PI is the epitome of guy wish fulfillment. What would life be
like if you lived in a tropical paradise, staying rent free in the huge
guest house of a reclusive millionaire novelist? You have full
access to a late-model Ferrari, the white sands and the sparkling blue
sea. One of your best friends often flies you around in his chopper.
Your other best friend is the manager of the most exclusive club on the
islands and always lets you in. Beautiful women are constantly
coming to you, begging for your help. You get to be a private
investigator, just because you like it, not because you have to pay the
rent. You occasionally have to shoot a gun, but it's only for the
job (of course). (Oh, you work as head of security on the estate,
but it hardly seems to be a job that chews up your time.) You can swim all day and party all night if you
want to. You date a different woman every week. The only
problems you have to put up with on most days are a snippy Englishman and
his overly aggressive Dobermans.
And... oh yeah... you look like Tom Selleck.
yes, life is good.
comes from a simpler, happier time when men were not afraid to wear skin
tight blue jeans, their shirts unbuttoned to their navel and porn-star
mustaches. All of the women are stick-thin, gorgeous, have no tattoos and
their own natural breasts. (Even a very young, then-unknown Mimi Rogers
seemed to have those puppies tightly harnessed in.)
Of course the show was
not all about hot guys and beautiful women, though. One of its
most wondrous selling points was its scenery. Magnum PI was
TV's way of making sure that we keep getting our Hawaii jones on.
After thirteen seasons on the air, Hawaii Five-O was canceled in
1980. Producers Donald Bellisario and Glen A. Larson (Battlestar
Galactica, Quantum Leap) swooped in to keep our national tropical island quotient
high. Magnum obviously respected its predecessor in sultry
crime -- Five-O main character Det. Steve McGarrett is
name-checked in one episode and series co-star Kam Fong (who played Chin
Ho) has a wicked guest appearance in the episode "The Last Page" as a
ruthless local drug lord. Magnum kept us on the white sand beaches of the
state for an additional nine years, and the world has been missing the
island ever since the show eventually went off the air in 1988.
You've got scenic
places. You've got scenic people. What more can you ask for?
How about some good old-fashioned fights? Magnum PI provides
them, too. "I can't stand pain and
violence," Magnum tells a bad guy who is working him over, "I hate it."
But we love it, and as long as we know our guys aren't going to get too
beat up, it's all part of the ride. After all, Magnum and his
buddies aren't looking for danger, it just comes to them as part of
their daily "guy-hood." It isn't easy to keep Hawaii safe for hot
women in distress, but Tom is always willing to meet it (somewhat) head
on, disarming the situation with an easy smile and a clever quip.
"I'd hate to run into
him in a dark alley," a fashion-designing client played by Jill St. John
says of a tough who just took Magnum on.
"He's not so terrific in
a lit room," Magnum replies, wincing.
Magnum is like us in
that way. He knows from harsh experience that pain hurts.
He'd much rather spend his time driving his expensive sports car with a
gorgeous guest star in the passenger seat than be a punching bag for
Oahu's underbelly. Magnum is a former Navy Seal (the show was one
of the first to come up with that vaunted profession -- long before it became an
adventure story cliché.). He survived firefights out in the fields of
the Mai Cong Delta. He's got that little voice in his head which
steers him clear of conflict, even though he doesn't always listen to
it. "I have an uncanny knack for painting myself into corners,"
Magnum admits. He has put up with enough skirmishing and struggle
for any five men. Now is Me time.
You can't blame him
really. All you have to do is look at the Ferrari. Twenty-five years later, the car still looks impossibly cool.
Usually when you watch shows from the past, the autos look old; even if
they were brand new when they were filmed. The Ferrari is
timeless, though. It is a work of engineering art that is as curvy
and seductive as the women. And if you have the car, you get the
women. It's perfect.
Well, not quite perfect.
Standing in Magnum's way is Higgins (Jonathan Hillerman), Robin Masters'
head of the estate. Higgins is cultured, sophisticated,
disciplined and totally frustrated by Magnum's carefree lifestyle.
Higgins tries to keep Magnum in line with his trained Dobermans Zeus and
Apollo ("the lads"). He is tired of Magnum ransacking the wine
cellar and "borrowing" Robin's pricy photographic equipment ("It's worth
more than a car," Higgins protests.)
"Higgins, if you never
play games how do you ever have any fun?" Magnum taunts him as he gives
snorkeling lessons to a beautiful guest. However, for all of their
antagonism, Magnum and Higgins have a weirdly sympathetic love-hate
relationship. They are constantly bartering and gambling for
rights and services and they are always there for each other. When
Magnum wins their little games -- and he inevitably does -- Magnum
accepts his winnings with a raised eyebrow, a wide smile and just a hint
of smugness, taunting Higgins with barbs like, "I'll be thinking what a
wonderful guy you are the whole time I'm swimming."
After a first season in
which Magnum's life seemed to be stuck in the present tense, for the
second season of the series the producers decided it would be
interesting to take a look backward. Therefore, lots of episodes
this season focus on Magnum's back-story -- in particular revolving
around his experiences in Vietnam. Several times his past comes
back to bite him on the ass, and never so blatantly as the two-part
episode "Memories Are Forever," in which he learns that his former wife did
not die in Vietnam as he had thought. When he sees a woman who
looks like his ex, Magnum starts obsessively searching for her even
though everyone is convinced he is going insane. When it turns out
that she is not only alive but married to a Vietnamese General, the
scabs on the wounds of that then-recent conflict are ripped off and an
international incident is narrowly avoided.
His best friends, Rick
(Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) have been with Magnum since
the war and they are still there for him whenever he needs. Rick
is the club manager who fancies himself a gangster; he also has
"contacts" in the underworld that Magnum more than occasionally exploits
for information. T.C. is a tough former athlete who now runs a
tourist business flying the hoales around the islands in his
helicopter. They also have quirky interests that you wouldn't
quite expect -- who'd'a thunk that T.C. would be a ballet fan?
("Aficionado," he explains to Magnum, impatiently.) They'll always
bitch and moan when Magnum comes for one of his little favors, but
they're always there for him in a pinch.
Magnum also spends time
this season searching for buried treasure, tracking a ghost, freeing a
kidnapped girl from an Italian estate and keeping a self-destructive Hemingway-esque
writer (Darren McGavin) from killing himself. One of the nice
things about the series is that it was about a private eye, but it
didn't have to be about his investigations. The shows were
entertaining, well-acted and structured. As the season wore down,
a few of the episodes got a little silly, in particular "The Elmo Miller
Story." In that episode, it turns out that Higgins has a
near-identical half-brother -- a rough and tumble cowpoke who runs a
rodeo and is targeted for murder. Hawaii and rodeo --
that's one connection that the rest of the world somehow missed.
These few misfires stick out even more because of the quality of the
rest of the episodes. Magnum P.I. has good acting,
clever writing and lots of visual stimulation. What more can you