The Unconventional Bromance of Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins

Not everyone believes in soulmates and that’s fine. I’m not judging you. People can’t even seem to agree on the definitive definition of a soulmate. My preferred explanation is that a soulmate is a person who comes into your life to stimulate your growth. Maybe it’s just for a short time, maybe it’s forever, but they are there for a purpose and that purpose is to nudge you into being a better version of yourself.

Most people who buy into the concept of soulmates focus on romantic soulmates, twin flames burning in the night, but they are not the only kind. There are also platonic soulmates (think your best friend) and antagonistic soulmates.

It would be that last category that Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins fall into.

During the eight season run of Magnum PI, the relationship between Magnum and Higgins evolved from purely antagonistic to friends of a sort. Not the hang out and have a beer kind of friends, or the invite to them to your party kind of friends. But still, friends. Sort of.

The first episodes of the series establish that Higgins and Magnum are to be each other’s foil and their dislike is mutual. Magnum is a thorn in Higgins’s side and Higgins is a constant cramp in Magnum’s style. The only reason they’re in each other’s lives is because they work for the same man (though Higgins might argue that what Magnum does constitutes work), and Higgins is usually dragged into Magnum’s shenanigans against his will.

However, even in those earlier episodes it’s established that there’s at the very least a certain understanding between the two men.

My favorite first season example of this is an episode called “Thicker Than Blood”. TC gets busted smuggling an AWOL buddy who once saved his life into Hawaii and he looks ready and willing to take the fall. Magnum and Rick are desperate to help him. In the course of their investigation, Magnum needs to use the dark room to blow up photos of the ship TC picked up his buddy on, but he has to get through Higgins to get the name of the vessel. The typical bartering is thrown off because Magnum’s need to help TC overrides everything and he offers to move out of the guesthouse, which trips up Higgins even though he accepts. In the end, Magnum stays put because Higgins claims he can’t move out until he does a proper inventory and that will take a while.

But we all know it was because Higgins understood what Magnum was going through trying to help a friend. Being a military man himself, it’s not stretch to surmise that he understands the depths of the bonds created during service.

In the second season episode “Tropical Madness”, a young woman takes a liking to Higgins, which makes Magnum suspect that she’s up to no good. Though Higgins insists that it’s Magnum’s ego driving him, Magnum’s persistence uncovers that the young woman does have an ulterior motive. Okay, maybe Magnum’s ego does play into it, but there’s also a sincere concern for Higgins there, too. He doesn’t want to see the man get hurt, broken heart or something worse.

This is the rhythm of their dynamic. The aggravate each other, antagonize each other (sometimes intentionally), barter with each other, but there’s a mutual respect that’s built on that develops into a more genuine, if odd, kind of friendship.

Part of this understanding is because Magnum knows what kind of man Higgins is. He’s uptight and proper and has some control issues, but Magnum also knows that he’s a good man, one that lives by a strict moral and ethical code. Why else would Magnum work so hard to clear Higgins’s name in the Season 3 episode “Foiled Again”, in which it looks like Higgins is responsible for the death of an old rival during a fencing match. Magnum knows that Higgins didn’t intentionally kill the man and he refuses to let him take the fall for it, even if Higgins is doing it to protect someone else.

In another Season 3 episode, “Black on White”, Magnum goes to extreme lengths to protect Higgins from an apparent attempt on his life without his knowledge. What starts off as a bit of a silly ploy to capture the assassin -Magnum faking an illness to have himself and Higgins quarantined in the guest house- gets very serious when the whole plot is revealed to Higgins and then Higgins reveals that a massacre in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising happened on his watch. Magnum is the one helping to coax Higgins into opening up. For someone who often tells stories at a drop of a hat, this is one tale that Higgins didn’t want to tell.

Magnum is on the receiving end of another personal story from Higgins in the Season 4 episode “Holmes is Where the Heart Is”. Magnum is obsessed with getting into Higgins’s office to retrieve a camera lens, but Higgins has locked himself away to work on a very specific story for his memoirs, one about an old friend named David Worth who thought himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Eventually, Magnum gets in the office and reads the unfinished story, not taking it seriously until he sees the state Higgins is in and the absolute ire of his reaction to Magnum’s intrusion. However, Magnum is able to coax the rest of the story from Higgins, helping to relieve the emotional burden the man has been carrying.

Likewise, Higgins gains an understanding of what kind of man Magnum is. He might be irresponsible, uncouth, and a bit of leech on his friends, but he also has a deep sense of justice and loyalty, particularly for those his cares about.

Which is why Higgins is also affected when Magnum ended up stranded at sea in the Season 4 opener “Home from the Sea”. Though at the time no one knew that Magnum was in trouble, Rick, TC, and Higgins all have unexplained, uneasy feelings about him. In Higgins’s case, it’s right after he says something unpleasant about Magnum that he suddenly regrets it. He’s just as plagued by the feeling that something is wrong as Magnum’s two besties and joins them in their search. In fact, it’s Higgins that jumps in and does the ultimate save. Whether either man would admit it, it’s that loyalty that bonds them.

That loyalty is also why Higgins joins Magnum, Rick, and TC in what they’re told is a rescue mission for an old friend in Cambodia in the Season 5 two-parter “All for One”. Higgins has no obligation to go (and first season Higgins almost assuredly wouldn’t go) and yet he shows up just the same. Maybe a little bit of his motivation is to go on one more adventure like those of his youth, but the bigger part is that he cares about these men, in particular Magnum. He’s not going to let them go off without him, even if this isn’t his fight.

As the seasons go on, we see just how much these men care for each other, in big and small ways.

Higgins doesn’t fret any less than anyone else in the Season 5 episode “Mac’s Back”. Magnum swears he’s seen Mac, who’s been dead for a couple of seasons by this point, and his friends worry about his sanity. While Higgins chastises Rick for pacing and TC for working his hat, TC points out that Higgins has been drinking out of an empty tea cup for 30 minutes. He’s just as concerned for Magnum’s mental health than the other two.

In the Season 6 opener “Deja Vu”, Magnum and Higgins are in England. Magnum is investigating his friend’s death while Higgins is trying to help the major domo of another of Robin Masters’s estates. One part of the B-story is that Higgins is finally in a position to visit his father and heal a decades old rift, but is reluctant to do so. Magnum is the one who gives him that push (or more accurately, kidnaps him and dumps him on the doorstep). Magnum gives Higgins a similar push in the Season 7 finale “Limbo”, in which it’s revealed that Magnum sent Higgins’s memoirs to a publisher.

Throughout the series Magnum and Higgins find ways to help each other like that. Magnum taking on cases to help Higgins or his friends; Higgins helping Magnum out with cases; Magnum helping Higgins deal with all of his half-brothers; Higgins giving Magnum advice or a few words of wisdom.

By Season 7, their relationship has evolved to the extent they have a prank war in “Paper War”, evidence of their interactions having grown from mostly antagonistic to something approaching good-natured.

The Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins we see in the series finale “Resolutions” are not the same Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins we’re first introduced to in the series premier “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii”. No, they haven’t changed so much that we don’t recognize them. They’re still fundamentally the same and they still get on each other’s nerves.

But Higgins isn’t quite as uptight as he used to be.

And Magnum isn’t quite as immature as he used to be.

It’s a growth that they couldn’t have achieved without each other.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I Love to See My Faves in Peril

One of my favorite episodes of The A-Team is the Season 2 finale “Curtain Call”. In it, Murdock is shot during a job and the team has to figure out how to get him help while being pursued by Decker. It’s actually just an excuse to have a clip show. But the whole time, Murdock is bleeding to death and I love it.

See also: Hawaii Five-O Season 1 episode “King of the Hill” (Yaphet Kotto has a psychotic episode which leads to Danny being shot and held hostage); Starsky and Hutch Season 1 episode “Shootout” (Starsky is shot as a killers take everyone in an Italian restaurant hostage); and The Green Hornet episode “Bad Bet on 459-Silent” (Britt Reid is shot while being The Green Hornet and they have to figure out how to get him help while he’s preoccupied with catching the bad guys).

I know. It sounds sick and cruel and while I am both of these things, there is actually a very good, less evil reason for my enjoyment.

What it boils down to is that it’s an emotional extreme happening in a fictional context. Like watching horror movies. You can be terrified, but in the end, it’s a safe environment. You’re never in any real danger. Same deal. I and my faves are being put through it emotionally, but in the end, everybody’s okay!

Take “Home From the Sea” for example, the Season 4 premier of Magnum PI. Probably my favorite episode of the series; the ending is an absolutely gut punch. But the whole thing hinges on the fact that Magnum is stranded in the middle of the ocean, caught in a dangerous current pushing him further out to sea. At one point, he’s even bumped by a shark. Ultimate peril that we all know that he’ll survive, but it’s the getting there that we love. Okay, maybe I love it.

Another one is Adam-12 Season 4 episode “The Search”. Reed and Malloy are called to a robbery in progress. Reed catches one suspect while Malloy chases the other in the squad. However, the squad has a dodgy mic so dispatch and other officers have trouble keeping up with Malloy’s location, which proves to be a problem when he rolls the car and is badly hurt. Obviously, Malloy is going to be found in time, but you still hold your breath when he’s found first by someone with less than honorable intentions.

The peril doesn’t even have to be that immediately deadly either. Take for instance the Season 2 Gilligan’s Island episode “Quick Before It Sinks”. It looks like the castaways are in for a watery doom because the island is apparently sinking. Obviously, not the case because the show went on for another season and a half and a few TV movies. And as per show rules, it was a Gilligan goof that led to the incorrect assessment. Now, it’s a sitcom, so the danger is amusing at best, but there’s still something about watching first the men try to keep it from the women, and then the women coming up with a solution (build an ark!) and everyone working together before the inevitable. The inevitable being finding out that Gilligan is the cause of everyone thinking they’re about to bite it.

“The Sniper” episode of M*A*S*H is another good example. Though the dramedy had its serious moments, in this Season 2 episode, there’s more laughs despite the impending threat of being gunned down by a sniper. Though we know nobody is going to be shot and/or killed, there’s still something about watching the doctors, nurses, and patients cope with a situation that’s out of the life or death scenarios in the operating room that they’re used to. The show would do several episodes like this, including another favorite of mine, “The Army-Navy Game” in Season 1.

Whether light or dark, watching my faves in peril is a favorite of mine. It’s almost like a bonding experience in a way, living through that dangerous episode with these fictional characters and coming out on the other side closer than ever.

In case you’re wondering how sadistic I am, when I was watching Tales of the Gold Monkey and got to the episode “Escape from Death Island”, I saw that Corky was going to be bitten by a poisonous snake and actually rubbed my hands in glee. By this point in the series, I adored Corky, so to see that he was going to be in peril thrilled me.

Sure I knew he was going to be okay.

But for a little bit, I got to fret over him.

And then feel that rush of relief when he lived to see another day.

Have Yourself a Jeanette Nolan Christmas

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Jeanette Nolan is one of my favorites, so it should be no surprise that I could find a way to elevate your holiday TV viewing with her presence.

Here are two Christmas-themed episodes of television shows featuring this holly jolly lady.

Okay, maybe she’s not so holly jolly in “PS Murry Christmas”, a Season 17 episode of Gunsmoke. In between appearances as Dirty Sally (and three years before her spin-off series of the same name), Jeanette played Emma Grundy, strict headmistress of a group of orphans that included Erin Moran, Jodie Foster, Willie Aames, and Todd Lookinland (Mike “Bobby Brady” Lookinland’s brother). In her employ is a handyman by the name of Titus Spangler, played by Jack Elam. That casting right there guarantees a hit.

When Titus, who is Jack Elam and therefore anything but subtle, embarrasses Emma in front of the orphanage’s benefactors during their annual Christmas visit, she fires him. The children, orphaned and impoverished, decide that going on the lam with Titus is a much better life and they convince him to take them along. Naturally, they all end up in Dodge City with Emma following. The plight of the children comes to light when Titus is arrested and Miss Kitty attempts to give the children a decent holiday with a party at the Longbranch Saloon, a gesture Emma refuses. It seems like she’s a straight up Scrooge, but there’s something a little more to Miss Emma than meets the eye.

It’s a sweet episode. You’ve got cute kids, the meaning of Christmas, and Jack Elam being Jack Elam. And at the heart you have Jeanette Nolan playing this very uptight character that goes beyond the stereotype of a heartless orphan-minder.

Jeanette isn’t who she seems to be in the MacGyver Season 5 episode “The Madonna” either. MacGyver takes a break from saving the world to try to bring a little holiday joy to some kids at an underfunded youth center. Sadly, the place is in danger of closing due to those lack of funds and kids like Katherine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) and Alessandro Julio (who went on to play Lt. Felix Gaeta on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series) won’t have a place to go. And it’s tough out there on them streets! As we witness a couple of young punks roughing up an old homeless lady who appeared not long after a Madonna statue went missing from a local church. Nothing suspicious about that.

Turns out that everyone BUT Carol the homeless lady is short on Christmas spirit. MacGyver has a case of the holiday blues. The youth center needs $9,000 to stay open. Cynthia (Roxanne Reese), who runs the center, is at the end of her rope. Breeze (Charles Andrew Payne) has no love for the holiday he’s never had. The man who carved the Madonna, Vincent Battaglia (Anthony Holland), is all over sour. And Father Pat (Jackson Davies) isn’t too hopeful about the missing Madonna being returned before Christmas morning. Hell, even the Santa ringing a bell for money is down on his luck.

MacGyver works to both find the missing Madonna for his friend Father Pat and help the young people work to put on their Christmas show to get funds for the youth center, where Carol is now staying. And she helps out in her own special way.

It’s also a sweet episode with cute kids and Pete dressed as Santa and it ends just like you think it will (happy endings all around), but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment. And Jeanette Nolan shines as the fount of Christmas Spirit. I mean, she takes a broom to a drunken Santa Claus and hustles 8 ball. Can’t get more spirited than that.

So, deck your halls, jingle your bells, trim your tree, and have yourself a Very Merry Jeanette Nolan Christmas.

Rerun Junkie Books–The Electronic Mirror by Mitchell Hadley

As a listener of (and sometimes guest on) Eventually Supertrain, I’ve been introduced to several knowledgeable people. Dan Budnik does a fab job of finding guest hosts to discuss his short-lived TV shows. It’s an eclectic mix of voices, which I appreciate.

One of those voices is Mitchell Hadley of It’s About TV (absolutely check out his site; it’s super cool and informative). And when Mitchell said he wrote a book about TV, I knew I had to get it.

I actually acquired and read it a while ago, but I was a person who’d gotten lax with her blog then. That’s why I’m writing the book up now. I’m a new person.

Anyway.

The Electronic Mirror: What Classic TV Tells Us About Who We Were and Who We Are (and Everything In-Between!) is a collection of essays that gives the reader a cultural context of television. Organized by channels (which I love), the book covers topics such as the concept of classic television, the impact television has on us, communism, censorship, politics, violence, religion, and the various personalities who’ve made their marks.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum and television definitely didn’t. Mitchell provides so much context for a lot of the television that happened back in the day, stuff that people my age experienced in reruns. For example, there’s an essay called “Man on the Run” about The Fugitive and how ground breaking it was at time when the justice system and all of its components were seen as the ultimate authority. To say that it was fallible because an innocent man had been convicted of a horrible crime was kind of a big deal. This is a show that I used to watch in high school when I had insomnia. It’s a good show. I like it. But the context of it never really occurred to me until I read the essay. Yeah, it would kind of be a thing in 1963, wouldn’t it?

There’s a lot of history packed into these pages, which I appreciate. As someone who likes to learn things, I ended up acquiring a bunch of knowledge from the book. Some of the history is to provide context, but some of it is because television made history itself. Or was used to make history.

It’s fascinating to put all of those pieces together to create a much fuller picture of life not only at that time, but also how that picture informs the picture we’ve got going on today.

It’s an informative book and if you’re looking to go a little deeper into your TV knowledge, it’s definitely a read for you. Acquire it!

The Addict’s Morality Tale

Cautionary tales and morality tales have evolved from stories and plays to television and movies. Makes sense. Go where the people are. And in theory, the tales themselves should also evolve to fit the current times. However, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Sometimes, they stagnate.

When it comes to depictions of drug use and addiction on TV, it can be argued that there has been progress. Addiction is recognized now as a complicated disorder rather than just a conscious bad choice. There are shows out there willing to depict the complexities of addiction now, and even some reruns that took to tackling the topic with the humanity and understanding it deserves.

However, that hasn’t always been -and isn’t always- the case. There’s still a certain stigma around addiction, a residue left behind by the old thinking of previous times, much of which was propagated by television back in the day.

A lot of these episodes were presented as cautionary tales. Drugs are bad and if you do drugs, bad things will happen to you. Over the years, these cautionary tales became morality tales, with only one possible redemption for the addict.

Death.

Obviously, overdose or some other death by drug-induced misadventure would be the ultimate bad thing that could happen. But it also became the only possible outcome to totally free a person struggling with addiction from that fight. Rehab is nice, but that whole relapse thing…not the nice neat ending one requires in 30 to 60 minutes of television.

For example, in the Season 3 Hawaii Five-O Episode “Trouble in Mind”, there’s some tainted heroin going around the islands and it’s believed that pianist Mike Martin is in the cross hairs. He’s been picked up for heroin before and did some time in rehab. However, it’s later revealed that Mike took the fall for his love, singer Eadie Jordan. She’s got the problem.

Eadie isn’t depicted like the typical addicts that you’d see on TV (and even on the show). She’s not some hippie looking for a high or some stupid kid who thinks drugs are fine and they’re immortal. It’s implied that it’s her job in show business that’s gotten her hooked and she functions quite well as an addict. Steve never suspected her being a heroin user until it was too late.

The depiction of Eadie’s addiction as something sinister. One lapse in judgment condemns an otherwise good person. And even though Mike is trying to help her quit, she still needs it just to keep the edge off of the withdrawal, which the episode doesn’t shy away from depicting.

But this is an addict’s morality tale and as much as we like Eadie, and as much as we want Steve to save the day, there’s only one way this ends.

Perhaps an even more tragic example is that of the story arc of Lt. Aiden Ford on Stargate: Atlantis. During the three-part Season 1 finale/Season 2 opener “The Siege”, Lt. Ford nearly dies while battling a Wraith. The Wraith attempts to feed on Ford just before they plunge into the icy ocean waters. The two of them are recovered in a dormant state with the Wraith still attached to Ford. Dr. Beckett is able to successfully separate them and save Ford, but unfortunately, Ford has received a massive dose of a Wraith enzyme that strengthens their victims so they don’t die too quickly during the feeding.

As a result, Ford becomes addicted to the enzyme. Similar to a person becoming addicted to pain killers after a horrific accident, Ford had no say in this suddenly being thrust upon him. This wasn’t a conscious choice. However, like an addict in denial, Ford is convinced that the enzyme is soldier’s little helper.

The result is him abandoning his friends and his life on Atlantis (and any life and family he might have on Earth). Obviously, the Atlantis crew go looking for him in an attempt to get him help, but in the end Ford escapes. He falls in with (or creates) a group of fellow enzyme addicts and their constant need of the enzyme leads them to riskier and riskier plots, endangering his old friends, which ultimately leads to his downfall, after a brief glimpse at redemption.

Given that this arc played out in the mid-2000’s, it would have been much more interesting to see Ford’s arc resolve in a different way, allowing him to come to terms with his addiction and get the help he needed. But I suppose, there’s fewer explosions in that.

As you may have noticed, the two examples I cited involve people of color portraying the addicts. I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence as race plays a part in the stigma of addiction and the portrayal of it. After all, the crack epidemic resulted in a lot of people going to prison and the opioid epidemic generated a lot of discussion about rehab and the nature of addiction. That wasn’t just because we learned something about addiction in the ensuing years.

However, being white doesn’t always save you from the inevitable fate of an addict in TV land. Just think of “Blue Boy” in “The LSD Story” episode of Dragnet.

I have no problem accurately portraying the struggles of addiction. Overdosing or relapsing after rehab is a very real danger. But death is not the only redemption available to an addict.

Our morality tales should reflect that.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I Don’t Like Them Kids

I’m not talking about the Brady kids, or the Drummonds, or Punky Brewster and her friends, or even Cousin Oliver. I don’t mind the children on their sitcoms where they’re meant to be. I’m talking about the kids that show up on my grown-up shows only to irritate the hell out of me because their spoiled antics and precocious nature are played for laughs or worse, for them to learn a life lesson that I’d rather not witness.

Now, I don’t hate all children that end up on my shows because not all of them are written to irritate me (and I don’t hate any of the actors whether they’re portraying a kid I like or not; I shouldn’t have to say that, but I am). Some of them I do quite like. Tran Quoc Jones in the Magnum PI Season 5 episode “Tran Quoc Jones” is a great example of a kid I like. He doesn’t dominate the screen time, he’s street savvy without being obnoxious, he’s sweet without it being saccharine or fake, and his story has an emotional depth that Roland Harrah III plays well.

Butch Patrick as Melvin in The Monkees Season 2 episode “The Christmas Show” is another example. The whole point of the show is to teach Melvin the meaning of Christmas and Melvin is basically an uptight forty-five year old executive in a 12 year old’s body. Melvin is dismissive, but does nothing to actively sabotage the guys working their Christmas magic. They’re just thwarted at every turn, which is why the humor works so well. And the pay off is a very sweet ending.

However, not all child characters are written with such care.

My least favorite child to show up on my grown-up shows are the spoiled, entitled children. Yes, they’re usually played for laughs because what’s not hilarious about watching our favorites attempt to placate such children except everything. Bonus points if the child is manipulative on top of it.

My best example of this is the Season 4 episode of Stargate: Atlantis, “Harmony”. John and Rodney are tasked with escorting a young princess (Jodelle Ferland, who is excellent in the role) to perform some sacred ritual that will make her queen. In addition to the princess being demanding and spoiled, as princesses tend to be written, she’s also awful towards Rodney, and then uses his rightful anger to play up to John. Yes, it makes for a funny punchline at the end, but the getting there is tiresome. We’re supposed to be amused by Rodney’s torment, but I spend the episode wanting something terrible to happen to a child.

My second least favorite child is a teenager. Perhaps that’s because it seems that all teenagers that pop up on my big people shows are written with their lack of fully formed brain in mind. They end up being rebellious, angsty, defiant, as well as spoiled, entitled, and all around unpleasant. Are teenagers this way in real life? Sure. But there are at least four who are not and they deserve representation.

Usually, these teenagers are there to learn a hard lesson. That’s why they’re so defiant and rebellious. Because they’re heading down the wrong path and it’s our favorites’ job to save them. Most of the time I don’t want them to be saved. I want life to chew them up and spit them out. You get what you pay for, junior.

Let’s go back to Magnum PI for this example. In the Season 6 episode “Summer School”, Robin Masters’s bratty nephew RJ (Tate Donovan, who plays it well) is sent to Robin’s Nest so Higgins can instill some discipline in the lad. After all, he keeps getting kicked out of school and getting into trouble. RJ is a prat from the word go and ends up impersonating Magnum on a case, creating all sorts of problems. And the best/worst part? He doesn’t learn shit from anything. He puts everyone in jeopardy and his parting shot is stealing one of Robin’s cars. Ha ha! What a scamp!

I’m not one to advocate violence against children, but that fictional boy could have ate shit and I would have been fine with it.

I admit that the writing of children and teenagers has gotten better in recent years. Writers have finally started to realize that the young people are actually nuanced little individuals with depths of personalities and emotions and experiences. However, I’ve still managed to run into a few lingering stereotypes.

Despite the improvements, though, I think my first reaction to seeing a child or a teenager in the guest credits is always going to be me wanting them to get off my TV lawn.

Rerun Junkie Show-Tales of the Gold Monkey

As I like to say, the only men I fall in love with are either dead or fictional, and unfortunately Lt. “Mac” MacReynolds on Magnum PI ended up being both.

As the story goes, Jeff MacKay, who portrayed the recurring role of Mac, got a regular gig on a new Donald Bellasario show, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and so his character ended up being killed off at the beginning of the third season (much to the chagrin of me who has had a crush on Mac for years). When the new show was cancelled after one season, Jeff MacKay asked to come back and ended up returning to Magnum PI as Mac’s doppelganger, con artist Jim “Mac” Bonnick.

Obviously, I had to watch this one season show that caused Mac’s death and rebirth. And as luck would have it, my library carries this 1982 show. Which is wild when you consider that we don’t even have Magnum PI.

Anyway.

Before I even begin going into this show, I’m going to acknowledge it’s problematic nature upfront.

First of all, it’s a 1982 show set in 1938, apparently inspired by the 1939 movie Only Angels Have Wings. So there ends up being a lot of this show that did not age well. And while I believe in viewing these reruns in their appropriate context as well in current context, there’s some shit that’s just plain cringe-worthy.

Secondly, and more importantly, the lead in this show is portrayed by Stephen Collins, who admitted to “inappropriate sexual conduct with three female minors” in an interview he did with People magazine in December of 2014. So, yeah, knowing that the lead is a creeper definitely casts a shadow over the series, especially since he’s actually really good in the role and almost makes you forget that he’s a shitty person. Almost.

Now on to our feature presentation.

Tales of the Gold Monkey follows the exploits of former Flying Tiger Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins), his mechanic bestie Corky (Jeff MacKay), and his dog Jack (Leo the dog) as he makes a living flying his plane The Goose around the Marivella Islands from his home port of Boragora, which is under the jurisdiction of Bon Louie Chance (Roddy McDowell; Ron Moody in the pilot), who also owns and runs the Monkey Bar with the aid of his right-hand man Gushie (Les Jankey) where newcomer Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney) finds a job as a singer. However, only Jake knows that she’s also a spy. Princess Koji (Marta DuBois) rules a nearby island and has something of a fascination with Jake, much to the annoyance of her bodyguard Todo (John Fujioka). The princess and Todo are the only ones who know that the Reverend Willie Tenboom actually isn’t a Dutch man of God, but is really a Nazi soldier in disguise.

And if that sounds like a lot, you should watch the pilot. I said “WTF” at least 12 times starting with the killer monkeys. They aren’t bad WTFs, just genuine ones. I admit that it took several episodes for me to actually get the hang of this show and even then it still found ways to trip me up.

For example, in the episode “Shanghaied”, while Jake is delusional with fever from malaria, Corky gets kidnapped by Guy Stockwell the good ol’ fashioned way that captains acquired crew for their boats -got them loaded and they woke up at sea. So you think, “Ah yes. A sea romp in which Corky is captive and Jake eventually saves him”, which is accurate. Except there’s also a hard left into slavery that’s not exactly anticipated. Guy Stockwell’s slightly-campy captain veers directly into vile with no warning and it’s a bit jarring. Also the depiction of indigenous people in this series isn’t the greatest, so that really brings the ep down from “Oh, this is fun” to “Okay, WTF, I didn’t agree to any of this.”

There are other episodes that balance the tone between serious and fun better. And some that don’t, but end up on the sillier side rather than the uncomfortable side. “Trunk From the Past” tries to give Sarah a tragic backstory with a murdered archaeologist father and a fiance that she never mentioned to anyone, but the visions, mummy, and pyramid in the middle of the jungle send it a little bit over into ridiculous and caps it with a brutal end for someone in the guest cast. It’s not bad, just not hitting the notes it was going for.

Some episodes just go for the serious. “Last Chance Louie” has Bon Louie Chance going to the guillotine for murder and the whole story is rather tragic and heartbreaking (spoiler alert: he keeps his head). Speaking of tugging at the emotions, the fight between Jake and Corky which results in Corky trying to leave Boragora in “Cooked Goose” is incredibly upsetting. The scene between Jake and Corky involving the baseball just hurts.

“Naka Jima Kill” is a straight fun episode that has Jake looking for an assassin while Sarah and her bestie from college who’s now a famous journalist end up getting into a bit of a battle of egos as Sarah can’t reveal to her that she’s a spy and her friend thinks that she’s being generous by letting her tag along to find this Japanese defense minister to interview. It’s a little bit serious, but it’s mostly just fun.

It’s also remarkably like the season 2 Magnum PI episode “The Jororo Kill”. Both feature an assassin that dons women’s clothing, a journalist that’s an old friend, and a plot to murder a high ranking official from another country. And they both also feature Jeff MacKay.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Donald Bellasario ended up utilizing bits of one of his other shows for this one. The plot of “High Stakes Lady” was first used for the season 2 Magnum PI episode “Texas Lightning”. Jeff MacKay wasn’t in that one.

It’s not just plots. Aside from Jeff MacKay (Mac/Jim Bonnick), Marta DuBois (Michelle Hue), John Calvin (3 episodes as various characters), John Fujioka (Nishimoto in “The Taking of Dick McWilliams”), several of the guest stars on Tales of the Gold Monkey showed up on Magnum PI including: Guy Stockwell (in the same ep as John Fujioka), William Lucking, Lance LeGault, Anne Lockhart, Richard Narita, Soon-Tek Oh, Sondra Currie, Henry Darrow, Shelley Smith, John DiSanti, Ray Dotrice, Pamela Susan Shoop, W.K. Stratton, Branscombe Richmond, John McLiam, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and John Hillerman. Yes, Higgins himself showed up in the pilot being a Nazi and wearing a monocle. It was weird.

Other guest stars include: Ken Foree, Nicholas Pryor, James Avery, Reid Shelton, James T. Callahan, Kim Cattrall, Alex Colon, Faye Grant, Michael Ensign, Alexa Hamilton, James Hampton, Charles Napier, Nia Peeples, Sandy Ward, Charles Macaulay, Curt Lowens, and John Reilly.

Of everything questionable about this show, it does manage to pull off one spectacular trick: you end up liking a Nazi.

As I said, only Princess Koji and Todo know that Reverend Tenboom is really a Nazi spy. And Todo seems to delight in torturing him, which I find amusing. But our heroes -Jake, Sarah, Corky, Louie- don’t know that. I can’t imagine it would go over well if they did. Instead, they think of him as a reverend and a good guy. The fact that his “blessing” of the female congregation is just a euphemism seems to miss them (another example of how poorly indigenous folks were portrayed -they were so “uneducated” the women didn’t know the difference between sex and religious practice). As a result of Willie’s disguise -despite his skeeviness- the audience sometimes is lulled into forgetting that the dude is a Nazi. Especially when he does things like helps them look for Sarah when she’s kidnapped or takes care of Corky when he’s banging his head on a pole because he can’t remember something or fights a pimp taking advantage of the young indigenous girls (even though that’s what he does -I guess prostitution is the line in the sand he doesn’t cross). He’s just bizarrely likeable even though he’s a literal Nazi. It makes me wonder how that would have played out had the show lasted several seasons.

If the show had lasted, then I think it would have emerged that Jack was the real star of the show. A dog with an eye patch because Jake gambled away his false eye, an opal with a sapphire star in the middle, and who would bark once for no and twice for yes. Many of the times I laughed out loud were because of that dog. He was brilliant.

As questionable and sometimes cringe-worthy as this show can be, and despite my initial reservations early in the series, I do enjoy it for the most part. Not everyone is going to be able to get past some of the more problematic elements of the series (in particular Stephen Collins) and that’s fine. But it is entertaining overall. For a show set in 1938, it still manages to hit some ’80s tropes, including one of Jake’s old girlfriends coming back as a nun (I do not know why that was a thing) and Jake falling for a single mother, but they just weren’t meant to be. And of course, he’s romancing the leading lady throughout. But there’s also some really on point 1938 elements, such as the fashion and the music, that makes it feel more like an old school adventure.

Also, the pilot is basically one long brass monkey joke. Can’t get better than that.

corky and jack

Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Joyce Jameson

Joyce Jameson is one of my crushes. I fell for her when I first saw The Comedy of Terrors and I never looked back.

I may have found her in a movie, but many of her 117 credits are on TV shows. She started off her career in her then-husband’s musical revue and was known for her impressions. Though intelligent and well-read, she was typically typecast as a dumb blonde, something she just couldn’t shake. However, she was an incredibly funny woman and managed to leave her mark on multiple TV shows.

For example, she played Fun Girl Skippy in three episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (other Fun Girl Daphne was played by Jean Carson), usually having her sights set on Barney. The duo made such an impression that Me-TV did a write up on them, and both actresses ended up on episodes of Gomer Pyle USMC playing different characters.

She also turned up on F-Troop, this time zeroing in on Corporal Agarn. She and Larry Storch would team up again years later on an episode of Emergency!, in which he’s an amateur magician attempting to escape from a safe and she’s his nervous wife who calls the fire department because she’s afraid he can’t get out. It’s a brief but funny interaction. Her second appearance on the show had her get stuck in a doggy door, another funny bit, though perhaps it depended a little too much on making fun of her weight.

Another funny, but problematic guest spot happened on Barney Miller in the episode “Rape”. She goes to the 12th precinct to make a complaint about her husband forcing her to have sex, which at the time wasn’t against the law. It’s hard to make a joke of something as serious as sexual assault, and the episode is mostly uncomfortable with some humorous bits, but Joyce is a bright spot.

Joyce appeared in other sitcoms, such as Hogan’s Heroes, The Munsters, The Dick van Dyke Show, McHale’s Navy, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Make Room for Daddy, and Rhoda.

She did appear on more serious shows such as The Waltons, as well as several Westerns such as Alias Smith and Jones, The Virginian, The Big Valley (in which her character is simply called The Blonde), and Gunsmoke.

If you like law and action, you can find her in episodes of The Fall Guy, Charlie’s Angels, Baretta, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, McMillan and Wife, The Mod Squad, Burke’s Law, Ironside, and a couple of episodes of Perry Mason, one of which co-stars Wende Wagner (Miss Case on The Green Hornet), James Frawley (who directed multiple episodes of The Monkees), and Keye Luke. Joyce’s character is less than nice in that episode.

She also turned up in episodes of The Girl from UNCLE and The Man from UNCLE, unsurprising given her long relationship with Robert Vaughn, who remembered her fondly in his autobiography.

She even took a trip to The Twilight Zone and worked with Bob Newhart in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

And though she didn’t find love on The Love Boat, she did find James MacArthur, and that’s pretty close.

As frustrating as it might have been that Joyce Jameson couldn’t fully display her range and show her full comedic talents, we are blessed with many memorable guest roles (and movies!) and I certainly don’t take that for granted.

Rerun Junkie Books –From Beverly Hills to Hooterville by Daniel R. Budnik

Welcome to the Henningverse!

In 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies premiered. Created by Paul Henning, the sitcom quickly became a hit much to the consternation of the critics who hated it. It’s success permitted Henning to create another show the next year, Petticoat Junction. In 1965, along came Green Acres, which was produced by Henning but created by Jay Sommers, who’d worked on Petticoat Junction and was tapped by Henning for the third show as he was busy with the previous two. The three shows lasted until the Rural Purge in the early ’70s.

From Beverly Hills to Hooterville: Exploring TV’s Henningverse 1962-1971 is an excellent companion guide for all three series. Covering a combined 666 episodes of all three shows, each episode comes with a synopsis, review, and technical details such as writer, director, and an air date, as well as Nielsen ratings for each season and time slots for each show. The episode reviews are arranged in a layered sort of way that gives you an idea of how the Henningverse was operating during any given season.

Dan provides context for the origins of the Henningverse, the popularity of Westerns at the time, and the intense dislike of the critics. He wraps up the book with talk of the Rural Purge, mentions of the various reunions, and his final thoughts on each series. There are also interesting notes and factoids scattered throughout.

It’s a hefty tome -over 700 pages. But considering that it contains words on every episode of three series, it’s not an unreasonable length when you think about it.

If you’re a fan of Dan’s podcasts (and you should be), this book is very much in his voice. His humor is present and his observations are keen as always.

Am I biased because Dan is a friend? Maybe. But I am familiar with Dan’s quality content, including his book ’80s Action Movies on the Cheap, and I feel like he’s written yet another book that’s a must-have, in this case for retro television fans.

It’s available in paperback and for Kindle over at Amazon. Bulk up your bookshelf.

Object: Female

Women.

I happen to be one. I know several. I’ve even kissed a few. In general, they are plentiful and varied, all sorts of looks, ethnicities, sexualities, and personalities.

However, the depiction of women in television over the course of decades has been…shall we say, less than adequate, particularly in the case of anything outside of a sitcom, like my favorites, action and police shows.

Ah, yes. It’s going to be one of those posts. Now I’m not claiming to be an expert in any of this; after all, I’m a three-time community college drop out. These are just my observations from the shows I’ve watched. Now stop whining. It’s unattractive.

When I wrote about Magnum PI, I said something to the effect of the women being written by men who’d never met a woman, but had only heard about them from other men who’d never met a woman either. That’s how women were typically written (and still are in some cases). They were usually written as objects: romantic interest, harpy, siren, nanny, etc., convenient plot devices for our male mains, fitted with re-hashed, stereotypical personalities that seldom reflected any actual woman you’d encounter in your own bits of reality.

Going back to Magnum PI, many of the women who showed up in episodes typically filled one of four roles: romantic interest, helpless innocent, duplicitous helpless innocent, or annoying hindrance. I’m not saying that every woman fills one (sometimes more than one) of those roles, but it happens often enough that I feel compelled to comment on it in a blog post. The annoying hindrance is my least favorite (see Kathleen Lloyd as Bridget Archer in “Almost Home”, Annie Potts as Tracy Spencer in “Legacy from a Friend”, and Lee Purcell as Goldie Morris in “Old Aquaintance”). Women who insist on helping and end up creating a bigger mess usually because they don’t listen to Magnum and/or because they’re not being entirely truthful. No offense to any of the actresses involved because they were (and are) excellent at their jobs and did what they could with what they were given, but what they were given were bad Lucy Ricardo impersonations doing a variation of “Why can’t I be in the show?”.

(Given my disliked of I Love Lucy, perhaps I’m being a little more than biased in this case, but the basic assessment of the prevalence of cardboard cutout women stands.)

The Wild Wild West is another example. Every woman Jim West and Artemus Gordon met either needed to be rescued or kissed or sometimes both. Only a few were allowed the personality enough to be villains. And if you’d like to argue with me that the show was set in the late 1800s and so women had limited roles, I’ll just point out that it’s a steampunk Western. If I can suspend my disbelief that some madman has created a device that makes earthquakes, then you can buy into a woman saving herself once in a while and not falling in love with Jim West every time (Artemus Gordon is a different story, of course).

Hawaii Five-O did feature women police officers from time to time, usually for undercover work, and they were mostly competent (and all named Joyce for some reason), though they were typically bailed out of some sticky situation at the very end by McGarrett and cavalry riding in for the final gunfight/arrest, which the ladies rarely seemed to participate in. One Joyce in particular ended up getting hypnotized by Eric Braeden, but I suppose that’s understandable. It wasn’t until the later seasons that they even had female cops not named Joyce as recurring characters (Amanda McBroom played Officer Sandi Wells for four episodes in Season 8; Sharon Farrell played Lori Wilson for ten episodes in Season 12). However, more than one woman passed through Honolulu for a single episode whose sole purpose was to make Steve or Danno feel things. Spoiler alert: dead girlfriends.

Naturally, it could be argued that this is the ultimate purpose of a guest star, to be that plot device for that episode to help propel the story, the fire of the inciting incident. And this is absolutely true.

But that the women were most often only a guest star -not part of the main cast- is part of the problem. Rarely did police or action shows have a woman in the main cast. And on the off-chance that it did, then they were typically relegated to non-action roles if possible.

One shining example of this is Amy Allen on The A-Team. A journalist who begins as a client before becoming addicted to the “jazz” and blackmailing her way onto the team, Amy proves herself to be an asset by not only finding and vetting clients, but by also getting her hands dirty: helping with builds, going undercover, handling firearms, and even blowing up a thing or two. She wasn’t always in the midst of the action, but she was at the very least close by pretty often. However, when Melinda Culea pushed for her character to develop more skills -which would have made sense given the fact that she’s affixed herself to an elite military team, so it stands to reason she SHOULD learn a thing or two- the fellas on the show, in particular George Peppard, loudly disagreed as this was a “man’s” show (just ignore the popularity of Mr. T and the large kid audience, thank you), which resulted in Melinda Culea’s departure. She was replaced by Marla Heasley as Tawnia Baker (a strategically weaker-written version of Amy) to finish out the second season, but once that character was married off at the beginning of the third season (to Barry van Dyke no less!), there wouldn’t be another female member of the cast until Season 5 when Judith Ledford played recurring character Carla, Stockwell’s personal assistant.

Are there exceptions? Naturally. Get Christy Love. Police Woman. Cagney and Lacey. Three women-led police shows. One other notable mention is Sgt. Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer) on Hunter, as she was paired with a man who treated her as a partner and didn’t take it as an offense to his manhood that he was working with a woman. The Stargate: Atlantis expedition was led by two smart, kick-ass women, first Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Tori Higginson) and then Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), and had Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) as an integral part of Col. Sheppard’s team, often kicking the most ass, but who was also from a race of humans that didn’t consider showing emotion and affection a weakness.

It’s been a slow evolution.

Today, women as people in action and police shows are nearly commonplace. Shows even have more than one! The Equalizer reboot is a fab example of this because not only do you have Queen Latifah as badass justice-getter Robyn McCall (I’m seeing a trend with the last name here) and her super cool sniper bestie Melody (Liza Lapira), you also have Robin’s Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes), who aren’t necessarily in the thick of the action, but are fully formed humans in their own right. There is an emotional weight to the show that is either absent from many action shows or poorly executed and so much of it’s success is due to the realness of the characters. Robyn McCall isn’t your twenty-something, dainty gymnast action hero running around in belly shirts showing off her perfect abs (not knocking them, but they are the default, aren’t they?). She’s a woman, a mom, who has seen some shit, done some shit, dressed to best you in a fight or an argument, and has an astounding wig collection. She’s that “don’t play me” mom in the carpool who just happens to be able to disarm a man with only a clipboard. She’s a complex human with a complex life who is totally relatable despite the fact that she spends her time taking on the injustices of the world in vigilante fashion.

Even the Magnum PI reboot has gotten onboard with Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks) and Kumu (Amy Hill), both of whom are badass, yet also written to be actual people. Kumu is my favorite in regards to this because she could have easily been relegated to the role of the show’s Aunty, dispensing advice and island wisdom, but instead they gave her life experience that she wields like a sword and principles she’ll defend until they put the cuffs on her (am I biased? Yes. She’s my favorite).

The show has had its slips back into the ’80s mindset, though, most notably in the Season 3 finale in which Higgins finds herself separated from her boyfriend and unsure if their relationship will continue. TC and Rick’s answer to her heartbreak is to…try to push Magnum into making his move for her. Because ignoring the fact that she’s an actual person going through an emotionally difficult time in order to get your boy laid is what friends do, right? Yeah. They later doubled-down when she got back together with her boyfriend and the couple was going to Kenya for six months, telling Magnum that he shouldn’t have let her go, as if Higgins had absolutely no autonomy in the situation whatsoever. And Magnum had to be the voice of reason in all of this. Magnum, of all people! He was the only one who even considered Higgins’s feelings and what she wanted. It was obviously written as a way to show how much he loves her because he was willing to let her go be happy with her boyfriend, once again, implying that if he didn’t want her to go then she’d have no choice but to stay and not, say, roundhouse kick him in the face and bounce.

The show conveniently reverted back to the good ol’ ways of reducing a woman to her role as an object of affection in order to push the tried and true het narrative and ignored three seasons worth of establishing Higgins as a person of her own. Because when in doubt, center the male.

He’s a human being, after all.