During the tense and sweaty “give me my brother or I’ll- kill your father” terrorist negotiations that open CBS’ new " Hawaii Five-O,” a viewer might find herself surprisingly distracted. Not by any allegiance to the original — though one of TV’s longest-running shows, “Hawaii Five-O” has been reduced in cultural memory to its classic opening music and the catchphrase “Book ‘em, Danno,” both of which are present and accounted for — but by the show’s lead. And not for the reason CBS would hope. Yes, he’s handsome, but why on Earth, when there are so many handsome talented actors out of work in this town, has Alex O’Loughlin been given three TV shows in almost as many years?
Yes, the limpid-eye woodenness O’Loughlin inevitably brings to a role (settle down, “Moonlight” fans; you know it’s true) works well enough for Steve McGarrett — Jack Lord played it clenched and clipped too — but that’s about as far as it goes, and “well enough” cannot be what CBS was looking for.
Fortunately, O’Loughlin’s by-the-book performance is buoyed by a fast-paced script and a splendid supporting cast, including and especially Scott Caan as Danno, that radiates enough hit-making energy to render even Oahu’s azure waters and perfect sunsets superfluous.
The original “Hawaii Five-O,” along with “Dragnet,” created the template for the crime procedural — and, in the case of “Magnum, P.I.,” the literal set as well. But that was back in the late ‘60s when cops were all men who solved crimes and kept their feelings to themselves. As reimagined by Peter M. Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (“Star Trek,” “Fringe”), O’Loughlin’s McGarrett is not only more Tommy Bahama than the dark-suited Lord, he’s buffer too, physically and back-story-wise.
A Navy Seal, he has returned to Hawaii to avenge the death of his father at the hands of an Irish terrorist. (What’s up with the renaissance of Irish terrorists these days? They’re wreaking havoc over at “Sons of Anarchy” too.) The Hawaiian governor ( Jean Smart, always a reason to watch anything) quickly offers him one of those ridiculously unconstitutional deals — clean up my island and I’ll ask no questions — that make shows like this possible. Surprisingly, McGarrett demurs until he meets Danny “Danno” Williams (Caan), the flip and in-your-face detective in charge of actually investigating his father’s murder. Recently transplanted from New Jersey (where else?) to be near his young daughter, Danno refuses to be impressed by McGarrett’s grim-faced mien or manner, and in fine bromance tradition (please see the recent “Star Trek”), after a little banter, a few punches, and a shootout, they’re partners for life. Although O’Loughlin had better watch his game, or Caan, with his tough cop/soft dad charm, will steal the show right from under him.
And he’s not the only competition: " Lost’s” Daniel Dae Kim fills the role of Chin Ho Kelly, here an island-savvy cop kicked off the force after being wrongfully accused of taking bribes. And because this is 2010, Grace Park ( “The Cleaner”) gets to steal more than one scene as his young, hot, butt-kicking cousin, a pro surfer turned almost-police academy graduate.
Following a script that is neatly balanced between action, clever banter and serious issues — in the pilot, the fledgling task force takes on human traffickers — the group defies the prefab packaging that plagues so many crime-fighting team shows and plays to an audience too young to remember even Jack Lord’s fabulous hair. McGarrett learns that his father, a cop himself, was investigating some internal corruption, which should provide a solid über-narrative behind the inevitable international crime of the week. But the crime procedural, like the medical procedural, has increasingly evolved into a character drama — the mysteries our cops and docs are trying to solve, the lives they’re trying to save, are their own. And though Lord’s McGarrett might spin in his celluloid grave while O’Loughlin’s McGarrett struggles to keep up with his more captivating team, “Hawaii Five-O” seems poised to hold its own in the modern age.