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Review: 'Magnum P.I.' is on the case in reboot. Minus the mustache, for starters

Review: 'Magnum P.I.' is on the case in reboot. Minus the mustache, for starters
Jay Hernandez takes over the role made famous by Tom Selleck in CBS' reborn "Magnum P.I." (Karen Neal/CBS)

Beyond the fact that it doesn't star Tom Selleck and that these are not the 1980s, there is nothing wrong with the reborn, lightly rebooted "Magnum P.I.," which Monday joins "Hawaii Five-0," “S.W.A.T.” and "MacGyver" in the CBS House of Reborn, Rebooted Mysteries.

Whether it will blossom into the sort of living, breathing TV entity that the original became is something impossible to judge from the single pilot episode made available to review, but it does a good job of suggesting its predecessor's loose charm and upstanding morals. And, of course, there is Hawaii.

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As in the original, Thomas Sullivan Magnum (Jay Hernandez) is a veteran working as a private eye — "private investigator," he will insist at least twice in the opening episode — on the island of Oahu. He lives in a guest house on the estate of an absent figure named Robin Masters, and he has the use of his Ferrari. He narrates the action, wryly, with a modicum of self-deprecation.

Also as before, Magnum has best friends who share his history in military special ops. Theodore "TC" Calvin (Stephen Hill) runs a charter-tour helicopter service called Island Hoppers; Orville Wilbur Wright (Zachary Knighton), called Rick Wright, like the keyboard player in Pink Floyd, runs a hot beach club and "knows people." They drink beer.

The more important question, perhaps, is how does this "Magnum" distinguish itself from the series that is the entire reason this show exists.

Team Magnum helps a person in need. From left, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins, guest Tiffany Hines, Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Zachary Knighton as Orville "Rick" Wright and Stephen Hill as Theodore "TC" Calvin.
Team Magnum helps a person in need. From left, Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins, guest Tiffany Hines, Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Zachary Knighton as Orville "Rick" Wright and Stephen Hill as Theodore "TC" Calvin. (Photo: Karen Neal/CBS)

Literally to start, the opening titles, which could run a minute in the original, and which recently inspired a shot-for-shot "Archer" parody, have been compressed to about two seconds — four increasingly close shots of the Ferrari, working in a little scenery. The theme music, composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, has been reduced to its first four notes. (They are the important notes, in any case.) You can’t get any more 21st-century than that.

Most significantly, Higgins, originally played by John Hillerman, the dry, droll person who oversees the Masters estate, is now a woman, first name Juliet, played by Perdita Weeks, who now comes with action-hero skills of her own. Although Higgins still regards Magnum with skepticism leavened with affection, the possibility of romantic tension is now potentially in the mix — there is the slightest hint of it in the opening episode. And, yes, she still has Doberman pinschers named Zeus and Apollo, who get along with everyone but Magnum.

Apart from being played by a Latino actor — a heritage acknowledged only in a joking line about how sharks "eat the white meat first" — 2018 Magnum has been made physically not in his original's image. Where Selleck was towering, Hernandez is compact. The iconic bushy mustache has been whittled back into part of a light goatee; the chest hair is gone completely. He does not wear Hawaiian shirts or a ball cap, though the Cross of Lorraine signet ring and Rolex watch abide.

Perdita Weeks plays Juliet Higgins, a female iteration of the character formerly played by John Hillerman, on CBS' revived "Magnum P.I."
Perdita Weeks plays Juliet Higgins, a female iteration of the character formerly played by John Hillerman, on CBS' revived "Magnum P.I." (Karen Neal/CBS)

It is no knock against Hernandez to say that he is not Tom Selleck, because there is only one Tom Selleck, and he is a TV icon, in a show that itself stands for a particular time in the national memory. The odds of Hernandez, who has been acting on television for more than 20 years already, achieving that colossal status are about as good as — which is also to say, no better than — those of any other lead in a network television show.

(The "Hawaii Five-0" remake, which returns Sept. 28, has been on the air for eight seasons — one of those little facts that remind you suddenly of your mortality — and I still had to look up who followed Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett now. It's Alex O'Loughlin; he's Australian.)

Indeed, Hernandez is quite charming and appealingly human — he gets beat up when he gets beat up — and time being what it is, there will be viewers for whom he is the primary Magnum. And “Magnum P.I.” is, after all, a milieu as well as a character, an atmosphere, a setting, a take on life, where likable, laid-back characters are sometimes roused from hanging out to solve a crime or help a person in need. Tim Kang plays the police detective whose head Magnum will sometimes butt.

The plot is serviceable, which is all it needs to be, but there are car chases and helicopter stunts and banter all the while. That is exactly the sort of thing many people will require of a Monday night. “Magnum P.I.” is here to serve you that cold beer.

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‘Magnum P.I.’

Where: CBS

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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