"Big Hawaii" is a big bore. But NBC's new far-Western Western, premiering tonight, at least has a cast of engaging young performers whom one charitably can expect will go on to better things.
The first show in the series, at 10 o'clock on Channel 4, sinks in its own commercially brewed ingredients. The format about a rich old bull moose of a rancher and his rowdy sons is too reminiscent of "Bonanza," "The Virginian," and other clan capers; writer Tim Mashler faces the cliches squarely and then surrenders to them.
There's even an unwelcome echo of "Gone with the Wind" in the Lulu Kahani character played by large Elizabeth Smith. Clearly, she is a mammy figure, and like the few other native-born Hawaiians cast in the show, she plays a role subservient to the wealthy white folks.
Among the young, Cliff Potts and Lucia Stralser, as Mitch and Karen Fears, show themselves capable of resuscitating a script that's out cold. The premiere is further brightened by Don Johnson's performance as an unreliable but sociable nomad named Gandy.
Beyond the valley of middle age, the casting is less fortuitous. John Dehner's huffing and puffing Uncle Moneybags is a very, very tired act. Casting "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall as "Fred Whipple" must be somebody's idea of a joke, especially since he was given the line "May I have the keys, please?" That's what he says when somebody wins a car on the game show.
None of these people can do much with a plot in which the big dramatic conflict is Karen's dilemma over whether to spend $2,500 on a horse or lend it to Gandy so his helicopter won't be repossessed. This is not the kind of situation normal, sensible people can relate to.
Some of the Hawaiian scenery is, inevitably, pretty, and there's a funny interlude set at an oyster-eating contest, but the best thing to be said about "Big Hawaii" is that it's a minor nuisance, not a major one.