I know what you’re thinking — who could possibly play Tom Selleck’s iconic character, Thomas Sullivan Magnum, with the same heart and humor? With the same sex appeal and natural likeability? If you’re wondering if it’s at all possible — Monday night’s premiere of the rebooted “Magnum P.I.” answers that question for you in the first 12 minutes. Not only does the show come through with enough action and humor to satisfy a modern audience, but it also gives us enough of the classic show to appease some of the naysayers.
The series premiere, titled “I Saw the Sun Rise,” was written by creators and executive producers Peter M. Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim, and directed by “The Fast and the Furious” franchise director Justin Lin. Lenkov and Guggenheim used many aspects from the classic series and masterfully wove them into a modern storyline and re-envisioned characters. Magnum, played by Jay Hernandez, sports a Detroit Tigers ball cap and is seen gliding around Mokolii, better known as Chinaman’s Hat, on a surf ski early in the episode. Dressed in a white linen shirt and cargo shorts rather than an aloha shirt and tiny swim trunks, he also wears the Cross of Lorraine ring, made famous in the original, and corrects everyone with “private investigator” whenever anyone calls him a private eye.
Magnum’s crew is again made up by his fellow war buddies, Orville “Rick” Wright (Zachary Knighton), Theodore “TC” Calvin (Stephen Hill) and Sebastian Nuzo (Domenick Lombardozzi) — who also wear the Cross of Lorraine signet rings, and help him with his cases. He lives in the lavish guest house called “Robins Nest,” the beach-side home of New York Times best-selling author Robin Masters. He works for Masters as his live-in security consultant while running his private investigation business. Before Masters became an author, he was a journalist embedded in Iraq with Magnum’s special operations team and he uses them as inspiration for his books based on their adventures. While Masters turned them into fiction heroes — even writing about Magnum skydiving from space into North Korea to help a defector (Hawaii actor Vince Shin) and his family escape to America.
Robin’s Nest is run by Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks) and her two Doberman pinschers, Zeus and Apollo. While Higgins is obviously not an older British gent dressed in khaki shorts with a pompous exterior, she is definitely not a delicate flower. At first she seems like Magnum’s nemesis, and while the banter between the two is adversarial, their conflict seems to thaw pretty quickly once Magnum asks for her help — and the keys to a second Ferrari.
That’s the basic setup of the series. Magnum, Rick, T.C. and Nuzo all live in Hawaii and use their various military skills to make a living in paradise. Magnum uses Navy SEAL training to work for Masters and run his private investigation business; Rick runs the most popular club in Honolulu and is well-connected that he can find anything and anyone you need (legal or not); T.C. uses his Marine Corps helicopter experience to run his small tour company, Island Hoppers; and Nuzo, who went through BUDs training with Magnum, runs a successful marine salvaging company. Higgins is a disavowed MI6 agent, and uses her skills and contacts to help Magnum as well.
Series star Jay Hernandez really carries the episode. He is likeable, a little mysterious in a way that makes us curious about his backstory, and extremely sexy as Magnum. Maybe we need to call him New Magnum. No mustache, no chest hair, no short shorts. This Magnum rocks a retirement goatee — since goatees are not allowed in the Navy, many grow one once they hang up their anchors — and his grown-out military cut looks great blowing in the wind as he drives around the island in, not one, but two red Ferraris.
Hernandez is not Tom Selleck, and thankfully, he does not pretend to be. There’s no mugging for the camera, which Selleck did so well and without pretense. But that wouldn’t work for Hernandez — his humor is different from Selleck’s — and it’s 2018. Breaking the fourth wall is more of a signature of ’80s television and films. Hernandez’s Magnum is a little more measured. He’s mysterious — you know he has many secrets, and we’re dying to find out what skeletons are in his closet. He’s a Navy SEAL and there are things that he absolutely has to take to his grave. Yet, we can see just behind his eyes a flicker of the stories that still haunt him.
We did see a bit of his experience as a POW in Afghanistan with his four friends — which is why they wear the Cross of Lorraine rings. The cross was a symbol of the French Resistance during World War II, but they saw it as a symbol of their friendship and the pact they made when they were in the POW camp. They promised to always be there for each other.
That pact comes into play right away when Magnum sees Nuzo being dragged out of his house and taken into an ambulance by two gun-toting bad guys. After a stellar gunfight, in which the only casualty is Robin’s Ferrari 488 Spider, Magnum is left with only one clue — a sheet of note paper with some random numbers and the initials W.K. — which he thinks means “white knight.”
“White knight” is what R.J., the fictional version of T.C. in Robin Master’s best-sellers, calls the fictional Magnum character just as he and the fictional Rick and Nuzo swoop in to save him. Magnum knows that Nuzo was using the code to give Magnum a clue. He heads back to Robin’s Nest to take another car and try to find out who kidnapped Nuzo, and Higgins reluctantly lets him take the classic Ferrari GTS Quattrovalvole complete with ROBIN-1 Hawaii plates.
Rick finds out the ambulance Nuzo’s kidnappers used was customized in local chop shop and the boss who runs it, played by “Hawaii Five-0” actor Kala Alexander, gives Magnum a vague “haole, 30s, buzz cut” description of the guy — which is similar to one of the guys who took Nuzo. Thankfully, the chop shop also put a tracking device on the ambulance so they could steal it again — which leads Magnum, Rick and T.C. to find Nuzo’s body dumped along with the ambulance.
In another nod to the original “Magnum P.I.,” Lt. Yoshi Tanaka (Sung Kang) arrives again on the scene — both he and Magnum butted heads at Nuzo’s home after he had been kidnapped — and he tells Magnum they had been working the case as well. He reveals that Nuzo had been talking to Capt. Buck Greene (James Remar) of Naval Intelligence.
Seems as if Nuzo was looking into two ex-Marines who wanted to hire him for a job. After Magnum learns from medical examiner Dr. Noelani Cunha (Hawaii actor Kimee Balmilero, who plays the same role on “Five-0”) that Nuzo was waterboarded, he thinks Nuzo was hired to find something. Whatever he found and wouldn’t reveal to the ex-Marines got him killed.
Magnum heads to Waikiki to see his friend Kim (Shin), who was a code breaker. He suggests to Magnum that the numbers Nuzo left might be latitude and longitude coordinates off the Windward coast. Rick and Magnum head there on a fancy yacht and Magnum scuba dives to a wrecked boat. The best part of Magnum’s underwater adventure, besides all the pretty fish, was watching Rick dancing to the Spice Girls on the boat while he waits for Magnum to surface.
What Magnum finds are gold bars etched in Arabic on the wreckage and they figure out, with some reluctant help from Buck Greene, that apparently the Marines stole a lot of Saddam’s gold during the Iraq War and sent it home on the now sunken ship. While the two waited it out in prison for other crimes they committed in Iraq, the gold was safe. Once they got out of the brig, they came to Hawaii and hired Nuzo’s salvage company to get the gold. But as Nuzo had served in Iraq, he probably figured out how all that gold came to be on the bottom of the Pacific.
The best part of the episode had to be when Magnum, T.C. and Rick go after Nuzo’s killers. With Higgins hacking into a MI6 satellite, Magnum chases the Marines and their truck full of gold up Tantalus Drive. Rick and T.C. are following the “white knight” in T.C.’s Island Hoppers chariot. Magnum pulls the same stunt his fictional hero did in Robin’s book, turning the car 180 degrees and shooting at the truck in order to stop them.
Only — it doesn’t quite end up like he plans. The stunt however, looked fantastic. Magnum jumps out of the Ferrari onto the truck and just as the truck takes out the Ferrari and runs off the cliff — Magnum reaches up and grabs onto the bars of T.C.’s chopper. Rick pulls him up and the three friends fly off into the sunset.
Sure, it was over the top — but you have to admit it looked cool. The only sad part was the ending when the three friends have to escort Nuzo’s wife, Lara (Tiffany Hines), and son, Jake (Reznor Allen), to his funeral. Magnum is dressed in his Navy choker whites and Rick and T.C. are in their Marine dress uniforms. Seeing them in full military dress really made the scene more somber and highlighted the fact the three are tied together in combat as well as in friendship. Magnum takes a moment to talk to Nuzo’s son and fix the Detroit Tigers cap he had given the boy the night his father died — after sharing his own story of losing his father as a young boy. It was a touching moment.
And Magnum explaining what the Cross of Lorraine and their friendship means to each of them — including Nuzo who they were burying that day — was another nod to the original. “Magnum P.I.” might have been a dramatic action show with touches of comedy — but it always had heart. This new version is no different.