McGarretts and Magnums

CBS-TV’s Facebook page posted this yesterday:

In case you ever wondered if there was any imagination left in Hollywood, this should give you an answer.

CBS is repeating what it did nearly 40 years ago when as the original Hawaii Five-O was running out …

… CBS came up with a series to set in Hawaii:

And now that the rebooted “Hawaii Five-0” is nearing its end …

As with “Hawaii Five-0,” which replaced “Hawaii Five-O,” contemporization takes place. The original McGarrett was a Navy commander, but we never found out how he ended up in Hawaii. The new McGarrett was a Navy SEAL who went to Hawaii to investigate the murder of his father and is asked by the governor to set up a statewide task force to get the bad guys. McGarrett and Danno have what apparently is called a “bromance,” Chin Ho becomes a disgraced former Honolulu police lieutenant, and Kono, formerly a fat and funny Polynesian, becomes a woman.

Apparently in “Magnum P.I.” 2.0, Magnum is no longer the son of a Korean War aviator killed in action. He still has military buddies Rick (actual first name Orville) and T.C. But Higgins, the World War II-veteran (as his never-completed autobiography told viewers) major domo of the Robin Masters estate, has become a woman too, and apparently is not the antagonist the original Higgins was.

And there is a glaring omission, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter:

When CBS released its first-look pic Monday of series star Jay Hernandez in the coming reboot of Magnum, P.I., it was no wonder that fans of the original took to Twitter to howl their dismay.

Though Hernandez is shown sitting in the same red Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole convertible that Tom Selleck drove in the original ’80s series, something definitely was missing. As one wag put it, the original series had two stars — Selleck, of course, and his luxuriant mustache.

Both personally and professionally, Selleck has been defined by his copious ‘stache, even going back to his USC student modeling days when he posed for an iconic 1977 Salem cigarette ad “to pay the rent” as he later said.

But it was Magnum P.I. (1980-1988) that cemented his iconic status as the hirsute himbo, winning him a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the series in 1985, when it was at its peak.

… Getting back to the Magnum P.I. series revival with Hernandez, it appears to be set in today’s times and not the more flamboyant and freewheeling ’80s. The detective’s signature Aloha floral shirt is also nowhere in evidence, even though a print shirt would certainly be on-trend, given menswear’s current love of the style seen everywhere from the Tommy Hilfiger to Louis Vuitton runways for spring. The new Magnum is rather disappointingly clad in just a generic blue button-up.

Hernandez is also missing the Detroit Tigers ballcap that Selleck wore to keep his raven curls in place. And it’s doubtful that we’ll see the character clad in the boxer-style short-shorts that the original Magnum wore running around in his Hawaiian paradise.

With its network home on CBS, the Magnum P.I. series revival could be going for mass-market appeal. (It’s possible that today, a mustache would read as too ironic, too Brooklyn hipster.) Though Hernandez does sport a hint of stubble, it may not have worked for him to rock a full bristly ‘stache, even though they have been seen on red carpets on edgy young actors such as Stranger Things‘ Dacre Montgomery and on late-night talkers like Chris Hemsworth appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live recently. Not to mention other tragedy-tinged TV dramas focusing on mustachioed characters of the period like Milo Ventimiligia’s Jack Pearson on This Is Us and James Franco’s dark turn as brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino on The Deuce.

But will a Magnum sans his mustache really have what it takes? Much like Samson, who lost his godly abilities when shorn of his lengthy locks, will the new iteration of the TV folk hero still have the power to keep the people tuned in without his bro-mo? We’ll have to wait until this fall to find out. For now, we can only hope some kind of hairline storyline makes the cut.

What makes a TV series, of course, is its characters and their interrelationship, which can make up for stories of dubious credulity. The original Magnum, Rick and T.C. all had Vietnam in common, and in some cases aftereffects thereof. (That and picking on Higgins.) Magnum was described as leaving the Navy because he found out one day that he was 33 and, because of his Navy experiences, he had never been 23. Then he found out he had a daughter from the wife he thought had died in Vietnam (actually more of a heartbreaking plot turn than I can describe here). At the end of the series Magnum goes back into the Navy and he and his daughter go off to live wherever the Navy sends him.

About her: Would you believe this, from 2016:

Eighties crime series Magnum P.I. is eyeing a comeback with ABC developing a female-centric sequel which will centre on Magnum’s grown daughter.

The reboot is described as a “fun, high-action” rebirth of the cult show that featured Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living Oahu, Hawaii. It ran from 1980 to 1988.

According to Deadline, the sequel will follow Magnum’s daughter, Lily, as she returns to Hawaii to take up the mantle of her father’s PI firm.

Along with her friends, Lily mixes Hawaii’s tropical beaches with the underbelly of international crime syndicates and tries to unravel the mystery of a spy operation that ended her career in naval intelligence.

The project comes from Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria and her producing partner Ben Spector.

Working with Universal, which owns the rights to the series, Longoria’s UnbeliEVAble Entertainment production company identified Magnum PI as both viable and relevant.

Lily Magnum starred in just four episodes of the original series after being raised by her mother, not Magnum. The show ended with Magnum being reunited with his daughter and promising to give her a stable home after his former wife is killed. …

It is unclear whether actress Troian Bellisario, who played Lily Magnum in the original series, will reprise her role. Bellisario currently stars in teen drama Pretty Little Liars.

Apparently Magnum’s Daughter P.I. went nowhere. Interestingly, the original was first pitched to ABC, which passed.

I have my doubts about this. This seems to be following the Star Trek/Hawaii Five-0 reboot formula of characters of the same name who aren’t the same character, throw in some references to the original series, maybe some stunt casting or characters (the remake had a Wo Fat, but he was in organized crime, unlike the original Chinese agent Wo Fat, and Al Harrington, who played Ben Kokua on the original, appeared in an episode of the remake). If you want mindless action for your TV series, using a director from “The Fast and the Furious” franchise is an obvious choice.

As far as characters go, the difference between Five-O and Five-0 is that the latter did have character development over the series, though rather implausibly. (How likely is it that four police officers could sneak into North Korea? Or that one just happened to be held hostage the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 across the river in New Jersey? Or that McGarrett’s mother came back from the dead to be revealed as a secret agent?) The original McGarrett had a few things happen to him (niece died, girlfriend died, and he was shot and blown up), Kono was replaced by Kokua, and Chin Ho was killed, but for the most part the 13th-season McGarrett was an older version of the first-season McGarrett.

The number of Hollywood reboots of TV shows from the ’60s through the ’80s, either on film (“The Wild Wild West,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “SWAT,” “Shaft,” “Charlie’s Angels”) or TV (“Adam-12,” “Dragnet” [which actually had five iterations — radio, black-and-white TV, late ’60s including a movie, late ’80s in syndication without Joe Friday, then in the early 2000s with Ed O’Neil as Friday], “Kojak,” “Ironside,” “Knight Rider”) is too long and too depressing to list here. Remaking the original as a farce never works. (It is unclear what prompted a remake of “The Wild Wild West” with Will Smith.)

Some blame the fact the studios are owned by publicly traded companies concerned only with the next quarter’s P&Ls and therefore will approve only financially sure things. That’s how you get repeated James Bond, Mission: Impossible, Star Wars, comic superheroes and Fast & Furious movies. There has been a new Rockford Files in development, with Vince Vaughn playing James Garner’s original role, for several years.

One of the few defenders of Magnum 2.0 claimed that Hernandez (whom I had never heard of before now) is a great actor and noted the dearth of good roles for non-whites. The key would seem, however, to create good original characters for non-whites, instead of casting a Latino Magnum, or black Kojak or Ironside. (Samuel L. Jackson didn’t really work as Shaft 2.0 anyway.)

However Hernandez and his costars do, they will not be the originals. Selleck had never had a starring role in a TV series before “Magnum,” though he had done some movie acting and had been a memorable recurring character, Lance White the perfect detective, in “The Rockford Files.” Larry Manetti, who played Rick, had had a few supporting roles during that period, and Roger E. Mosley, who played T.C., had been in a few movies. All are best known for their “Magnum” roles, even though Selleck is now in “Blue Bloods” and starred in a few movies. John Hillerman, who played Higgins (though Hillerman was from Texas), had more of a movie career, but other than “The Last Picture Show” and “Blazing Saddles” was probably best known for “Magnum” too.

The biggest difficulty with remakes beyond trying to reinvent the lead characters is pushing them from the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s into the 21st century and the culture of today. TV series that took place three to five decades ago necessarily translate well into this politically correct, oversensitive, humorless era we live in. No one has come up with the idea of the retro-setting, to remake a series but set it in, or close to, the era the original series was in, apparently because (1) that would require work (for instance, getting vehicles and music of the era) and (2) out of concern viewers wouldn’t relate to an era where, for instance, the good guy would sleep with the girl in an episode who then would vanish from sight thereafter. (This is despite the fact that TV series through the early ’80s were filmed under the strictures of the Television Code, which, according to the always-accurate Wikipedia, “prohibited the use of profanity, the negative portrayal of family life, irreverence for God and religion, illicit sex, drunkenness and addiction, presentation of cruelty, detailed techniques of crime, the use of horror for its own sake, and the negative portrayal of law enforcement officials, among others.” Ironically removing boundaries has made writers in mass media less creative.)

At this point fans of the originals who decry this trend often call for reunions of the originals. Unfortunately nearly every cast member of the original Five-O is dead, as is John Hillerman, the original Higgins, along with a few lesser characters. (Joe Santos played a detective on both “The Rockford Files” and the original Magnum.) The original Magnum was in his 30s in the ’80s; now he’s in his 60s and the New York City police chief … oops, wrong series. It’s hard to imagine what Magnum, Rick and T.C. would be doing in their 60s.

Preference for originals over remakes tends as well to paper over the faults of the originals. James MacArthur, the original Danno, noted that the original Hawaii Five-O probably solved every crime that had taken place in Hawaii halfway through its 13-season run. The original Starsky and Hutch started as a gritty crime drama with an admittedly ludicrous “undercover” car …

… to social workers with badges as the four seasons progressed, complete with “very special episodes.”

It’s not as if Hollywood was a fount of creativity before the suits started running the studios either. Crime fiction is about as old as mass entertainment. The first TV crime dramas date back to 1949, and the first radio crime dramas date back to the 1930s, if not sooner. Magnum was not the first Hawaiian-based private detective; that was the private eyes on “Hawaiian Eye” (which, unlike Magnum, was not shot in Hawaii, but at the Warner Bros. studio, same as Miami Beach-based “Surfside 6.”)

One wonders if Magnum’s creators, Glen A. Larson and Donald Bellisario, thought up Magnum after seeing …

… Las Vegas-based PI Dan Tanna (also a Vietnam veteran) in the late 1970s. But if CBS copied ABC, ABC returned the favor with …

… Texas-to-L.A. PI/rich guy Matt Houston.

NBC’s response may have been to double viewers’ fun with two leads for “Riptide” …

… unless “Riptide” was an answer to CBS’ “Simon & Simon,” which followed Magnum on Thursday nights. (Featuring two brothers who could have only looked less alike had one or both been adopted.)

Selleck wanted Magnum to be more responsible than he appeared. (Despite the body count of 50 dead guys over eight seasons.) So he got speeding tickets and generally didn’t get the girl. Well, where’s the fun of that? Fans of the original Star Trek often defend its third season, which includes some of the worst episodes and ideas (alien women take Spock’s brain, Kirk and an ex-girlfriend exchange souls) in the history of entertainment.

At least viewers who prefer the originals have online streaming services and YouTube, and then join in online efforts to spot the flaws in their favorite shows.

 

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