The Complete Second Season (1981-1982) (Universal-2005)
Magnum PI is the epitome of guy wish fulfillment. What would life be like if you lived in a tropical paradise, staying rent free in the huge guest house of a reclusive millionaire novelist? You have full access to a late-model Ferrari, the white sands and the sparkling blue sea. One of your best friends often flies you around in his chopper. Your other best friend is the manager of the most exclusive club on the islands and always lets you in. Beautiful women are constantly coming to you, begging for your help. You get to be a private investigator, just because you like it, not because you have to pay the rent. You occasionally have to shoot a gun, but it’s only for the job (of course). (Oh, you work as head of security on the estate, but it hardly seems to be a job that chews up your time.) You can swim all day and party all night if you want to. You date a different woman every week. The only problems you have to put up with on most days are a snippy Englishman and his overly aggressive Dobermans.
And… oh yeah… you look like Tom Selleck.
Ah, yes, life is good.
Magnum PI comes from a simpler, happier time when men were not afraid to wear skin tight blue jeans, their shirts unbuttoned to their navel and porn-star mustaches. All of the women are stick-thin, gorgeous, have no tattoos and their own natural breasts. (Even a very young, then-unknown Mimi Rogers seemed to have those puppies tightly harnessed in.)
Of course, the show was not all about hot guys and beautiful women, though. One of its most wondrous selling points was its scenery. Magnum PI was TV’s way of making sure that we keep getting our Hawaii jones on. After thirteen seasons on the air, Hawaii Five-O was canceled in 1980. Producers Donald Bellisario and Glen A. Larson (Battlestar Galactica, Quantum Leap) swooped in to keep our national tropical island quotient high. Magnum obviously respected its predecessor in sultry crime – Five-O main character Det. Steve McGarrett is name-checked in one episode and series co-star Kam Fong (who played Chin Ho) has a wicked guest appearance in the episode “The Last Page” as a ruthless local drug lord. Magnum kept us on the white sand beaches of the 50th state for an additional nine years, and the world has been missing the island ever since the show eventually went off the air in 1988.
You’ve got scenic places. You’ve got scenic people. What more can you ask for? How about some good old-fashioned fights? Magnum PI provides them, too. “I can’t stand pain and violence,” Magnum tells a bad guy who is working him over, “I hate it.” But we love it, and as long as we know our guys aren’t going to get too beat up, it’s all part of the ride. After all, Magnum and his buddies aren’t looking for danger, it just comes to them as part of their daily “guy-hood.” It isn’t easy to keep Hawaii safe for hot women in distress, but Tom is always willing to meet it (somewhat) head on, disarming the situation with an easy smile and a clever quip.
“I’d hate to run into him in a dark alley,” a fashion-designing client played by Jill St. John says of a tough who just took Magnum on.
“He’s not so terrific in a lit room,” Magnum replies, wincing.
Magnum is like us in that way. He knows from harsh experience that pain hurts. He’d much rather spend his time driving his expensive sports car with a gorgeous guest star in the passenger seat than be a punching bag for Oahu’s underbelly. Magnum is a former Navy Seal (the show was one of the first to come up with that vaunted profession — long before it became an adventure story cliché.). He survived firefights out in the fields of the Mai Cong Delta. He’s got that little voice in his head which steers him clear of conflict, even though he doesn’t always listen to it. “I have an uncanny knack for painting myself into corners,” Magnum admits. He has put up with enough skirmishing and struggle for any five men. Now is Me time.
You can’t blame him really. All you have to do is look at the Ferrari. Twenty-five years later, the car still looks impossibly cool. Usually when you watch shows from the past, the autos look old; even if they were brand new when they were filmed. The Ferrari is timeless, though. It is a work of engineering art that is as curvy and seductive as the women. And if you have the car, you get the women. It’s perfect.
Well, not quite perfect. Standing in Magnum’s way is Higgins (John Hillerman), Robin Masters’ head of the estate. Higgins is cultured, sophisticated, disciplined and totally frustrated by Magnum’s carefree lifestyle. Higgins tries to keep Magnum in line with his trained Dobermans Zeus and Apollo (“the lads”). He is tired of Magnum ransacking the wine cellar and “borrowing” Robin’s pricy photographic equipment (“It’s worth more than a car,” Higgins protests.)
“Higgins, if you never play games how do you ever have any fun?” Magnum taunts him as he gives snorkeling lessons to a beautiful guest. However, for all of their antagonism, Magnum and Higgins have a weirdly sympathetic love-hate relationship. They are constantly bartering and gambling for rights and services and they are always there for each other. When Magnum wins their little games – and he inevitably does – Magnum accepts his winnings with a raised eyebrow, a wide smile and just a hint of smugness, taunting Higgins with barbs like, “I’ll be thinking what a wonderful guy you are the whole time I’m swimming.”
After a first season in which Magnum’s life seemed to be stuck in the present tense, for the second season of the series the producers decided it would be interesting to take a look backward. Therefore, lots of episodes this season focus on Magnum’s back-story – in particular revolving around his experiences in Vietnam. Several times his past comes back to bite him on the ass, and never so blatantly as the two-part episode “Memories Are Forever,” in which he learns that his former wife did not die in Vietnam as he had thought. When he sees a woman who looks like his ex, Magnum starts obsessively searching for her even though everyone is convinced he is going insane. When it turns out that she is not only alive but married to a Vietnamese General, the scabs on the wounds of that then-recent conflict are ripped off and an international incident is narrowly avoided.
His best friends, Rick (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) have been with Magnum since the war and they are still there for him whenever he needs. Rick is the club manager who fancies himself a gangster; he also has “contacts” in the underworld that Magnum more than occasionally exploits for information. T.C. is a tough former athlete who now runs a tourist business flying the hoales around the islands in his helicopter. They also have quirky interests that you wouldn’t quite expect – who’d’a thunk that T.C. would be a ballet fan? (“Aficionado,” he explains to Magnum, impatiently.) They’ll always bitch and moan when Magnum comes for one of his little favors, but they’re always there for him in a pinch.
Magnum also spends time this season searching for buried treasure, tracking a ghost, freeing a kidnapped girl from an Italian estate and keeping a self-destructive Hemingway-esque writer (Darren McGavin) from killing himself. One of the nice things about the series is that it was about a private eye, but it didn’t have to be about his investigations. The shows were entertaining, well-acted and structured. As the season wore down, a few of the episodes got a little silly, in particular “The Elmo Miller Story.” In that episode, it turns out that Higgins has a near-identical half-brother – a rough and tumble cowpoke who runs a rodeo and is targeted for murder. Hawaii and rodeo – that’s one connection that the rest of the world somehow missed. These few misfires stick out even more because of the quality of the rest of the episodes. Magnum P.I. has good acting, clever writing and lots of visual stimulation. What more can you ask?
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 14, 2005.