Five Pluses for 'Hawaii Five-O': Reasons to Watch Yet Another Re-imagining

Hawaii Five-O’s looks, charm, and attitude may get mainlanders to take up surfing -- but not among channels.

Hawaii Five-0

Airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET
Cast: Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Jean Smart, James Marsters
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: CBS
Director: Len Wiseman
Air date: 2010-09-20

If the original pilot provides a time capsule of 1968, the re-imagined Hawaii Five-O deftly captures the big budget production values, short attention spans, and frenetic beat of 2010. The original theme song demands audience attention (and probably some bopping along), although its “catch a wave” vibe now has been compressed to 30 seconds of fast-forward opening credits skimming past familiar landmarks. The makings of an entertaining buddy series are handily in place -- hate at first sight, opposites attracting, and some good ol’ slugging it out and macho posturing to show they’re really friends. In short, Hawaii Five-O’s storytelling techniques, plentiful if sterile violence, and intriguing re-invention of familiar characters provide a prime example of the requirements for a successful U.S. pilot. “Hey, slow down,” detective Danny Williams (Scott Caan) calls after his new partner, Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin), but the former SEAL plunges ahead without looking back. Like riding a wave to shore, viewers are relentlessly propelled through the hour with little time to think or catch their breath.

Any series worth its re-imagining should pay homage to the original but avoid its traps. In the case of Hawaii Five-O, those might include conveniently-closed hour-long police procedurals, impossible leaps in geography, staid characters with no real lives outside their job, and little camaraderie between the leads. Five-O 2010 offers more flash and crash in its stories, but, as with the original, there’s no doubt the good guys will win by the episode’s end. More care has gone into those quick cuts to the chase, so that locals and savvy tourists won’t have to suspend disbelief when McGarrett turns a corner in Honolulu and ends up across the island a moment later. Best yet, the characters do more than solve kidnappings and murders -- they have families and pasts, and even a weekend off. By the end of the pilot, the newly formed Five-O even shares a warm fuzzy as they think up a team name.

Here, then, are five reasons for watching yet another series re-imagined from days gone by:

1. Scott Caan’s portrayal of Danny Williams adds layers to his character’s backstory and attitude, despite the excessive exposition required of a pilot episode. The Chicago Sun-Times praised Caan as “the second coming of cool.”

2. The chemistry among cast members makes this team believable. That is especially true of Caan and O’Loughlin, or Danny and Steve, who, within the first hour, already are creating a fantastic buddy pairing. Theirs is a love-hate relationship leaning toward hate (“I hate him. I hate him so much,” Danny reminds the audience), a pivotal line that becomes ironic as soon as the duo begin bonding during shootouts. Their bromance may banter its way into viewers’ hearts.

3. The plot and dialogue really aren’t bad. It’s difficult to remember much about the quality of language when the plot moves so quickly among confrontations, crises, and crashes. The episode faces the additional burden of introducing characters and providing their backstories. For most viewers, hearing the theme song, deciding whether the re-imaginers got it right or so very wrong, and seeing if Alex O’Loughlin finally has a hit series are pretty much enough for a first episode. In this pilot, the action keeps coming, the scenery is great, and the dialogue doesn’t induce cringing too often.

4. Sexism is alive and well, and in a series set on a tropical island, that can be a ratings plus. Whatever their preference for eye candy, viewers can visually OD on the scenery, including shirtless McGarrett and bikini-clad Kona (who also has to disrobe down to her undies): bronze and buff seem to be keywords in every character’s description.

5. The story has something for everyone: beaches and valleys, brawls and explosions, drama with a dash of comic relief, even a guest appearance by James Marsters. Surprisingly, the science fiction genre is well represented through the cast, although the premiere’s plot is strictly down to Earth. First guest villain -- Marsters, whose SF pedigree includes Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Torchwood, Caprica, and the forthcoming Three Inches. Grace Park again plays a character re-imagined as the opposite sex. In Battlestar Galactica, she played a much more feminine Boomer than the late ‘70s original, and in Hawaii Five-O her take on Kona (feminized from Kono) takes the character in a new direction -- pro surfer-turned-cop. Once upon a recent TV series, Alex O’Loughlin Moonlighted as a Los Angeles PI before poor ratings defanged him. Daniel Dae Kim resurfaced after Lost’s finale, having found a home on the island. Masi Oka, formerly of Heroes, becomes a recurring character next month. If these SF TV favorites bring their cult fandoms with them to Hawaii Five-O, the series should receive an added ratings boost.

What Happened to Steve McGarrett?

That’s a key question. Within the first 15 minutes, the governor offers McGarrett the opportunity to head a task force to investigate his father’s murder and, at the same time, rid the island of the terrorist(s) who killed him. One of the perks: “Your rules... No red tape.” The requisite “doing whatever it takes” underscores the governor’s and police’s desire to keep their homeland safe. When a cowed human trafficker wonders aloud, “What kind of cops are you?” McGarrett replies, “The new kind.”

Clearly the series takes place in a post-24 world, and O’Loughlin himself says McGarrett is like Jack Bauer. Oh-so-serious McGarrett can stare down terrorists or recalcitrant colleagues, and his take-no-prisoners approach bullies everyone and everything, from gun-wielding hostage takers to the team members he is trying to recruit.

The original Hawaii Five-O was chiefly McGarrett’s show. Theoretically, that should still be the case. O’Loughlin’s previous history as a series lead, as well as his current billing, indicate that McGarrett should be the character at the center of this ensemble. Although this gung-ho detective looks the part of fearless leader, his heroic impact is lessened because of his charismatic, more by-the-book partner in crime prevention.

The actor and character receiving a great deal publicity -- as well as pronouncements that he is the breakout star of the re-imagined series -- is Scott Caan as Danny Williams. Although “book ‘em, Danno” became a catchphrase for the original series and allows the premiere’s playful nod to its ancestor, this Danny Williams is, indeed, new and improved. If James MacArthur had been given as much backstory to play, his character also might have outshone McGarrett.

In the new series’ debut, Caan’s Williams clearly becomes the man to watch. He ups the emotional ante. As a divorced father devoted to his daughter, this transplanted New Jersey detective must balance family and the demands of an often-brutal job. He is also snarky and independent, with cute but gimmicky quirks like a Psycho ringtone to herald his ex’s calls.

Back to the Island

Audiences always knew that someday they would go back to the island. In addition to sharing locations and a lead actor with Lost, Hawaii Five-O has learned to treat the natives right. Following in the tradition of Lost’s seasonal premieres in Waikiki, Five-O screened the pilot episode at Sunset on the Beach days before its network debut. The red carpeted event brought out the cast and fans eager to be the first to see the episode. Hawaii Five-O has quickly accepted the role of caretaker of the island, or at least its television audience.

The Honolulu Star certainly gets (and gets with) the program and its potential for stimulating tourism. Recent articles covered the Sunset on the Beach premiere and provided readers with insider trivia, such as the interesting tidbit that the senior McGarrett’s car, shown parked in the family garage, is the same Mercury that Jack Lord’s McGarrett drove in 1974. The Iolani Palace, Five-O’s home in the ‘60s and ‘70s, is now a museum, requiring the team’s transfer to the nearby U.S. Post Office (a one-time setting for Lost). In fact, the opening scene’s helicopter attack explodes within the Kualoa Ranch’s valley, home to many of Lost’s iconic scenes.

Yet the fast-paced action and budding buddy relationship bring out a different side of Hawaii, despite its familiar cinematography. Hawaii Five-O’s looks, charm, and attitude may get mainlanders to take up surfing -- but not among channels.

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