Hawaii Five-0: The Third Season will make you want to take a trip to Maui, surf some waves, and then go catch some heroin-injecting hippies and “book them, murder one.” The unforgettable music of this classic cop drama is enough to keep you watching, as are the slow motion freeze frames and amazing coiffed hair-dos of Chief of Police Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord), who greets the audience during the title sequence with a dramatic, penetrating glare offset by a half-wink.
The show centers around the actions of Hawaii Five-0, the local police force on the island that seems to fight as much crime in Hawaii as they would in New York City. Who knew there were so many murderers and heroin-using 12-year-olds on Maui? Not me, but locating the show in Hawaii certainly made it seem very exotic, and therefore caught the interest of some viewers that watched the show not just for the high-tension plot lines, but for the beautiful scenery and “native” actors. In some ways, the show is progressive, in that it did cast native Hawaiians such as policeman Kalakaua Kono (Zulu) as lead roles, but in its attempts to challenge racism it is sometimes, conversely, so politically incorrect that it is painful to watch.
The show tries to cover all of its bases so as not to stereotype: if there is a Chinese person playing a bad guy, you can be sure that one will also be playing a good guy, yet then there is an episode where the con-man they are tracking dresses up with “oriental eyes”. This awkward attempt at socially progressive themes mixed with content that wouldn’t be allowed on the air nowadays is obviously a product of the time, and we should look at Hawaii Five-0 as a example of American TV progressing along with the social change and climate surrounding it. But it is hard to ignore the generational gap, which became most apparent to me when my grandmother walked in during a mild fistfight and said, “I don’t know how I ever watched something so violent.”
Hawaii Five-0 spanned from 1968-1980, and thus takes place during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and was hot on the heels of the counter cultural revolution. Like The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-0 tries to be hip in its content and terminology, and phrases like “that’s fuzz jive” and “you’re catching yourself a bummer that you didn’t figure on” fly out from everyone’s mouth except McGarrett’s.
The third season deals not only with your average con man, but with communists, war veterans and hippies, and tries its best not to be too cliché about it. Television during this period attempted to get on the counter cultural bandwagon, and though McGarrett and his team are certainly straight-laced compared to The Mod Squad, they deal with situations and people who are appropriate to the political and cultural environment of the time.
The show follows a format that is repeated in almost every episode: a crime is committed before the title sequence, and then McGarrett and his team track down the criminal and solve the case in a very step-by step process, in which the viewer usually knows more than they do about the mystery to be solved. In order to successfully use this format over and over again, the show has to be entertaining, and for the most part this is the case, and suspense isn’t lost.
Part of the reason the show is fun to watch is because of how dated it is, out of nowhere freeze frames and epic slow motion shots are abound, and different colored filters will suddenly brighten up the screen. However, some of the techniques and standards used on the show are coming back in style and continue to set the stage for future crime dramas to come. McGarrett shoots himself to kill someone else in 1970, and in 2007 Bruce Willis does the same in Live Free or Die Hard.
McGarrett himself is stone cold and impenetrable most of the time, wearing various fancy two-button suits in each episode (except for a very disturbing episode in which he is wearing a different brightly colored cardigan with contrasting ascot in each scene and holding a flower). In the same vein as James Bond, McGarrett betrays no emotions and lives to solve crimes. This caricature is broken only once when his long lost love, Cathy, returns and he spends the episode being extremely sensitive and moody, and at one point sits quietly playing an acoustic guitar. But don’t worry, he snaps out of it and gets the job done.
The viewer becomes extremely familiar with the show almost immediately upon starting a season. The moment you see a plane, you know a good guy will come out of it, immediately get shot, McGarrett will figure it out, and the whole time he will be wearing too much mascara. Though the show may sometimes feel dated and inappropriate, and even a bit boring compared to the fast action and special effects we are used to, one cannot deny that it is campy in the best way, and also influenced all of the crime dramas that came after it (it was certainly prototypical of Miami Vice).
There are no special features to speak highly of (only episodic promos), and your interest in Hawaii Five-0 may be ironic more than anything else, but after watching it on DVD you might find yourself becoming dependent on the formulaic plot line that never lets you down, and you will also value the show as an testament to the advancing political and social climate of the late ’60s and ’70s as was interpreted in popular media.