Magnum P.I. worked as an escapist TV show in the 1980s. This was never a high-quality series, of course, but the adventures of Thomas Magnum and friends, as a whole, were pleasantly acceptable fare for eight seasons when major broadcast networks dominated, long before streaming and cable pushed the medium into the complex incarnation we know as Peak TV. Yes, there were touches of the problematic if one really looks back at the series, including a Christmas episode titled “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too.” That’s Tom Selleck’s Thomas Sullivan Magnum, you know, and he couldn’t help but attract invitations from bikini-clad ladies as he perma-crashed on a posh Hawaiian estate while performing security for the never-seen and seldom-heard author Robin Masters.
The appeal of the original was largely due to a terrific cast that crackled with chemistry, along with the show’s unassuming nature. It was uncomplicated, unlike today’s mind-bending puzzles, and one could miss a few episodes and slide back into enjoying the show’s comforting characters without much effort. Quite simply, the hero was burned out after Navy Special Ops in Vietnam, and he wanted to live a carefree existence while sort-of running a P.I. business, borrowing Masters’ Ferraris, and hanging with his buddies. Magnum’s biggest obstacle in these endeavors happened to be the majordomo of Masters’ estate, a very British, stiff-upper-lip type named Higgins (John Hillerman), who loathed Magnum and regularly employed his two dobermans to terrorize him.
As for the reboot, the pilot closely mirrors the setup of the original with a few modern spins. The new Magnum (Jay Hernandez) is a decorated former Navy SEAL recuperating from tours in Afghanistan. Higgins is now a woman, Juliet, a disavowed MI:6 agent played by Perdita Weeks, and those two Dobermans are still casting a shadow on Magnum’s otherwise splendid Oahu existence. He loves spending time with a trio of fellow POW survivors, including Rick (Zachary Knighton) and T.C. (Stephen Hill). And much like the original, the third pal gets kidnapped and killed, and Magnum and company work to solve the mystery of his death and clear his name.
With all of those boxes checked off, the reboot then valiantly sets about trying to recapture the “charming rogue” aspect of Magnum himself, which was almost effortlessly exuded by Selleck and communicated below through a waggle of his eyebrows and the mere existence of that ‘stache.
Hernandez arrives with plenty of stubble in lieu of the ‘stache. His Magnum isn’t playing the field right out of the gate but apparently still attempting to heal from the end of a long-term relationship, so there’s a sensitive-guy vibe at work, unlike the original, who nearly bedded his friend’s grieving sister in the 1980 pilot. So, the new Magnum is neither bad nor drawn that way, although he does show off his guns aplenty (as seen below). And he’s not sprinting down an Oahu beach with a glistening chest (like Selleck did) while sarcastically uttering narrative voice-overs like “Funny the things a man will do for a living, especially me.”
The narrative voiceovers still exist in the reboot, but they’re mostly used as an expository mechanism, like to explain the significance of Magnum’s Cross of Lorraine ring (i.e., “People ask me all the time, ‘What’s with the ring?'”) and to spoonfeed the audience. Also, instead of presenting Magnum as eye candy, the reboot attempts to cultivate appeal in an arguably more gratuitous way. That is, by placing Magnum in a series of crash-boom ridiculous stunts, as if loudness and explosions will cause all the ovaries in the audience to spontaneously combust, and make all the men want to be him or whatever. A car chase ends with a Ferrari flying off a cliff and Magnum clinging to a helicopter flown by his buddies. He has a wound cauterized by gunpowder while at war. And he dives from outer space to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and lands in rural North Korea (which doesn’t actually happen, it’s kind-of a fantasy scene).
The end result of all this forced machismo? It feels like this show is trying too hard, and that’s exactly where the original series didn’t have to expend effort. Yes, there were action scenes and car chases, but they weren’t over-the-top, which (credit where credit is due) must have been a temptation in the time of Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying an entire tree trunk over one shoulder and wiping out an entire army without reloading. 1980s Magnum P.I. feels downright restrained compared to the amped-up reboot’s delivery, which is actually exhausting rather than invigorating to watch.
There’s also the mixed result of making Higgins a woman. Perdita Weeks does qualify as a true badass during a fight scene where she busts out martial arts moves. She takes a bullet and barely winces while grabbing an Uber to a hospital, but of course, this reboot can’t resist inserting sexual tension between adversaries into the mix. Whereas the original Higgins truly didn’t like Magnum, it’s pretty clear that the new Higgins will likely fall into bed with the biggest pain in her ass. So, the Magnum P.I. reboot feels unnecessary at best and absurd at worst, and the level of ridiculousness never reaches guilty-pleasure status. If you simply enjoy feasting your eyes on fast cars and facial hair with a British accent in the mix, maybe Top Gear is the better show for you.
Magnum P.I. premieres on September 24 at 9:00pm EST on CBS.