I’m about to severely date myself, but I remember watching the original Hawaii Five-O along with a whole batch of classic series like Dragnet, Hunter and The Equalizer when I was a kid. Mostly, my commentary on it at the time consisted of joking about how James MacArthur’s Danny Williams was always the one who had to imperil himself first. Now that I’m old enough to actually do more than take potshots at the original, there’s a remake for my generation. My first thought? Hoping it wasn’t the next L.A. Dragnet.
We open during a prisoner transport in South Korea, where then-Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin, who’s still going to be ‘the guy from Moonlight‘ to certain people no matter what he does) gets a desperate phone call from his father, who’s being held hostage by Victor Hesse (James Marsters), the brother of the man he’s transporting (Boondock Saints‘ Norman Reedus). Moments later, the transport is under fire from an unmarked helicopter (start humming that Soul Coughing song now) and the whole situation gets as horrible as it could possibly get, culminating in both the loss of Hesse’s brother and the murder of McGarrett’s father. Wow, that’s harsh.
Cue that iconic theme song! Now with bonus USC marching band!
McGarrett comes back to his native Hawaii after “a while” and meets with Hawaii Governor Pat Jameson (24‘s Jean Smart, looking a heck of a lot better than where we left her on that series), who has a proposal for him. She wants him to run a new task force, trying to coerce him with the law enforcement equivalent of a blank check: “blanket authority, no red tape,” to no avail. Moments after their terse conversation, Steve runs into Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim), who was also close to his father and tells him that the guy running the case has no clue what he’s doing. That guy is none other than Danny Williams (Into The Blue‘s Scott Caan), who’s both trying to work the case and spend quality time with his daughter. Don’t worry, he’ll be back. We’re just moving on to Steve sneaking into his father’s house turned crime scene and having an uncomfortable moment.
Steve does his own forensic investigation, picking up a fingerprint in one room, before he wanders out to the garage and finds a key hidden in his dad’s old toolbox, along with a microcassette tape on which his dad reveals that he was investigating inside the Honolulu Police Department. This ominous moment is the one in which Danny chooses to come back in, aiming a gun and demanding answers. The two trade barbs about each other’s professional capacity. Unimpressed by Danny, Steve calls up the Governor right there and accepts her job offer, getting deputized over the phone and taking the other man’s authority out from under him. This is not the police version of “meeting cute” by any means. It’s also a vast departure from the original series, where Danny was a younger officer somewhat under Steve’s wing, and frankly, I think it works better this way. I never did figure out how Danny always got stuck going first into danger and yet lived through twelve seasons, other than that he had to be stupidly lucky.
Steve later looks up Danny at his place to question him about the investigation and a wiretap that he requested on a suspected arms dealer named Fred Duran. Danny is convinced that Duran supplied Hesse with the gun that killed Steve’s dad. Steve quickly psychoanalyzes Danny as a divorced workaholic from New Jersey (like what, you’re so special?) with no other options and makes him the first member of the new task force. Together the two set out to have a chat with Duran, except for that he’s in the middle of a domestic dispute when they arrive, and he’s got an assault rifle. Poor Danny gets himself shot within the first half-hour that the show is on the air. Okay, maybe this isn’t so different from the original after all. At least he gets back up to shoot Duran a few minutes later.
Did I mention Duran’s got a girl tied up in a closet? This ignites a whole new argument between Danny and Steve with the “what if it was your daughter?” scenario. Steve twists Danny’s injured arm and Danny decks him in the face. I’m pretty sure Jack Lord and James MacArthur never did that. Even that doesn’t stop their bickering, because Danny wants an apology for getting shot. “I’m sorry,” Steve finally says. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. Last year, when this conversation started.”
The human trafficking sends Steve and Danny back to talk with Chin Ho, who suggests they look into local gangs and a former confidential informant (CI) who might know something but who doesn’t trust anyone. That’s his ticket onto the task force. Chin Ho gets a name out of the CI, and the three of them meet at a hastily assembled HQ before they go back out to recruit the final team member, Chin Ho’s ridiculously attractive cousin, police academy almost-grad Kona (Battlestar Galactica‘s Grace Park), who’s also not afraid to punch people in the face. I sense a theme.
Introductions made, the team gets ready for a meeting with the chief human trafficker, while still trying to identify the other guy that was with Hesse when he killed Steve’s dad. They send Kona in to approach the guy, pretending she has family she’s trying to smuggle into the country. Since Grace Park is ridiculously attractive, this gets slightly creepy in a hurry, and she gets made thanks to the HPD mole, who’s working with the traffickers. It’s McGarrett to her rescue, plowing a big truck right through the warehouse. A shootout ensues, because there always is one in the pilot of an action show these days, and the resulting commotion leads the team to find where the rest of the illegal immigrants have been kept hostage and free them.
Chin Ho interrogates the chief human trafficker, and smacks him upside the face with an ashtray for insulting Kona before Steve walks in and puts the screws to the guy by playing his wife and kids against him. Everything in this episode is coming back to family, whether it’s Steve’s, Danny’s, Chin Ho’s or even the bad guy’s. The guy cracks and tells them that he put Hesse on a Chinese freighter, sending Steve in hot pursuit and possibly on the way to starting an international incident. Steve and Danny arrive on the docks and more shooting breaks out as Steve goes out to take down Hesse on his own (did you expect anything else?). A fistfight between the two on top of cargo containers is the culmination of the episode. It pales in comparison to a similar scene between Mark Valley and Lennie James on Human Target last season, but it’s still worth watching and Steve’s victory is satisfying. Of course, he has to invoke the classic catchphrase, “Book ’em, Danno.”
Thankfully, Hawaii Five-O is no L.A. Dragnet. It’s also a thousand times better than the previous attempt to imitate its predecessor, the mercifully short-lived Hawaii (which I honestly can’t believe was overseen by Jeff Eastin, the same man who gave us White Collar). Of course, much like the CW’s Nikita, comparisons to the source material are inevitable because some of the same characters and backstory are used. Unlike that show, however, Hawaii Five-O isn’t trying to pass itself off as something entirely new; it’s embracing the franchise’s history at the same time that it is making a new chapter, proving that such a thing can be done and done well. I can see respectful and substantive callbacks to the original series in the new series, and not just people borrowing bits and pieces to further the ends of their own show. I missed the Orci/Kurtzman/Lenkov bandwagon too, except for watching Mark Valley’s episodes of Fringe, but I can say they’ve done well here.
I admit that I completely missed the Alex O’Loughlin bandwagon. I never saw Moonlight or Three Rivers and I definitely never bothered with The Back-Up Plan, so I had no idea what all the fuss was about. That said, I think he was a great choice for the role of Steve McGarrett, and not just because I see a bit of a resemblance. He has charisma and wit, but he’s not trying too hard to embody that “cool lead of an action show” archetype (and his hair doesn’t have nine pounds of gel in it, all apologies to Jack Lord). Scott Caan is James MacArthur for a new generation, with the same tendency to get himself in harm’s way but more attitude than the previous Danny ever would have given Steve, and that’s a very good quality. The banter and conflict between them is real, and not simply the “look, we’re bantering to show how witty and sarcastic and therefore cool we are” dialogue. The two of them are the core of the show, and the continual development of their relationship should be fun to watch.
I also have no complaints about the remainder of the main cast. It’s always good to see Jean Smart in anything, and I hope that she doesn’t become the typical “talking head.” Daniel Dae Kim leaves Lost way behind as Chin Ho, and Grace Park picks up where she left off as the enigmatic Akani in A&E’s The Cleaner, playing a heroine who has brains and bravery, but not simply to prove that she is “a tough woman.” Annie Frost in NBC’s Chase (which ironically airs opposite this series) might be wise to take a hint from Kona, who is both an unapologetic woman and a tough, mature member of the ensemble. Not unlike Katee Sackhoff on Galactica, this isn’t just a case of making a male character a woman so there’s a token woman on the show; the actress in question is actually holding her own. Add it all together, and this is an engaging group of cops.
The cherry on top is the extra depth of the series. The consistent theme of family gives the audience something to chew on, should they decide to dig deeper, and I hope that the show continues to provide that food for thought each week. Not to mention, all due respect to the network’s CSI, but it’s great to have a cop show that does not necessarily revolve around people standing around waiting for technology and spitting out terms that most people can’t understand. Sometimes, less is more, and Hawaii Five-O seems poised to bring back a simpler, more hands-on approach to police work. My grandfather was a real-life Honolulu cop, and I think he’d be proud of this one.
Is it appointment TV? I can’t say that I’ve seen the coolest thing since sliced bread, but I can definitely see where this show is off to a great start with the potential for more. It’s a good way to spend an hour, and it certainly beats watching David Caruso play with his sunglasses for an hour. I’d say this is a remake that has a real chance to not just survive, but thrive.
If this isn’t enough Hawaii Five-O for you, you can also check out Clarissa Rocco’s review of the pilot episode here. Until next week, I’m off to work on my tan.