Magnum p.i. returns–CBS offers up a crafted, conscientious, and engaging reboot opener

Review by C.J. Bunce

Magnum, p.i. was no doubt one of the best television series to come out of the 1980s, thanks to star Tom Selleck, the late John Hillerman, the beauty of Hawaii and good writing by Donald P. Bellisario.  The series ran for eight seasons and continues to be broadcast in reruns on cable channels any hour of the day, every day.  For years talk of a sequel movie or series sounded pretty exciting, but as the actors got older that became less and less likely, and that was only solidified with the death of John Hillerman last year.  The idea of a reboot may make many flinch, but what really is the harm in taking any past series, film, or franchise forward?  CBS is taking a chance with such a revered show, and Monday night it aired episode one of its new Magnum p.i. (changing only the comma), first previewed here at borg back in May).  So how did they do?

About ten minutes into the pilot for the series and viewers will know the creators of this reboot loved the original series, and that translates to the conscientious, careful effort taken with the update to the characters so many know and love.  In some ways Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) is even cockier than Selleck’s Thomas Magnum.  He also plays his Magnum as completely genuine, the guy you can see having friends like Rick (now played by Zachary Knighton) and T.C. (now played by Stephen Hill).  At its worst the new Magnum p.i. plays like a sequel to another reboot series, Hawaii Five-O (thanks in part to both an appearance by new series regular Sung Kang, who had a brief stint on Hawaii Five-O, and the show’s location).  But a sequel to Hawaii Five-O would be no bad thing, and it’s the same way the original Magnum, p.i. began.  (Thank goodness this is not another prequel!)  At its best, it has that blend of expensive cars, high-octane chase scenes, and good old-fashioned fun that the Fast and the Furious film series is known for, and that’s thanks to that film series’ director/actor Justin Lin taking the reins and directing this pilot episode.

Along with a likeable supporting team of new actors playing Magnum’s fiercely loyal war buddies, the smartest move taken by the production is not replacing Higgins with a caricature of John Hillerman.  The new Higgins is Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins–yes, she’s British, complete with the Hillerman poise and accent, but unlike the original Higgins her MI6 background is let loose right away, as she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat against two former Marines with weapons attempting to kill her.  And of course the location is again Honolulu, Oahu, and the surrounding Hawaiian islands we’ll no doubt get to visit again over the next season.  And Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s memorable theme song.  And the two female Dobermans as the lads, Zeus and Apollo.  And seemingly disposable $250,000 Ferraris–we watched two destroyed in just the first episode.

… and Magnum’s neglect in paying debts even to friends, his classic Detroit Tigers hat, his Cross of Lorraine ring, TC’s helicopter, Rick’s knack for knowing the right guy, and Robin Masters and his beautiful estate–it’s all here.

New show creators Eric Guggenheim and Peter Lenkov show some chutzpah upfront, adapting one of the favorite and most dramatic episodes of the original series (and one of TV Guide’s top 100 TV episodes of all time), the two-part season three opener “Did You See the Sun Rise?” into “I Saw the Sun Rise.”  Less familiar with the new cast, viewers aren’t likely to respond to this new version of the episode as the original, but this week’s episode was only the launching point.  The original two-parter is famous to fans of the series mainly for the death of Magnum, p.i. regular Mac instead of the appearance of war buddy Nuzzo, but we’re hoping they are saving the Mac character (formerly played to perfection by the late Jeff MacKay) for later episodes.

Set your DVRs for this one so you can zip past CBS’s current stock of terrible commercials.  Magnum p.i. airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Central on CBS.  Missed the first episode?  You can watch it now, free, on the show’s website here.

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