two feature films, McHale's Navy (1964) and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), and a Distaff Counterpart spinoff series, Broadside (1964, one season).

A new McHale's Navy movie was released in 1997, starring Tom Arnold as Quinton McHale Jr.

The series provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Job Change: Christy is the quartermaster in the main series but the radioman in the original pilot.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Christy marries his girlfriend the night before she's transferred off base and a few episodes later its established that they're going to have a baby. Did they get married because she was pregnant or did they just get married because she was being sent away, with their daughter being conceived the one night they had together?
  • Armed Farces: It's about a wartime Navy crew that would really prefer to party and smuggle things.
  • Batman Gambit: When one of McHale's crew gets caught trying to use Binghamton's brand new printing press, McHale has the right to see his crewman go through a fair trial as per military regulations. Binghamton admits this is how it must be done, and assigns Ensign Parker as counsel, knowing full well that Parker's stupidity would do nothing to help defend the crewman.
  • Big "WHY?!": A Catchphrase for Captain Binghamton on McHale's Navy — "Why me?!? Why is it always, me?!?"
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: For all their wacky hijinks, one of the most common ways for McHale and his crew to get out of trouble is by having some sort of combat success.
  • Butt-Monkey: Binghamton. Even Carpenter is more competent and lucky than he is.
  • Catchphrase: "Why me?!? Why is it always me?!?" Capt Binghamton bemoaning his fate as Butt-Monkey as his latest scheme to get rid of McHale and his men fails.
    • "I could just scream." is said at the end of a multitude of episodes. Usually by Binghamton, though other characters have said it as well.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • It's never stated how and why Gunner's Mate Happy Haines departed the show.
    • Admiral Reynolds, the first Reasonable Authority Figure of the series vanishes after the beginning of season one, after which the role is filled by the even more reasonable Admiral Rogers.
    • Parker's love interest, Yvette Gerard, daughter of a plantation owner, especially given the implications that she wanted to see more of him at the end of their episode.
    • Orvis, a new crewmember in the season 3 finale, doesn't reappear in season four.
  • Cool Boat: The PT-73 (which was actually a British Vosper Torpedo boat), a fast, well-armed patrol boat which constantly manages to outmaneuver and sink far larger, better-armed ships and is often outfitted for the crew's partying.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Relatively minor, but the reason that Binghamton is so paranoid about the admiral finding out about his real wife in one episode is because in the 1940's, it was a crime under American law for a married person to engage in adultery, and it was certainly grounds for removal from a job.
  • Disguised in Drag:
    • One episode involves Binghamton tagging along with the crew of the PT 73, and getting Trapped Behind Enemy Lines in a Japanese encampment. In order to disguise themselves long enough to be rescued, they steal outfits from a traveling entertainment troupe. Binghamton has no choice but to dress up and act like a geisha.
    • Multiple episodes features Tinker dressing as a nurse or island native girl to serve as a distraction.
    • Mr. Parker has also frequently donned female disguises; he has pretended to be a nurse in both the show proper and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force, impersonated a Sultan's daughter in season 3, and donned disguises as an Italian civilian, a member of the Women's Army Corps, and an out-of-town Contessa in season 4.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Shy gentleman Parker sometimes falls victim for attractive women's bold pawing advances in a few episodes, the most egregious example occurring in "The Happy Sleepwalker", where a nurse played by Sheila James Kuehlnote  forces him to kiss her repeatedly despite his protests.
  • During the War: The series is a sitcom where the war is often just a backdrop for the crew's antics, but does make its presence felt in several episodes.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In several episodes of season one, especially early on, Binghamton is more of a hard-nosed professional who McHale doesn't really hate and who can quickly grasp useful military information when he hears it (Like in "Movies Are your Best Diversion"), and is willing to sacrifice chances to put away McHale if it would cost him his own prestige. This is most notable in "McHale's Paradise Motel", when Binghamton finally has irrefutable evidence to put away the PT-73 crew. McHale doesn't try to fight and says if anyone had to get him, he's glad it was Binghamton (and at the end of the episode, when Binghamton doesn't even try to hog the credit for their Accidental Hero moment and still arrest McHale).
  • Embarrassing Cover Up: In one episode, Binghamton contacts Admiral Rogers about replacing McHale, only to discover that the man he was going to replace McHale with is a lying crook who just conned him out of Naval supplies. When Admiral Rogers arrives, he's ranting about the previous places the conmen had struck and how he's demoted the commanding officers the guy bamboozled. As Binghamton gapes in terror, Rogers asks who he wanted to replace McHale with and Binghamton quickly names his assistant Carpenter, who is completely unqualified for the job, something that Rogers is aware of, causing him to berate Binghamton for wasting his time with such a stupid idea.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In "The Monster of McHale's Island" When a visiting admiral's son turns out to be a Bratty Half-Pint obsessed with finding breaches of regulations and reporting them to his father, Carpenter points out (almost dejectedly) that if not for Binghamton's airstrip giving his damaged plane a place to land, the boy would have ended up in the stomach of a barracuda. Binghamton angrily says he wouldn't wish the admiral's son on "a poor defenseless barracuda," and he wouldn't even wish him on his worst enemy. Then he pauses, and ponders that "worst enemy" part, changes his mind and sends the kid to stay at McHale's Island until his plane is fixed to harass the '73 crew.
    Binghamton: Come to think of it, why wouldn't I?
  • A Father to His Men: McHale spends his free time hanging out with his crew and will do anything to protect them. This is even more pronounced in the Alternate Continuity pilot, where he is the commander of a naval base that was almost wiped out in an air raid. After refusing to engage with an enemy ship, McHale says that he isn't afraid of dying, but of surviving to stand over the grave of yet another one of his men after losing so many already.
  • Genre Savvy: McHale often figures out when Binghamton or one-time antagonists might be up to something and what it is.
  • Hanging Our Clothes to Dry: One episode has Binghamton and Parker taking a survival test on a deserted island. They get soaked on the way to shore so after they get a fire started, Parker hangs their clothes to dry. Unfortunately, since this is Parker, he just burns the clothes.
  • Hollywood Natives: Urulu and his people are often friendly and helpful, but also have genuine grievances. Truth in Television in episode 7 when Urulu demands compensation for the destruction of his island's coconut trees. This happened on several islands during the war in the Pacific. The Americans tried to replant the trees, without much success.
  • The Idiot from Osaka: When McHale, Binghamton, and the crew infiltrate a Japanese encampment dressed as a traveling entertainment troupe, one of the Japanese soldiers in the audience comments to another on how poor McHale's accent was as he spoke to them in Japanese. Another soldier comments back that he must be from Osaka.
  • Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras: One episode has McHale and his crew trying to capture a toucan bird who was keeping the whole base awake at night by screaming like a kookaburra. They never manage to capture or kill it, but they did manage to drive it over from their island to right outside Captain Binghamton's office window.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: McHale and his men would find themselves at risk of being court-martialed a lot less often if they'd transfer the greedy and conniving Torpedoman's Mate Lester Gruber to a different boat.
  • Kavorka Man: Downplayed with Ensign Parker, who isn't particularly attractive physically and a complete dork personality-wise, but out of the main cast has the largest number of on-screen Love Interests, and has a romance subplot in both the 1967 film and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Whenever there's a mission, it inevitably gets assigned to McHale and his men. Interestingly, Captain Binghamton actually tries to assign plenty of missions to anyone besides McHale and his crew. Unfortunately for him, the other captains are invariably busy on other missions, get sabotaged by McHale's men when the mission is something they want (like a bond selling tour back in America), or are dismissed by Binghamton's bosses when they specifically want McHale for a job.
  • Military Brat: Ensign Parker, a hopeless schlub from an illustrious military family, who is nevertheless bound and determined to somehow carry on his family's tradition of service.
  • Military Maverick: The crew of the PT 73 are often the cause of the problem of the episode, and McHale won't hesitate to chew them out when this is the case.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Torpedoman Lester Gruber is usually the cause for all the problems for McHale and the crew of the PT 73, by coming up with well-intentioned schemes to make some money. He'd always be trying to pawn off "authentic wartime memorabilia" like "Authentic Japanese Katanas" (Made in China), or the "actual wing" from a Japanese Zero. He's told time and again that war profiteering will get them all court-martialed, but he and the other crewmen can't help themselves if it'll mean living the easy life and slacking off.
  • Not So Above It All: While normally a Sycophantic Servant, in one episode, Carpenter, possibly drunkenly, does tell a new man about Binghamton's Embarrassing Nickname Old Leadbottom, which, given the nature of the series, turns out to be a case of Right Behind Me, that gets Carpenter in hot water.
  • Not What It Looks Like: In one episode, where Binghamton's wife visits the base, Binghamton and Nurse Susie Clayton are arguing about a show that Binghamton had authorized, but he considers scrapping it when his wife manages to get Admiral Rogers to visit the base. During the argument, the admiral approaches, and Binghamton, desperate to avoid being caught, tries to hide Susie, when they fall back onto the couch in a suggestive position. Binghamton is in his pajamas and house coat and Susie is wearing a revealing dress. Admiral Rogers walks in, and seeing the position the two are in, assumes that Susie is Binghamton's wife. The rest of the episode involves McHale trying to keep Binghamton's real wife or Admiral Rogers from finding out about the mistake.
  • Oh, Crap!: Binghamton gets about one every episode. McHale too, although unlike Binghamton he usually manages to land on his feet.
  • Pet Heir: Downplayed in McHale and his Jet Set. Parker's aunt only leaves her pet canary $1,000 out of her million-dollar estate, but that's still more than Ensign Parker gets.
  • Pilot: The McHale character was first introduced in "Seven Against the Sea", an episode of the Genre Anthology series Alcoa Premiere. One of the odder examples, as the pilot was a heavy drama!
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Tim Conway and Joe Flynn appear in the show's opening from season 2 onward.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Sub-Lieutenant Clivedon, the scion of a British Naval family who is temporarily assigned to the PT-73 but ultimately proves to be even more of a dim-witted klutz than Parker.
  • Retool: In its final season, the series moved from the Pacific theater to Italy.
  • Sadistic Choice: One early episode has Binghamton finally getting the goods on McHale for running an illegal hotel, only to inadvertently foil an enemy attack in the process, with the top brass thinking it was all a cunning, pre-meditated strike. Binghamton tells McHale that he has a choice between court-martialing McHale with the evidence he has and revealing what really happened, or accepting the glowing commendation for the victory from Fleet Headquarters; he reluctantly chooses the later. Later episodes almost invariably have him trying to do both whenever in a similar situation, only to end up with neither.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!
    • Admiral Rogers and some of the other brass hold McHale in high regard and will take his side, or at least sympathize with him. One episode ended with Admiral Rogers walking in while Binghamton had irrefutable proof that would get McHale court-martialed. Rogers, upon hearing such accusations, just straight up dismisses the issue and chews out Binghamton for trying to get rid of one of his finest commanders. In another episode, Binghamton figures he can get rid of the crew for good, figuring there'd be no way the whole crew could pass a psychological test, and thus be rendered unfit for duty. Sure enough, Ensign Parker fails his test, but the psychologists sympathize with McHale, and find a way to turn the rules against Binghamton. In the end, they conclude that Binghamton has developed a persecution complex for always trying to get rid of McHale.
    • Binghamton similarly admits in a season 3 episode that the reason he became a captain was because his wife has a cousin working in the Pentagon.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Most of the episodes feature McHale and co spending their time goofing off, with them occasionally managing to contribute to the war effort by accident.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: In one of the Italian episodes, Mayor Lugatto swears that there is no dishonest scheming to his plans to rebuild the decrepit opera house, proclaiming that if he's lying "May I be struck from above." Mere seconds later, a piece of plaster comes loose from the ceiling and falls on his head.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: There are a few times where Binghamton is actually quite close to success, and McHale can do nothing to stop him, but something always happens to rob him of his victory and embarrass him to the admiralty.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Captain Binghamton is this to McHale and his crew, constantly trying to get them transferred or court-martialed for their hijinks.
    • Season 4 introduces Colonel Harrigan, an Army officer and Binghamton's superior on the Italian theatre, whom he often gets into petty disagreements with.
  • Status Quo Is God: Almost every episode involves Captain Binghamton uncovering something that will get the crew of the PT 73 court-martialed and out of his hair for good, but things always play out so, at the least, his plans usually end up backfiring against him. Many times, McHale gets commended by the higher ups for exemplary performance and brilliant planning. Furthermore, anytime Binghamton really screws up, he always manages to stay as a captain, albeit not without undergoing severe humiliation.
  • Welcome Episode: The pilot has Capt Binghamton assign Nave Newcomer Ensign Charles Parker the job of making McHale's men behave the military way.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The naval base is located on the island of Taratupa in the South Pacific. Even before the 4th season started to focus on Italy, it's mentioned that the city of New Caledonia is only a reasonably short travel away from the island. Once the 4th season changed focus to Italy, there was still the glaring issue of all the tropical palm trees scattered around the set of the show itself, since it was filmed in Hawaii.

The contemporary spin-off films provide examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: In the second movie, Parker and Smith bump into the air raid alarm button while kissing, causing the fighter planes to scramble. It happens that their really were undetected Japanese planes in the area and they're defeated as a result.
  • Accidental Pervert: Parker in the second movie when he accidentally went into the WAC quarters by mistake.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Corporal Smith in the second movie slaps Parker (thinking he's Harkness) because he strung along her sister, promising to marry her while dating four girls.
  • Camera Fiend: Parker in the second movie, to document the trip to Australia.
  • Canon Immigrant: Saloonkeeper Maggie Monahan, who appears in the first movie, crossed over to the main series in one episode.
  • The Casanova: Lieutenant Harkness in the second movie.
  • Chummy Commies/ Dirty Commies: Both flavors appear. The Russian sailors in the second movie are nice guys who befriend the '73 crew but the Secret Police are portrayed as nasty people who'd sentence their own people to decades of hard labor just for buying non-Russian whiskey (as the sailors can't stand vodka).
  • Going Down with the Ship: When Carpenter's boat sinks due to sabotage by Fuji (so that Binghamton will have to use the PT-73 instead) Binghamton makes him get back on the ship as its sinking so that he'll get wet just out of spite.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: In the first movie, McHale's crew bet on a horse race to get the money they need to pay off some debts. To increase the odds they disguise the horse with fake hair, and then the hair starts to fall off during the race, so they fill the track with engine smoke to keep people from noticing. Unfortunately, the smoke keeps the race officials from telling which horse won the race so they still lose.
  • I Owe You My Life: In the first movie, Henri LeClerc is willing to forgive the debt the crew amassed when Parker accidentally destroyed his dock after they save the city from an invasion force.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Binghamton is right to be furious in the second movie that the '73 crew sunk a valuable Naval vessel just to make him use their ship to go on vacation.
  • Military Brat: Lieutenant Harkness in the second movie, the son of a general.
  • Modesty Towel: The second film has one of the WAC's walking around in one briefly when she nearly runs into Parker after he wandered in there by mistake.
  • The Movie: Both movies were made at the same-time as the show, with the same characters, and essentially came off as feature length episodes.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Parker, when he's mistaken for Harkness and Midge Collins hits on him.
  • Pet the Dog: Binghamton does help Parker get a bucket stuck on his foot off in the second movie before getting sore again and snapping at him.
  • Press-Ganged: An accidental example in the second movie when the real Lieutenant Harkness is captured by the Russian secret police and put aboard the ship right before a long trip while wearing a Russian uniform because his real uniform had been stolen so Parker wouldn't get caught in the Russian uniform (which he'd been wearing due to Alcohol-Induced Idiocy).
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Parker and Corporal Smith in the second movie.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Andrea Bouchard for Parker's series love interest Yvvette Gerard. Their even played by the same actress.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Parker accidentally shoots down Binghamton and Carpenter's reconnaissance plane that they are using to try and spy on McHale's rackets after thinking it's an enemy plane, but realizes his mistake when he sees them parachute down.

The 1997 movie provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: There's no sign of Fuji, though Roberto could be a (much younger) counterpart.
  • Bottomless Magazines: There are no shots of the missiles on the back of Vladakov's boat where there aren't two on the launcher, even when he had just fired one seconds before.
  • Complexity Addiction: It's really hard to tell if Vladakov's plannote  was always set up that way or if it is the result of McHale's swindles driving him crazier than he already was to begin with.
  • Cool Boat: Vladakov's heavily-armed cigarette boat is a prime example and the main thing that makes him a serious threat. McHale's PT boat is extremely old and busted for the first two acts but it gets restored to full functionality in the last act.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: McHale has dealt with the villain, Major Vladakov, before, and once punished him by taking him (while unconscious) to get McHale's name and face tattooed across his entire torso. Backwards so it can be read in a mirror.
  • The Film of the Series: With The Reveal that the hero is a Spin-Offspring.
  • Gender Flip: Lieutenant Carpenter is played by Debra Messing and rewritten to be the movie's Token Female. Technically subverted, as it's revealed at the end the movie is a sequel to the series, implying every character except McHale, Jr. is just a similarly named Expy.
  • Generation Xerox: It turns out that the Quinton McHale that we have been following all of this time is Quinton Junior and Quinton Senior is his superior "Cobra". The Spin-Offspring reveal happens when Quinton says "Thanks, Dad" at the end of the film.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Binghamton reads The Art of War before leading an assault force to storm Vladakov's compound (without knowing it's been already abandoned and wired to self-destruct) and his "speech" before doing that is just toss a bunch of the book's phrases at the team and go "well, move it!" when they are all standing there wondering what the hell is he trying to get at.
  • Large Ham: When Tim Curry is the lead villain, it's expected.
  • Made of Explodium: Binghamton accidentally blows up Vladakov's base with a piddly little flare. He even stares at the thing wondering how the heck did that happened. Subverted when McHale's team figures out Vladakov wired the whole thing to explode as part of his convoluted plan to have a final fight with McHale (and kill Cobra, but it's hard to tell which is the chicken and the egg here).
  • Miles Gloriosus: The climax begins with Binghamton leading an assault force to strike Vladakov's compound hoping to woo Cobra and when that leads to what is charitably a Curb-Stomp Battle courtesy of Vladakov firing all of his goons, blowing up his employers, and blowing up the base by way of colossal goof, he gloats to McHale about his "victory".
  • Mundane Utility: One of McHale's early swindles in the film is exchanging Playboy magazines for satellite surveillance photos of a pee-wee baseball team's training. McHale being the coach of Roberto's team (who is going to face off against that one), he uses the photos to tell them what weaknesses to exploit ("see how the batter is placing his feet? Give him a curveball").
  • Noodle Incident: The reason Binghamton was sent to the island base is that he apparently sank the Love Boat, though it wasn't the actual one.
  • Not Hyperbole: When McHale first talks to his crew about his first meeting with Vladakov, he boasts that he punched Vladakov in the face and "[my] name and [my] face are two things he'll never forget". It then turns out that when they first encountered each other in Panama, Vladakov killed one of McHale's friends (Roberto's father) and Quinton got even by beating Vladakov senseless and then tattooing his name and his face on Vladakov's torso. Unsurprisingly, Vladakov carried quite a grudge afterwards.
  • Parental Substitute: McHale for Roberto; this is because of his father being killed in Panama by Vladakov.
  • Race Lift: Ensign Parker is played by David Alan Grier, and Willy Moss is played by Henry Cho (who, being from Tennessee, retains the character's Good Ol' Boy characterization). Technically subverted, as it's revealed at the end the movie is a sequel to the series, implying every character except McHale, Jr. is just a similarly named Expy.
  • Rank Up: The Reveal at the end makes clear that Quinton McHale made it up in the Navy in the time between the series and this film up to the rank of Admiral and became the leader of a special operations division, getting the code name of "Cobra".
  • Running Gag: Vladakov being the world's "number 2 terrorist", much to his irritation — he wants to be the world's number 1 terrorist (though as his employers point out, there's always people jockeying for that title).
  • Shoot the Messenger: Vladakov is quite fond of doing this, to the point his psychiatrist (quite smartly) has been wearing a concealed Bulletproof Vest all of the years he's been forced to attend him.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Roberto takes pics of the governor's meeting with Vladakov and his employers at the beginning; McHale admonishes him for it (apparently it's not the first time).
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Vladakov is a terrorist for hire with no political affiliations and he is perfectly okay with blowing up his own employers with the nuclear warhead he spent the majority of the film getting ready to launch just so he'll feel more emotionally fulfilled and then go have his final confrontation with McHale for kicks.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: The reason why the Russian, Chinese and European guys are hiring Vladakov to steal missile launch codes is this; Vladakov says it's so "they can drive Cadillacs again."

Alternative Title(s): Mc Hales Navy