Looking at the title of the pilot episode of a crime drama from the 80’s, I first think of Hawaii’s famous shaved ice. Having only visiting the island state off and on since 2010 before I moved here for school, I thought that maybe at one time shaved ice wasn’t that great. After all, Hawaii wasn’t always a tourist destination. But alas, I was thinking of the wrong type of snow (it’s fair to point out that in my home state of PA it discouraged to eat the snow because it’s often dirty from pollution).
The pilot episode starts with the main character, Thomas Magnum, using a voice over narrative, a characteristic of crime noir, rarely used nowadays except in anime. He’s broad shouldered and has a hairy chest, a hero fitting for the likes of my grandmother, and a mustache fitting for the time. Magnum is living off the charity of his friend Robin Masters much to the dismay of the caretaker Higgins, an ex-British Army Officer. Higgins himself represents the present of the once Imperialist Empire of Great Britain, with his by the book mannerism and sense of ‘proper’ judgement. Like Higgins, Magnum was also a former officer in the US Navy, once working for the NIA (now known as the NCIS, but nowhere near as fun as the TV show puts it to be). Magnum separated from the service after 10 years; you can tell his is scarred by the effects of the Vietnam War. Many of his close associates once served alongside him in the same unit, including Rick and TC.
While Magnum has almost free reign of the estate (he and Higgins have an agreement on what he can use but Magnum often persuades him to allow him some leeway), he also has access to a Ferrari, and is seen cruising around the various military bases, through Waikiki, and great overhead aerial shots. This is possibly an allusion to then incoming Reagan’s trickled down economics scheme or Magnum just be advantageous over Higgins to secure the car in the pilot. Aside from the presence of a post-Vietnam era, there is also elements of disco, but it’s now slowing down.
The presence of the military is widely felt throughout the pilot: the first victim is a Navy Officer working for the NIA and a buddy of Magnum. The uniforms are displayed accurately with one minor exception (the Ensign should be wearing a band that says CDO not OOD when Magnum breaks into the office) and the military hierarchy is the best I’ve seen on TV in a while. Hawaii had long been utilized as a vantage point for the US Navy long before the Pearl Harbor attack. Pearl Harbor itself is also carefully involved with a missing airmen and a sunken war plane. It should also be fair to point out the Ensign’s reluctance to give Magnum information: this not only draws back to Operation Purple Dragon in Vietnam, used in an effort to confuse the enemy, but to the old WWII propaganda posters such as ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’. The lack of effort it takes for Magnum to gain access to a military base however, would have anti-terrorism officers tearing their hair out.
The pilot is also riddled with stereotypical minor characters such as sexy airline attendants, Asian sidekicks/valets, and bad guys of minority descent but makes strides in other characters for the time the pilot is broadcasted. TC, an African-American helicopter pilot, is often confided (if not sometimes tricked) by Magnum. LT Cook’s sister (I can’t remember her first name) while often emotional and ‘in distressed’, proves that she’s not completely helpless and can think on her feet.
Other elements include Rick’s night club which seems reminiscent of a 1930’s speakeasy and the continuing buildup of Hawaii as a tourist destination (it saddens me that the Honolulu Airport looks about the same today as it did forty years ago). The opening title reminds me of other 80’s TV shows like Charlie’s Angels and Knight Rider.
Magnum PI is this weird little gem that while banking on the style and politics that formulated what the 80’s would be all about but without going too overboard. It catches the attention with fast cars, Magnum’s self-reliance (and charming smile), eye pleasing locals with clever crimes. It a bit of a shame that I hadn’t paid much attention to it before since it is part of a continuous wave of crime procedural from Hawaii. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see what else is in store. Your move Hawaii 5-O.