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PILOT Review: MAGNUM P.I. Crushes Two Vintage Ferraris, Not Your Childhood

By on September 12, 2018

MAGNUM P.I. Photo: Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Magnum P.I. is back on CBS, but even if you’re not old enough to remember Tom Selleck’s eight year spin in the iconic role it shouldn’t impact on your enjoyment of this latest and enormously faithful iteration of the series.

In this modern take Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez) is reimagined as a former Navy SEAL, who, upon returning from Afghanistan with his POW survivor friends, Rick (Zachary Knighton) and TC (Stephen Hill), repurposes his considerable skill set to become a private investigator. It’s here, taking on cases, and drinking beer with his buddies in a stunning beachfront mansion, that we find him as the series opens.

On that note, the pilot episode takes a moment to explain that Magnum previously provided (oft-mentioned but never seen!) British journalist and novelist Robin Masterson with vivid details and anecdotes about his former life as a SEAL, helping Masterson become an acclaimed novelist in the process. In return, Masterson permits Magnum to live, rent free, in the guest house of ‘Robin’s Nest,’ his 200-acre Hawaii beachfront estate, where Magnum also pulls a double shift as a security consultant.

Nice work if you can get it.

The only thorn in Magnum’s side is Juliet Higgins, The “majordomo” of the property, who watches over him with a suspicious and disapproving eye, and keeps him in check (read terrorizes him) with her ‘lads’ — two Dobermans called Zeus and Apollo.

This is where new Magnum deviates slightly from the original formula, with a female Higgins played with a formidable stiff upper lip by Perdita Weeks. New Higgins is tough, smart, and also a disavowed MI:6 agent who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, but would rather not become involved with Magnum’s cases of the week if she can avoid it, thank you very much.

Higgins is joined in her suspicious attitude towards Magnum’s laid-back and at times law-bending ways by the island’s Detective Gordon Katsumoto who serves to hinder Magnum’s investigations almost as often as helping them succeed.

However, Magnum’s two friends TC and Rick have his back. As in the original series, Theodore “TC” Calvin, a former Marine chopper pilot, runs Island Hoppers, a helicopter tour business, and Orville “Rick” Wright, a former Marine door-gunner-turned-impresario of Oahu’s coolest nightclub, is now the most connected man on the island.

Overall, Magnum P.I. is a lovingly faithful recreation of the original series — from Magnum’s warm and informal narrating style, used to bridge the gap between scenes, to his fraught relationship with Higgins, to the theme music, and even the colorful stripes on TC’s chopper.

Magnum P.I. may crush two Ferraris in its pilot episode, but it promises not to do the same to your childhood memories.

While the 1980’s version didn’t exactly invent the weekly procedural, it did a lot to cement the idea in viewers’ minds. (The original series consistently ranked in the top twenty U.S. television programs during the first five years of its original run in the US.) However this Autumn, Magnum P.I. takes its place on a fall schedule already stuffed with procedural dramas vying for your attention. Without the nostalgia angle, is there actually much to recommend it above other similar fare?

The answer may lie in the subtle differences between this and other shows on the fall slate this year. While Magnum P.I. is an unabashed procedural in format, it’s not another police or FBI drama. More often than not, Magnum gets his breaks by going around the law, sneaking into a place he’s not supposed to be in, taking evidence he’s not supposed to have, and calling in favors from his friends. There’s an almost cheeky air of light-heartedness and camaraderie, even in the show’s darker moments. With Fast and Furious director Justin Lin behind the pilot episode, would-be fans can also expect a fair share of explosions, space jumps(!), and car chases, as the series takes full advantage of a modern production style and its 21st century setting.

To boot, the (frankly inspired) casting of a female Higgins adds some will-they-won’t-they sexual frisson, along with a dose of humor, to proceedings. Hernandez and Weeks’ chemistry is spot on, and if the idea of shipping Magnum with Higgins never crossed your mind previously, it may now. Throw in some lush scenery, and a collection of vintage Ferraris, and you may just fall for Magnum P.I.’s laid back charm.

The new series premieres Monday, Sept. 24 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.  

Follow our official Twitter @ScreenSpy for more Magnum P.I. scoop this season.

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