The first season of any television show is always the hardest. Perhaps it’s growing pains, or in this case, it could be haunted by the ghost of a series past. The rebooted “Magnum P.I.” has spent most of this year, at least since the pilot was greenlighted in February, battling comparisons with the original version, which starred the incomparable Tom Selleck.
For a freshman series, the original “Magnum” is a tough act to follow. Besides all the other issues that come with a new series — finding the right tone and pace, meshing characters and building backstory — this series seems to have more on its plate. Luckily, having an experienced cast and crew is not one of their issues, as the cast all have strong television and film backgrounds, and the production is headed by “Hawaii Five-0” executive producers Peter M. Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim.
Lenkov, who is also the series showrunner, developed “Magnum P.I.” with Guggenheim, who is a writer, executive producer and co-showrunner of the rebooted series, positions he also held on “Hawaii Five-0.” If you include the experienced set crew established by “Five-0” over the last eight years — you have the right foundation for success.
THE WHITE KNIGHT
We all know series star Jay Hernandez, who plays Selleck’s original character Thomas Magnum, has big shoes to fill. There also is a huge expectation for Hernandez to come off as the ruggedly handsome and mischievous, yet still deeply haunted by his past, Magnum of the ’80s version.
But Hernandez is not Selleck’s version of Magnum, which is a titular part of our ’80s heritage. Television heroes are not like that anymore. Today they are lean and fast, smoothly handsome, clever in a sharp way. Hernandez’s Magnum is charming and sure of himself, he knows what he wants and how he needs to get it. He relies heavily on his friends, but it’s because they are a team with a shared history.
The series has created an interesting metaphor for our new Magnum — the White Knight. Taken from the chess game, the knight can jump over other pieces, it can move in an “L,” and it can move between light and dark squares. Higgins (Perdita Weeks) says the white knight is “unassuming … but quite often, it will surprise you.” When she says this, she is describing Magnum, and in a way, it is how Hernandez plays the character.
DOES ROBIN MASTERS REALLY EXIST?
The White Knight is also the fictional code name for a Robin Masters’ character based on Thomas Magnum and all of his military exploits. TC (Stephen Hill) teasingly calls Magnum the moniker when he and Rick (Zachary Knighton) swoop in to save him, and Higgins uses the nickname when a young boy Magnum is helping is faced with a tough decision. If they continue the metaphor it could make for a strong character arc for Hernandez, as well as an entertaining element to the show.
The reboot has taken to re-enacting some of the scenes from Robin Masters’ books and casting Magnum as the White Knight with TC and Rick as his sidekicks. This is one of the changes the new series has consciously made, along with Robin Masters being less of a mystery to Magnum and his friends.
In the modern storyline, Masters was once a reporter embedded with Magnum and his unit. He is uniquely familiar with the team and has been on several missions with the four men — Magnum, TC, Rick and their late friend Nuzo (Domenick Lombardozzi). He based his fictional characters on the group and seems to have turned their real-life missions into fantastic stories of espionage and intrigue.
One of the biggest changes the reboot has made from the original is the fact that the team are no longer Vietnam vets to keep the show relatable and appropriate for contemporary audiences. The overall emphasis on Magnum and his team’s time in a prisoner of war camp in Afghanistan is played out as a major turning point in Magnum’s life. The rebooted “Magnum P.I.” uses it to explain the solid bonds shared between Magnum, Rick and TC.
Magnum and Nuzo are both former Navy SEALs while Rick and TC served in the Marine Corps. They all wear the Cross of Lorraine signet rings. The story about why they wear the rings was mentioned in the pilot as a symbol of their friendship and the pact they made when they were in the POW camp. Hopefully, they will delve deeper into this storyline, as well as into the loss of Magnum’s love, Hannah.
Another big departure from the original is the story of Magnum’s lost love. In the original Magnum was secretly married a beautiful French woman, Michelle, who he thought died in the fall of Saigon. The only mention of a former love in the reboot is a woman named Hannah, who seems to have not only hurt Magnum but TC and Rick as well.
Rick tries to assure him by telling him, “Hannah didn’t just betray you. She hurt all of us. And I’m gonna keep telling you this until you believe it. TC and I, we never blamed you for it.” Of course, this intrigues us all — what did Hannah do? And when are we going to see more of this backstory about Magnum?
THE HIGGINS QUESTION
One of the most interesting character changes has to be the gender swap for Higgins. Our modern-day Higgy is Juliet, rather than Jonathan Quayle. She’s still very British and major-domo of Robin’s Nest, but is a disavowed MI6 agent. Like the original Higgins, she seems to have attended Cambridge and had a rather upper-crust childhood, though we do not yet know if she is Lady Juliet Higgins or the second daughter of the Duke of Perth. Unlike the original Higgins, she is not one to tell long stories of her former life before coming to Hawaii.
The biggest question seems to be her relationship with Magnum. Are they becoming best friends, or something more? Their chemistry is evident and while it would make for an interesting change to the existing storyline — it would not be unwelcome. It seems as if both characters have some healing to do, and perhaps a deeper relationship between them would make for a fascinating story.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Still, while we love the original — the reboot is entertaining and the characters and their backstories are intriguing enough for us to watch the rest of the season. Most of us are OK with no mustache and the new version of the aloha shirt. We still have the Ferrari, the lads and TC’s chopper.
In the next new episode on Dec. 10, we’ll meet Rick’s de facto father, Icepick (Corbin Bernsen). We also are enjoying the addition of Kumu (Amy Hill) to the cast — she helps to add an element of Hawaii that is much needed and desired. There has been a promise of a crossover episode with “Hawaii Five-0.”
We have seen many good things so far in this first season of “Magnum P.I.,” and as the show continues to find its rhythm, it looks like there’s even more to come.