Pop Culture

The Magnum, P.I. Reboot Looks Bad, Will Probably Be A Huge Hit

No mustache, no peace.
No mustache, no peace. CBS
Staying true to its roots as the default network for people who pine for "the good old days," CBS is rebooting Magnum, P.I. for the 2018-19 television season.

The original series ran eight years (1980-88), and is iconic for many reasons, not the least of which was hirsute leading man Tom Selleck in the role of Thomas Sullivan Magnum, IV. In the new version, Magnum will be played by Jay Hernandez, best(?) known as El Diablo from Suicide Squad and Paxton from Hostel. Nobody's had a chance to see the finished product yet, therefore I'm going to make some bold assumptions about the entire series based solely on the trailer for the pilot that dropped last week:

Magnum's background looks about the same: he's still a former Navy SEAL — Magnum Classic served in Vietnam, New Magnum served in Afghanistan — who left the service and hired on as "estate security" for famous author Robin Masters (in the new version, Masters uses Magnum's exploits for his adventure novels).

Rick and T.C. also return (along with Domenick Lombardozzi as Nuzo, who I guess is not a Soviet agent anymore), and the latter's helicopter looks to be the same Hughes 500D as the original. In a not very surprising twist, Higgins is now female. More specifically, she's an ex-MI6 agent who can apparently kick a hefty share of ass. It's not a horrible idea, unless they're planning on shoehorning in a romantic angle (which of course they are). A simmering romance between Magnum and his landlord is not something I want to think about, frankly. The smoldering sexual tension between the original Higgins and Agatha Chumley was enough for me, and it should be enough for you, dammit.

In much the same way as the original show was created to help CBS make use of their production facilities for the original Hawaii Five-O, the network is clearly hoping to leverage the popularity of that series' reboot with the new Magnum. It's also most likely why the trailer depicts a show that bears little more than superficial resemblance to the original.

And I get it: movies and TV shows have gotten louder and more explodey. Hiring Justin Lin to direct the pilot is a clear indicator of what direction the new series is taking, and the two Ferraris trashed during the course of a three-minute trailer delivers a pretty emphatic exclamation point (I think the 308 was totaled five times over the entire eight-year run of the original series).

click to enlarge The Lads are back in town (with Higgins 2.0). - CBS
The Lads are back in town (with Higgins 2.0).
Tonal changes aside, Hernandez doesn't have the charisma to pull this off. He looks like the he's doing a live action version of the Magnum-inspired trailer for Archer. Except at least Archer had the decency to keep the mustache. Hell, if CBS can reboot Murphy Brown and keep Candice Bergen in the title role, what's their excuse here? Tom Selleck is STILL WORKING FOR THE NETWORK, for Christ's sake. Maybe he's too long in the tooth for fisticuffs, but at least let him cameo as the new Buck Greene or something.

But more than sacrificing the mustache, or the chest hair, or losing the Hawaiian shirts and nut huggers, the reboot looks like it's not even trying to emulate what made the original so successful. The original Magnum, P.I. (there's no comma* in the new one) distinguished itself from contemporary shows like The Fall Guy or Knight Rider through a) creating believable relationships, b) balancing light-hearted and darker episodes, and c) only occasionaly relying on tired-even-in-the-80s action tropes.

The 80s version built a rapport between Magnum and his friends (yes, and Higgins) beyond simply pointing out they'd all served together in Vietnam. They behaved like actual people, often bitching at/about each other, occasionally fighting, but staying together out of genuine respect and affection. One could see this taken to extreme lengths in the more or less psychic alarm bells that went off among his friends when Magnum was treading water for 21 hours in "Home From the Sea."

click to enlarge That's how you Hawaii. - CBS
That's how you Hawaii.
Will the new show be able to walk the line between goofier episodes ("The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii," "Paper War") and those with real emotional heft ("Did You See the Sun Rise?", "Unfinished Business")? If you've sat through any episodes of the new, bro-tastic Hawaii Five-0 you have your answer, and my pity.

But probably the most disheartening thing about this new version is the locale. No, not Hawaii, but rather the alternate reality occupied by Lin's Fast and the Furious series. The old series had car chases and occasional gunfights, but Thomas never jumped from a plummeting Humvee onto T.C.'s helicopter, which — by the way — is essentially Lin plagiarizing himself. Selleck's Magnum crashed a car and had amnesia for days, or got shot and ended up in a coma. Hernandez will probably finish most episodes with nothing more than a butterfly bandage on his forehead.

My outrage fatigue over remakes burned out long ago, so the best I'm hoping for is a Point Break situation, in which a similarly beloved beach-adjacent property was remade to little fanfare and terrible reviews before fading ignominiously out of sight. Unfortunately, Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver proved CBS can milk the nostalgia teat, and there's no reason to think aging audiences that have stuck around from a gazillion seasons of NCIS won't welcome this new Magnum with open arms, even as younger viewers *might* be tempted to tune in for Lin-style shenanigans.

*And yes, the lack of a comma bugs me. "Magnum -comma- P.I." is exactly what it describes: a dude named Magnum who is also a private investigator. "Magnum P.I." sounds like a brand of condom bought solely by insecure white guys.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar