My age showed when I first considered whether I should give the new Magnum P.I. show a chance. I didn’t want to. Why try to remake a television show that was truly a classic? Who could possibly fill the shoes of the legendary Tom Selleck? Could I “overcome” the decision to make Higgins a female character after all his stories of World War II? This new incarnation had a major hill to climb to win me over. It turned out that there were three reasons that this show was able to win me over:
I decided to give them a chance and I resolved to watch the first ten episodes before making a decision
At about episode six, the writers and cast really started to find their voice and the show became much more smooth and had a much less “forced” feeling to it
By episode ten, the episodes were good enough thatI was looking forward to the next episode.
So let’s break down why the show has really picked up the ball and started scoring:
Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum isn’t Tom Selleck. No one is. Early on it appeared as if Jay was trying to play Tom Selleck playing Thomas Magnum. As the season progressed, Jay moved to playing a new version of Magnum. Whereas in the past iteration, Magnum was played as a bit of a comedic mooch constantly getting free stuff from everyone, it’s played differently now. Less of this trait is written as humor and more of it is written as man trying to help others as he vowed to do when leaving the military after serving in Afghanistan. His earnestness to help others comes through with a bit more intensity than the 80s show and it feels real. Jay has an easy humor and because he’s not the statuesque “all around superman” that Selleck was, you can actually feel like he won’t win a fight or won’t always get the girl. He adds an element of reality to the show that wasn’t there in the 80s.
Perdita Weeks as Juliett Higgins could be seen as a total universe away from the Higgins character of John Hillerman (a Texas native who taught himself a British accent by watching and listening to performances of Sir Laurence Olivier). The new Higgins is MI-6, so she has the spy background that Higgins had in the 80s and she also has an array of skill sets that come to bear from her experiences. While the change from a male to a female seems like a big deal, she can fit the role that her predecessor filled – the person with the skills needed to get past an obstacle in a pinch. She ended up bring me into the current day and accepting her in the Higgins role by believably portraying a very skilled person who happens to be a women. Nice job, Perdita. Thankfully, there is less (but still some) haggling between Higgin and Magnum over favors and who owes what than in the past. This facet of the relationship is “traded in” for a bit of “will they/won’t they” when it comes to a relationship going past just playful teasing between Higgins and Magnum. In the long run, the writers will have more new ground to break with this relationship, though one always worries about wrecking things like the writers of Moonlighting did with their show’s primary relationship. Weeks does a good job of making Higgins still one of the teammates while pushing back a bit on Magnum’s childish traits and tendency to want to use all sorts of resources of Robin Masters free of charge. She also has an easy going smile that diffuses the occasional pettiness that her character will betray when haggling with Thomas over resources that will ultimately be used to help others.
Zachary Knighton (Rick) and Stephen Hill (TC) – both actors do a very good job of making you believe they’re long time and loyal friends. This relationship comes across as being legitimate and believable, as it did with the 80s characters, though there is less boyish teasing and more of a positive camaraderie. What really makes these two work is their ability to really come across as earnestly trying to help fellow veterans and find ways to solve their issues in selected episodes. As an aside, these types of stories that are tucked inside of an episode are excellent reminders of the challenges faced by veterans that so often go unnoticed.
Tim Kang as Detective Gordon Katsumoto – Kang is the hidden gem of the show. Tim Kang’s deadpan humor and sense of timing is spectacular. His responses to Magnum make every scene in which they appear together to be worth watching – one wants to see if they’re going to have another difference of opinion that will lead to a humorous moment during a serious case. Kang is the type of actor that would be great to have on the big screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if some movie casting director didn’t notice that sense of timing and decide to use it. I could see Kang being a great addition to a Marvel movie (no pun intended for you Marvel fans) or even relieving the tension in a taut crime thriller.
This show is a solid show when it comes to entertaining a viewer. The actors have found the voice of their characters and the writers are able to write to that voice. With the relationships they are building, the show has room to grow. The challenge that single episodic plot structure shows have is that they’ll inevitably pale when compared to the plots of streaming shows that might have an entire 13 episode season with each episode a part of an overall story. By definition, a network show needs to reach more viewers. The belief is with season-long story arcs , the show is almost always limited to the number of viewers that the first episode earns and from there on it’s a downward process (unless a show really catches fire). Nonetheless, I’d like to see an underlying plot that isn’t addressed every episode but serves to be the backdrop for ongoing activities that deepen the show’s complexities. It also makes things less predictable in terms of wrapping up everything with a bow by the end of the episode.
If a viewer were to binge watch the show from start to the current episode (18), you’ll find the relationships between the cast members have become much more realistic and you can become immersed in the story – a large part of which is based upon the strength of their caring for one another. Admittedly, it took a few episodes to get there (5/6) but it’s well worth the pay off.
This show also does a couple of things that should help it with many of today’s viewers (and hurt it with a smaller sub-set of viewers). The show goes out of its way to portray veterans in a positive light, to shine a light on issues that they face, and to demonstrate the positive nature of public service – be it military, police, intelligence services, or just helping others without trying to profit from it. In today’s partisan and divided political climate, it’s surprising to me that more viewers don’t look at this as a nice way to escape from all the vitriol and have an hour of good clean fun entertainment.