2010 Fall TV Preview
"Hawaii Five-0": Surf's up again on a new, stylish island escape
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Is there some sort of word (German, probably -- not Hawaiian) that defines that mixture of dread and curiosity at the news that producers are exhuming another of the beloved old TV shows for a tricked-out remake? Smurfensruden, perhaps? Bewitchenfreude?
I ask because of the nice-'n'-easy surprise that turned out to be "Hawaii Five-0," CBS's snazzy re-imagining of the old Leonard Freeman cop drama (premiering Monday night), in spite of so much scoff and scorn that greeted the idea. "Hawaii Five-0" is a big bag of dumb fun, with a story told as tautly and smoothly as the surface of a Polynesian drum.
It wastes no time setting itself up as a macho thriller for the 21st-century globalized terrorscape, yet it is surprisingly faithful to the basic story of the original, which starred Jack Lord and aired from 1968 to 1980 -- about which the only thing I remember (besides the theme song, which high school brass sections still perform at football games) is that my father ditched watching it for "Charlie's Angels," without a word of protest from others in the family room. To be honest, we were really more of a "Sheriff Lobo" sort of family.
"Hawaii Five-0" succeeds mostly because it steers clear of sacrilege and gently ushers an old friend into a more kinetic form, a genre that has more physical and stylistic demands: The theme song has been updated to today's hyper-tempo standards while the camera zooms in on the new Steve McGarrett atop a Honolulu high rise, the same way the old one did.
The new "H50" conducts itself in a deadly serious manner, as if it were subcontracted by the Pentagon. Steve McGarrett is now played by 34-year-old Australian actor Alex O'Loughlin, who was on CBS's failed "Three Rivers" hospital drama last season, and also co-starred in Jennifer Lopez's most recent romantic comedy film. His fan base strongly believes O'Loughlin is hot to trot, but his screen presence seems so completely cardboard that I think he should have This Side Up tattooed on his abs.
But here, a stiff McGarrett is the way to go. Like Lord's version, McGarrett is a Navy SEAL intelligence officer of some sort, but this time out huntin' terrorists. Having nabbed a member of a particularly pernicious Euro terrorist gang in South Korea, McGarrett is transporting the prisoner back to the States when he learns that the prisoner's brother is holding McGarrett's father hostage in Honolulu. (Drat!)
The standoff becomes a gunfight. Via cellphone, McGarrett hears the terrorists execute his father.
To Hawaii then, where, after the funeral, the governor (Jean Smart) makes a grieving McGarrett an offer he can't refuse: head up a secret anti-terrorism/anti-crime unit (soon to be known as Hawaii Five-0) with broad powers of immunity and no one to answer to but her. This way he can find his father's killers with no impediment from an (apparently inept) Honolulu PD, and while he's at it, he can also hunt down all the drug dealers, slave traders, mob syndicates and other terrorists. "Get them the hell off my island," the governor hisses.
It gets better the minute McGarrett meets Danny Williams, a total haole played by the sardonic fireplug Scott Caan, who frankly saves the pilot episode. (Caan was in the "Ocean's 11" movies and more recently on this season's "Entourage.") Danny is "Hawaii Five-0's" newfangled Danno, a divorced Jersey cop who moved to Honolulu when his ex-wife "dragged my daughter to this pineapple-infested hellhole."
McGarrett and Danno butt heads and argue, which makes for the show's essential (perhaps only) fuel. After McGarrett's tactics get Danno grazed by automatic gunfire, the two have a fight in the car: "I'm glad you have that GI Joe thousand-yard stare from chasing shoe bombers around the world, but in civilized society we have rules," Danno says, in increasingly and risibly hack dialogue. "It's the unspoken glue that separates us from jackals and hyenas. Rule number one -- if you get somebody shot, you apologize."
Soon they're bickering sweetly, like old marrieds.
After a detour to bust up a human-trafficking ring, Danno and McGarrett get their terrorist (was there any doubt? "Book 'em, Danno") and the governor gets her secret police force and, most of all, CBS gets another formulaic winner.
But what do "Lost" fans get? Daniel Dae Kim (Jin from "Lost") segues nicely to his new home here in the supporting role of Chin Ho Kelly, a resourceful former cop who joins the team. (There's also a new Kono, Chin Ho's cousin -- this time a surfer girl just out of the police academy, played by Grace Park.)
That's not much salve for people still mentally combing Oahu ("Lost's" set location) looking for Hurley and the hatch. If nothing else, "Hawaii Five-0" offers these fanfolk refugees a recuperatively scenic, brainless vacation spot in which to linger, while they sip mai tais and wait in vain for this island to hop through space and time. As the new Danno would say: "Seriously?"
Hawaii Five-O: (one hour) premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on CBS.