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 Show–Magnum PI

During one magical, syndicated summer I was fortunate to have one channel spending a couple of hours every afternoon playing Magnum PI and Simon & Simon back-to-back. Talk about a lucky kid.

One day I’ll revisit latter, but for now, let’s talk about the former.

As the story goes, the 1980 series partially got the green light because they wanted to capitalize on the Hawaii production that Hawaii Five-O was leaving behind after ending a successful twelve year run in April of that year. And capitalize they did with a successful eight year run of Magnum PI (as another story goes, Jake and the Fatman was saved from cancellation by relocating the show to Hawaii in order to save CBS from leasing an empty studio; when the lease was up, the show moved back to LA). It was hinted that the shows shared a universe, as there were a few McGarrett references in the early seasons, though Jack Lord declined to cameo as he’d retired. From a slick, be-suited state police task force to an aloha shirt wearing private dick.

Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) is a former Navy special ops and NIA intelligence officer making his living as a private investigator and living at the estate of Robin Masters, much to the annoyance of major domo Jonathan Higgins (John Hillerman) and his lads, dobermans Zeus and Apollo. Magnum is aided in his cases (and in his life) by his besties and fellow Vietnam vets, chopper pilot Theodore “TC” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) and gunner-turned-club-manager Orville “Rick” Wright (Larry Manetti). Magnum also cons favors from NIA computer expert Lt. “Mac” MacReynolds (Jeff MacKay, who later returns as Mac’s doppleganger Jim Bonnick in later seasons); assistant district attorney Carol Baldwin (Kathleen Lloyd), though she cons him just as often; Lt. Maggie Poole (Jean Bruce Scott), Mac’s replacement; Francis “Ice Pick” Hofstetler (Elisha Cook Jr.), though those favors were usually asked for by Rick; Doc Ibold (Glenn Cannon); and on rare occasion, Higgins’s fellow Brit Agatha Chumley (Gillian Dobb). Magnum is frequently bedeviled/assisted by HPD Lt. Yoshi Tanaka (Kwan Hi Lim) and he has a major hate hardon for Col. Buck Greene (Lance LeGault), who he holds responsible for keeping him apart from the love of his life, Michelle Hue (Marta DuBois).

Other recurring characters include: Gwen Verdon as Magnum’s mom Katherine Peterson; Eugene Roche as St. Louis PI Luther Gillis (probably my least favorite character because he is so damned annoying, but Eugene Roche is fantastic in the role; he can’t help it that my personality clashes with his character); Clyde Kusatsu as the John Wayne-obsessed HPD Detective Lt. Gordon Katsumoto (he also played a few other characters throughout the show’s run, but I love him unconditionally); Joe Santos as HPD Police Lt. Nolan Page; in later seasons, TC suddenly acquired two mainland children, Martina Stringer as Melody, and Shavar Ross as Bryant, the latter staying with TC for multiple episodes; Fay Hauser as TC’s ex-wife Tina; Deborah Pratt as TC’s girlfriend Gloria; Patrick Bishop as Keoki and Remi Abellira as Moki, two King Kamehameha Club employees; and Phyllis Davis as Rick’s eventual fiancée Cleo Mitchell.

Very much an ’80s action show in most respects, what with the crime-solving and fighting and shootouts and fast cars and witty banter and bedding babes and women characters written by men who didn’t actually know any women, but were just regurgitating the caricatures of women already established by men who’d never met a woman in their lives (yes, this is a sticking point with me because the women tend to be either helpless, annoying, or duplicitous and it’s grating), however, the show was also not afraid to stray from the mundane and into the supernatural (with ghosts, psychics, past lives, and trips to the other side) and didn’t shy away from landing emotional punches.

When it comes to the latter, most people are going to cite “Did You See the Sun Rise?” which saw Magnum and TC revisited by an old friend, Nuzo, who was imprisoned with them in Vietnam by an evil Russian named Ivan (Bo Svenson). The episode put Magnum through the ringer, killing off a friend, putting another one in jeopardy, and forcing both him and TC to relive an incredibly traumatic experience in their lives. The episode ends with Magnum doing something considered morally questionable, but honestly, I was fine with it and on the contrary, thought he could have gone even farther. But that’s just me and my preference for vengeance talking.

This wouldn’t be the only episode to reflect on their Vietnam service and their traumas of war, a daring thing at the time given that the actual war had only ended a few years before the show began, the pain and controversy of it hardly a forgotten thing. Higgins would also recall his times of service in many, many, many stories, however even he gets to face some experiences he’d rather have forgotten.

Personally, “Home from the Sea” kicks my ass the most as Magnum fights for survival while stranded in the ocean during the Fourth of July. He flashes back and forth between the present and his childhood leading up to his father’s death in Korea while TC, Rick, and Higgins have persistent feelings that Magnum is in trouble. The way everything weaves together is so well done and Magnum’s narration of “I made it, Dad. Why didn’t you?” never fails to punch me in the chest and bring tears to my eyes.

Of course, there are lighter episodes, too, and quite a bit of humor in the show, which I love. Poor Rick catches a lot of the comic relief burden. I mean, he got punched by a nun once. Two of my favorite eps are “Operation: Silent Night” and “I, Witness”. Higgins is also blessed with a father who can’t keep it in his pants, which results in multiple half-siblings, three of which we get to meet: Elmo Ziller, Father Paddy McGuinness, and Don Luis Mongueo (all played by John Hillerman). Naturally, the siblings are nothing like the proper Higgins and hilarity tends to ensue. Father Paddy is my favorite.

The series wasn’t afraid to experiment, doing an episode set in 1936, a noir murder mystery episode, an episode that inter-cut Magnum’s investigation of insurance fraud with the novel of a struggling writer, and a send-up of Indiana Jones, a role that Tom Selleck couldn’t take due to the show. And while Selleck was splitting time with the show and movies during the fourth season, we were treated to Rick, TC, and Higgins-centric episodes, including one humorous, yet heartbreaking episode in which Higgins is obsessed with recounting in his memoir the story of his dear friend David Worth (Patrick Macnee) who thought he was Sherlock Holmes. The show also crossed over with two other popular CBS shows during its run: Murder, She Wrote and Simon & Simon.

The eight seasons were star studded when it came to guest stars. Here are a few, except not really : Robert Pine (as Magnum’s dad, further proving he’ll always be cooler than his son Chris), Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, Robert Loggia, Vera Miles, Celeste Holm, Ernest Borgnine, Darren McGavin; Hawaii Five-O regulars Zulu, Herman Wedemeyer, Harry Endo, Moe Keale, and Kam Fong, as well as Kam’s son Dennis Chun and frequent flyers Douglas Mossman, Tommy Fujiwara, and Josie Over; Robert Forster, Richard Narita, Gregory Sierra, Pat Hingle, Soon-Tek Oh, Nancy Lee Grahn; ’80s ladies Annie Potts, Dana Delany, Tyne Daly, and Erin Gray; Dustin Nguyen, Alfonso Ribeira, Sharon Stone, Morgan Fairchild, Dick Butkus, James Hong, Christine Belford; darlings Shannon Doherty and Kim Richards; Donnelly Rhodes, William Lucking, Keye Luke; Joe Santos’s fellow Rockford Files vets Gretchen Corbett, Stuart Margolin, and Noah Beery Jr.; William Schallert, Robert Ito, Denise Nichols, Sheree North, Leslie Uggams, Roscoe Lee Browne, Jenny Agutter; Return of the Living Dead duo Clu Gulager and James Karen; France Nuyen, Wings Hauser, Beulah Quo, Brock Peters; Cheers alums Ted Danson and John Ratzenberger; Jessica Walter, Dennis Weaver, Mako; Rerun Junkie faves Kenneth Tigar, Robert F. Lyons, Denny Miller, Nehemiah Persoff, and John Saxon; Cameron Mitchell, Scatman Crothers, Pat Morita, Burr DeBenning; ’60s icons James Doohan, Cesare Romero, Henry Gibson,and Alan Hale Jr.; and in my favorite bit of casting ever, Anne Lockhart and Miguel Ferrer playing younger versions of their parents June Lockhart and José Ferrer.

One controversial aspect of the series lies in one particular character: Robin Masters. In the early seasons, he was played (or at least voiced) by Orson Welles. However, in the later seasons, it was supposed that Higgins was actually the never-there owner of Robin’s Nest. Magnum’s reasoning was that Higgins was always working on his memoirs, but was never done, and some of his writing was similar to that of Masters. Plus he was really possessive of the estate. I don’t know what the reasoning was by the actual show writers, though, since it was established in early seasons that Robin Masters was Orson Welles. Yes, Orson Welles died during the series, but they could have worked around it. I mean, Robin was never there. But, in the end, it resulted in a debate among some fans about who Robin Masters really is. In my personal canon, it was Orson Welles. I like Higgins being the idiosyncratic human that he is.

At any rate, it was played like a dangling carrot for Magnum right up until the last episode of the show. Now, if I have the story straight, the show was supposed to end in the seventh season with the episode “Limbo”, but they ended up being renewed for a shorter eighth season which ended with “Resolutions”. My controversial opinion is that I like the idea of the show ending with “Limbo” better, even if it is kind of a downer. But I like “Resolutions” as well. It’s a good high note to go out on.

The show earned itself a reboot in 2018, diversifying the cast with Jay Hernandez taking over the role of Magnum and Perdita Weeks as Higgins (sadly, opposite sex leads mean that the show has taken the well-worn will-they-or-won’t-they path because heteronormativity is a helluva drug); Zachary Knighton as Rick and Stephen Hill as TC (this was the casting that stressed me the most because TC is my guy; they did a fab job, though); and rounding out the main cast is Tim Kang as Gordon Katsumoto (sans John Wayne obsession) and Amy Hill as Kumu, an original character for the series and my role model. I enjoy the reboot despite its flaws, the biggest one being that none of the guys ever wear short-shorts a la the ’80s series. If I’m going to be subjected to Moonlighting-redux, then I should at least get a huge side of guy thighs.

Obviously, though, the ’80 series captured my heart first and I’ve got some happy memories with it, watching it while hanging out in my grandma’s air conditioned den after lunch.

It’s a classic.

Like an aloha shirt, it never goes out of style.