Bobby Simmons

Bank robbers gloated that by the time HMPD arrived, they'd be '...halfway to Maui,' as if there are no cops on the Valley Isle.


Airtime: Wednesdays 8pm ET
Cast: Michael Biehn, Sharif Atkins, Ivan Sergei, Eric Balfour, Aya Sumika, Carey Hiroyuki Tagawa, Peter Navy Tuiasosopo
Network: NBC

The new NBC series Hawaii earnestly attempts to capitalize on its spectacular setting, playing grim crime scenes against bits of spot-on local flavor. Yet despite its promising raw materials, the show sinks under the weight of cop-show clichés and missteps in casting and characterization.

Since the demise of Magnum, P.I. back in 1988, the State of Hawaii has been eager to bring back television production, ultimately winning a desperate battle with Australia in the late 1990s for a relocated Baywatch. Despite a seemingly endless stream of sweetheart deals (not to mention the casting of former Hugh Hefner gal pal Brande Roderick), Baywatch: Hawaii folded in 2001.

If that show served mostly as an hour-long promotion for the Hawaii Visitors' Bureau, Hawaii shows a far nastier side of the islands, rife with brutal ritualistic killings and loose bags of military-grade explosives. The series follows two sets of partners on the Honolulu Metro Police Department, Chris Gains (Eric Balfour) and Danny Edwards (Ivan Sergei), and longtime HMPD Detective Sean Harrison (Michael Biehn) and John Declan (Sharif Atkins) a recently arrived detective from Chicago, their more seasoned counterparts. Both teams feature the same basic structure, one cop having a cooler head and a better sense of how to operate on the streets of Honolulu, the other earnestly going off half-cocked and learning valuable local lessons along the way.

Balfour, late of Six Feet Under, is the bright spot among the leads. His Officer Gains is young but savvy to Hawaii's street culture and residents (he's even fluent in Japanese!). With his ethnically indeterminate good looks, Balfour could pass for a local boy, and his general easiness keeps faith with the show's effort to combine crime-fighting edginess and laidback attitude.

Declan is the televisual stand-in for the uninitiated viewer, newcomer to the islands who needs each local tradition, legend, and colloquialism explained. While this makes sense in terms of storytelling, it works against the credibility of the show both in terms of the local culture (very few black cops in Hawaii, truth be told) and in terms of crime-fighting (how could this guy step in as a detective in such an unfamiliar location?). By contrast, his partner, Harrison, is unexpectedly out of place, without any sign that he is kama'aina, or the truly local cop he narrative arrangement requires him to be.

The second-tier characters (all of Asian or Polynesian descent or some mix thereof) have the thankless task of countering the ethnic imbalance created by the casting of the four leads, while yoked to worn out and sometimes demeaning clichés. Officer Linh Tamiya (Aya Sumika) literally does it all, from advance work for her detective superiors, to sexual liaisons with the detectives, setting up some romantic rivalry between officers Declan and Edwards. Let's just say this is an unfortunate turn.

The hidden gem among the second-stringers is Carey Hiroyuki Tagawa, the series' only star with Hawaii roots. As beleaguered Captain Terry Harada, his mannerisms and vocalizations (he has the easiest time with Pidgin, the multi-lingual dialect of the state of Hawaii) lend much needed credibility to the proceedings at HMPD headquarters. Tagawa's gravitas could be a greater asset still, especially if the producers get serious and give this crew more substantive storylines.

With that said, it is no small issue that the casting relegates the Asian American and Polynesian American actors to secondary roles, while the four leads consist of three Caucasians and an African American. According to the last census, Asians collectively outnumber Caucasians almost 2 to 1 in the 50th state. And African Americans? Forget it: less than 2% of the state population. While there remains a dearth of decent roles for African Americans on TV, the same goes for Asian Americans, and to miss this opportunity to develop a credible, frontline character of Asian descent in a show that clearly requires one, is just pathetic.

Such casting is especially grating because the show does go to some lengths to anchor itself to local customs, integrating Pidgin where appropriate, as well as recognizing regional styles and mythologies. A recent episode found Declan suffering a string of bad luck after mailing some lava rocks to his mother back in Chicago. Officer Kaleo (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo, the series' heavyset "comic relief") explains that by removing the rocks from the island, he has offended Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. In comparison to the actual legend, the price Declan pays is slight, but these bits of local wisdom help stitch the show to its location, and work against its cop-show conventions.

The writers have also made it a point to pay tribute to Hawaii's television history, with plenty of references to Hawaii 5-0 (bandits in a recent episode even donned Jack Lord masks). They do drop the ball now and again, as when bank robbers gloated that by the time HMPD arrived, they'd be "...halfway to Maui," as if there are no cops on the Valley Isle.

Hawaii is by no means unwatchable, but it doesn't stand out among contemporary crime shows, save for its lush, international setting. The producers could take better advantage of this strong point by adding at least one Polynesian or Asian detective (what's Jason Scott Lee doing these days? Somebody call him) and tackling a real issue facing Hawaii's legal system -- methamphetamine use. Save the serial killers and severed heads for CSI--what Hawaii should aim for is to be the Central Pacific's answer to Miami Vice.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.