Hawaii 5-0 (10:00, Mndays, CBS)is the most surprising new show on television. I dimly remember the original – a blunt and uninspiring police procedural with a palm tree background, shot mostly on sound stages, with its tough guy cop and ho-hum sidekick (“Book ‘em, Dano”).
The new show I a pleasant relief from the cable political shows I often find myself watching. The heroes and villains are no less crudely drawn, but in my tropical cop show the good guys win and the bad guys often get shot, which makes a pleasant break from watching Tea Party candidates advancing in the polls at home and toxic red sludge spills advancing on the Danube, abroad.
Hawaii 5-0 is filmed on location and really uses the culture and texture of the islands. Two of the characters are locals, and the hero, though white, was raised as a native by his police chief father. Scott Caan plays the fourth member of the team, a transplanted New Jersey cop, who has turned his life upside-down and traveled 5000 miles, just to spend weekends with his daughter. Caan is an engaging actor, with much of his father’s macho spirit, leavened by an easy-going sense of humor. You can imagine him as Sonny Corleone, but he would have made a far more appealing hot-head Mafiosi than his Dad. The story-lines involving Dano and his daughter are authentically – surprisingly – touching. The moment where he’s pleading for shared custody into a locked-gate intercom (only to find out he’s talking to his e-wife’s maid), breaks your heart and makes you laugh at the same time. Dano’s ultimate custody victory has nothing to do with his wife’s compassion or clemency, though: it turns out that McGarrett pulled strings with the Governor over some business contracts, to put pressure on the new husband. “You’re not as alone out here as you think you are,” he tells Dano, in a moment of unexpected fraternity.
Not that the show is all touchy-feelie. Daniel Dae Kim’s character was thrown off the force for (apparently ungrounded) corruption charges, and has to deal with becoming a small town pariah among his old friends and colleagues. His cousin, played by Grace Park, takes his side, sometimes against her own friends and colleagues. She rounds out the team, and the intimate knowledge of Hawaii they share with McGarrett contrasts in a very entertaining way with Dano’s off-island alienation. Together they make Hawaii itself a character in the drama.
Beyond all this, she show is fun. They play with the old catch phrases in amusing ways. The second time McGarrett says “Book ‘em Dano”, Dano rolls his eyes and says, “Are we doing this now?” He’s already tired of it; but his irritation makes us smile.
The procedural elements of the show are workmanlike – no one expects Sherlock Holmes or even Michael Bloomkvist here – but the action is sharp and well-choreographed. Alex O’Loughlin as McGarrett is physically credible as a kick-ass ex military man, as much assault commando as policeman. In a way this all is a throwback to the sixties, when hour long cop dramas like Hawaii 5-0 wanted nothing more than to provide escapist entertainment. So much of what I watch these days strives for so much more -- and often succeeds: Mad Men, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire … even The Good Wife, on Hawaii 5-0’s own network. It turns out I had kind of forgotten the simple minded pleasures of old school television. Still it’s not as easy to turn out a frictionless piece of hack work as it used to be. We settled for so much less, in the old days.. Just watching a show in color was a thrill. We didn’t care about the tacky sets and interior ‘exterior’ street scenes, the predictable plots or trite dialogue. To give us those same simple pleasures now requires so much more: sharp writing, committed acting, real locations, big budgets – so much work and investment to make a light-hearted throw-away cop show; and the touch of soul. that lifts it above the average entertainment just feels like good luck. Personally, I’m glad they took the trouble, and I hope they stay lucky.
Pomaika`i Hawaii 5-0.
And keep up the good work. There are a lot of us tired people out there who can’t watch another minute of Chris Matthews or Anderson Cooper, and we’re all counting on you to distract us.