First episode impressions: ‘Magnum P.I.’ (TV review)

CBS adds to its stable of modernized nostalgia-driven shows (see also “Hawaii Five-0” and “MacGyver”) with “Magnum P.I.” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays), which drops the comma and trades Tom Selleck’s ‘stache for Jay Hernandez’s goatee, but retains most other elements of the 1980s action/detective classic. I’m guessing old-school fans aren’t as enthusiastic about the update as Magnum is about crashing Porsches in pursuit of bad guys, because it rates a mere 4.6 on IMDB.

Created by Eric Guggenheim and Peter M. Lenkov – building on the original by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson – the new “Magnum” is better than that rating. If you’ve watched the trailer, you know the entire story of “I Saw the Sun Rise,” but it plays better at episode-length. Notably, the relationship between Thomas Magnum, a Marine-turned-private-investigator, and Juliett Higgins (Perdita Weeks), who departed from MI-6 for unknown reasons, has more warmth to it.

Also on hand to assist Magnum are his military-veteran buddies Rick (Zachary Knighton) and TC (Stephen Hill). These four characters were also in the original, although Higgins was a man in the 1980s version. It seems like the right call to balance the genders more.

That’s not to say this new “Magnum” is short on testosterone. The famous theme song is back, and the opening sequence mimics the helicopter dive. Justin Lin, the pilot episode’s director, produced some of the “Fast and Furious” movies. That’s the most relevant touchstone for modern viewers, although it’s hard to imagine the show will do something as grandiose as having Magnum jump from his car onto the hood of the bad guys’ Hummer and then leap and grab the rail of TC’s helicopter every week.

He’s no Selleck – who is? – but Hernandez (who broke through alongside Kirsten Dunst in 2001’s “Crazy/Beautiful”) has charisma and is very likable. I’m not sure why this remake stopped short of giving him the famous mustache, but maybe they’ll reconsider. This crop of CBS procedural actioners is obviously highly calculated, but everyone in the main cast – except perhaps Sung Kang in the thankless “Dammit, Magnum, I told you to stay out of this” role of Detective Gordon Katsumoto – is having the good time you’d hope they’d have on a Hawaii-filmed series.

The plot of “I Saw the Sun Rise” is of the type where it’s hard to keep your brain engaged – Magnum and co. pursue bad guys doing bad guy things – but it is presented with verve (and, on the downside, too much violence). Magnum’s hardboiled (well, closer to sunny-side-up, actually) voiceovers are stylistic touches rather than an outlet to explain the plot. Magnum dodges sharks to come up with a gold bar from a sunken ship, and I think I saw him smile during the helicopter stunt. Magnum – and Hernandez, I suspect – loves his work.

In this era where every old show is brought back (if your favorite hit hasn’t been, give it a season or two), “Magnum P.I.” deserves credit for not feeling cynical. Part of the point of revisiting the classics is to recapture how much fun they were. “Magnum P.I.” is at least trying to do that.

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