Trouble in Paradise? The Return of Hawaii Five-O
- Wednesday, October 27, 2010
More and more, scripted series television resembles feature films in the recycling of older material. Ever since the 70s, Hollywood has depended on sequels, basically meant to repeat the formula of an original story until the audience' interest declines. We all know about the six Star Wars films. Last year, after ten films of varying quality, the Star Trek franchise was successfully revived with a new cast playing beloved characters on the big screen. On television, there were a four successors to the original Star Trek series. The SyFy channel's "reimagining" of the1970's one-season wonder Battlestar Galactica changed one character, Starbuck, from male to female but kept the basic concept. And we're all familiar with the franchising of Law & Order, CSI and NCIS. Of course television has been imitating itself since radio comic Fred Allen noted that "television is the sincerest form of imitation." But is this because of a lack of imagination? Partly, but also because the costly nature of network production makes every new show a big gamble and the majority of new television series fail making network executives scrambling to fill holes in the weekly schedule. So networks are always looking for the nearest thing to a sure thing.
The idea to bring back the old CBS war horse Hawaii Five-0, would seem like a no brainer: crime procedurals are bigger than ever—audiences love the genre of a team of crime fighters totally devoted to their mission and each other, who solve a different case every week usually with lots of loud shoot-outs. (In fact, this isn't the first attempt to remake Five-O: check out this intro from a 1998 pilot with a bizzaro choice of the lead.) Cop shows, along with sitcoms, medical and legal dramas, are the basic genres of series television since the 1950's Dragnet and M Squad. The original series, starring the rock-jawed Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, ran for 12 years, an extraordinary achievement. Perhaps best remembered for McGarrett's cool and professional manner, his decidedly untropical dark business suits, and his black Mercury Marquis, he was the dark nemesis of crime in the 50th state.
The new series marries the original's featuring of Pacific island beauty and crime fighting to a by-the-book updating by making the cast more youthful. Alex O'Loughlin, an Australian actor is McGarrett, plucked from a naval special ops career when the governor recruits him to take on cases the state police can't handle. He soon conscripts a local police officer, Danny Williams to partner with him. Played by Scott Caan, he struts about, every bit as macho as his father, James, did as Sonny in The Godfather. It's obvious early on that, unlike the original's father-son relationship between McGarrett and Danny, this is a buddy movie pairing with the intense new McGarrett rubbing his more laid-back partner against the grain even while they grow in respect for each other. And McGarrett finds a way to irritate Williams when, recalling the show's famous catchphrase, he tells Williams at the end of the first episode to "book ‘em, Danno."
Daniel Dae Kim stays in Hawaii after his Lost years as the new Chin Ho, now a disgraced ex-cop wrongly suspected of corruption, and the series pulls a small surprise by changing the other native team member, Kono Kalakaua, into a woman, played by Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park as a police academy graduate. So in an age of ethnic diversity in casting, the new show casts familiar Korean-American actors as Hawaiian natives, which is sure to rile some viewers.
Otherwise, the series seems to be playing it safe, following the same procedural formula for this kind of show so familiar for so long. Characterization has been relatively superficial but perhaps it will deepen as time goes on. What surprised me, in an era when crime shows have plumbed the depths of narrative possibilities and character development, from Hill St. Blues to Miami Vice to The Shield, is that there's very little creative risk in the series and a whole of lot of sun-drenched photography of island beauty. Conflict is pretty minor and blunted between team members as the series quickly made it clear that this is a surrogate family. Conflict is also absent between the team and other law enforcement groups. I'm surprised that this new task force, so quickly assembled, can now pull up to a crime scene in McGarrett's silver Camaro and take over from local police with nary an eyebrow or blood pressure raised by these new kids on the rock. Such a natural occasion for conflict would be worthwhile to explore. The new Five-O, like the original, seems designed to reassure viewers that this is complete escapism and will, like so many television series, bear no relation to real life crime stories. And like the original, the most exciting thing on the show is the new arrangement of its thrilling theme music which is nine seconds shorter than the original but includes images from the 1968 opening credit montage. You don't mess with the classics. But let's face it, the original Hawaii Five-O, though a sturdy series, was basically Dragnet with a tropical shirt and great scenery. Version 2.0 hugs the shoreline and avoids the depths, which for a weekly island getaway, will probably suit most viewers just fine.
Hawaii Five-0: CBS Mondays 10:00 pm
**This Review First Published October 27, 2010
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