Heteronormativity Is a Helluva Drug

I didn’t expect to like the reboot of Magnum PI. I only gave the pilot a shot because I’d been watching the 1980 series and decided to compare and contrast. I already knew that Magnum was now Latino and Higgins was now a woman. I went into it thinking it’d be fine, but not for me, like most reboots.

The pilot was a fun ride. I gave it the three episode test (pilot establishes the show; second ep is the adjustments; third ep is the vibe) and ended up hooked.

My one hope for the show was that they wouldn’t default to hooking up Magnum and Higgins.

Well, it was good while it lasted and it lasted until early in the 2nd season. Once it became clear that the endgame is Magnum and Higgins are omg-meant-to-be (and that it’s apparently going to be played out in poorly executed fanfic tropes), it then became a countdown until I got fed up and quit watching. That lasted until half-way through the 4th season. I haven’t given up entirely but I am absolutely half-assing it and I don’t care about the show like I once did.

It’s a shame, but thems the breaks.

And there’s plenty of history behind the continuation of the heteronormative narrative that defaults opposite sex leads or lead/supporting into a romantic tension leading to a relationship.

Obviously, the most known example of this is Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting, a show that so depended on the will-they-or-won’t-they, that when they did, it pretty much cancelled the show (to be fair there were other behind-the-scenes issues that contributed to the show’s demise, too). Also, Agnes and Herb had the much better relationship.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele drew from the same playbook. On Barney Miller, it played out over five episodes between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left to be Alice.

In the case of shows like Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s less of a will-they-or-won’t-they and more of a when-will-he-commit. Because there’s obviously something going on between Jake and Sarah (hell, they kiss in the pilot), but it’s a situationship that allows Jake to kiss other ladies depending on the plot. There’s a similar sort of set-up happening with Walter and Roxanne on Automan. Are they dating? Kinda, maybe, it depends.

Emergency! actually began with Dr. Kelly Brackett and Nurse Dixie McCall in a romantic relationship, which was dropped in later episodes without explanation (read: break-up). From that point on, Brackett and Dixie were friends and colleagues, caring for and respecting each other in both professional and platonic ways, showing that, hey, it could be done.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t. There were series that didn’t necessarily default to the romantic relationship. Della Street didn’t get involved with Perry Mason or Paul Drake (though Paul did nickname Della “Beautiful” and there was some joking that might be considered flirting). Likewise Britt Reid clearly cared about Miss Case and vice-versa, but there was nothing but boss-secretary friendship happening with The Green Hornet. Clearly, it could be done.

But there’s no denying that it could be a struggle. For most of Hunter‘s seven season run, Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall were partners and friends, a caring and satisfying platonic relationship that Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer were happy with. But as the story goes, the network and the fans wanted more. As a result, a Season 6 episode informed the audience that Hunter and McCall had once slept together, but it caused an issue with their work relationship.

It’s the default aspect of the hetereonormative narrative, the well-worn path of it, the perpetuation of the idea that the only chemistry that exists between opposite sexes is sexual and the only important relationships are romantic that really grates. Worse, it’s dull. And it’s dull because it’s expected. No other options are presented or considered.

Magnum PI had an opportunity to explore something beyond the default, to establish a couple of opposite sex platonic soulmates without some sort of caveat or exemption (like one or both of them being queer), to really dig into that kind of relationship and do something different.

Instead, it fell for the same quick and easy high that’s been dulling senses for decades.

It really is a helluva drug.

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 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.

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.

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.

Educational Television

Several years ago now, I saw a movie called Chi-Raq which is a retelling of the story of Lysistrata set in present day Chicago. It’s a great movie, but judging by some of the comments I saw at the time, it seemed that some people missed the fact that it was a retelling of a Greek play by Aristophanes.

Naturally, people pointed out that they didn’t know that because they’d never learned about it in school.

I never learned about Lysistrata in school either, but I still knew the story. How?

Gilligan’s Island.

The first season episode “St. Gilligan and the Dragon” invokes a G-rated version of the story. The women, frustrated with the men and feeling disrespected, decide to go off on their own and stop doing the “women’s work” for the fellas. Mrs. Howell is actually the instigator, citing Lysistrata to explain to Mary Ann and Ginger what they should do.

So at six years old, I learned about Lysistrata. Thirty-some years later, I finally put that knowledge to use to be smug at strangers on the Internet.

Television has a funny way of educating folks like that. They just sneak it in on you and the next thing you know you’re answering the Daily Double on Jeopardy correctly.

Or realizing what the school curriculum didn’t cover.

After the statue of slave trader Edwin Colston was pulled down and dumped in the sea in Bristol, England, someone on Twitter pointed out that much of the racist history of Britain wasn’t addressed in their history classes there. One of these events that they cited was the Mau Mau Uprising, a violent resistance to colonialism by the Kenya Land and Freedom Army against the British.

It seems odd that the Brits might not to learn something about this, even a glossy, white-washed version it. It makes more sense that an American like myself wouldn’t know about it. After all, our high school history classes barely get past World War II.

But I’d heard of it. Why?

Magnum PI.

The third season episode “Black on White” deals specifically with the Mau Mau Uprising, particularly Higgins’s role in it since the men in his unit who were there are being killed off. It’s not an exact retelling of history, of course, but it does capture the brutality of the conflict, something most Americans might not have otherwise heard of.

A little history lesson snuck in between the action and Aloha shirts.

This sort of thing still happens in today’s television. A whole slew of folks were introduced to the Tulsa Race Massacre thanks to Watchmen. In 1921, white residents attacked the Black residents of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, destroying the wealthiest Black community at the time, injuring hundreds, and killing an estimated 75 to 100 people (according to a 2001 commission; 39 deaths were confirmed). Not many US high school history classes paused to even mention that in the race from WWI to the Great Depression.

They say that too much television can rot your brain. And I suppose it can. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Television is no different, especially some of the so-called mindless junk (I do love me some intellectual Twinkies as a way to soothe my tendency to overthink). But it’s not all brainless twaddle.

Pay attention next time.

You might just learn something.

Rerun Junkie Episodes–Favorite Christmas Episodes

Bah humbug.

Yes, we’re all very aware that Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year. Too many years working retail and running the holiday gauntlet have put a permanent crimp in my holiday spirit. And that goes for my reruns, too. I find most Christmas episodes to be too saccharine and overly-sentimental. They run that commercialized holly jolly through the society-approval filter and trim it with some moral lessons and it’s just enough to be nauseating.

However, there are a few episodes that have captured my heart, either because they forego these tropes, skewer them, or dress them in a silver pantsuit that’s absolutely to-die-for.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, The Golden Girls– The women are all planning on spending Christmas with their families. The bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas leads them to exchanging homemade gifts, including Rose’s whittled maple syrup spigots and Blanche’s “Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, opened the night before they leave. On Christmas Eve, Blanche and Dorothy show up at the counseling center to pick up Rose, who is working a morning shift, only to be held up by a Santa (Terry Kiser), who demands they all celebrate Christmas together. Thanks to Sophia, they’re able to get out of that jam and to the airport, only to see their flights home cancelled. Later, at a diner, the women realize that they already are spending Christmas with family.

The ending is a bit sweet, what with it snowing in Miami and all, but Rose hitting “Surfin’ Safari” on the jukebox instead of a Christmas song saves it. Though I’ve always found it bizarre that they decorated the house, tree included, even though they wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m glad they did. They have some really lovely decorations and the tree is gorgeous. And Blanche’s pantsuit is fabulous.

“The Christmas Show”, The Monkees– The Monkees, in their forever pursuit of the next gig, end up getting hired to mind Melvin (Butch Patrick), a disgruntled forty-year old trapped in a twelve-year old’s body, while his aunt is away on a Christmas cruise. Turns out, Melvin isn’t much for Christmas. When the boys try to get him into the holiday spirit, they end up blowing through all of their money and aggravating Melvin to the point that he goes home. It’s only then that Mike realizes what’s been missing the whole time.

It could be a typical “lesson of Christmas” episode, but it’s The Monkees. They don’t do typical. Instead, they do madcap that involves them chopping down their own tree (while apparently stoned), Peter wrecking a department store while shopping for toys, Micky and Davy dressing as Santa and his elf and going down the chimney, a happy ending, and capping the whole thing off with an a capella version of “Riu Chiu”. It’s zany and sweet and the crew getting their time in front of the camera during the credits is a lovely gesture.

“Dear Sis”, M*A*S*H– In a letter home to his sister, Father Mulcahy expresses his frustration in not feeling very useful. Most everyone in camp has the holiday blues, but it seems that it’s hitting Father Mulcahy the hardest as nothing he does is really helpful. He even ends up decking a combative patient (who hit him first, so he had it coming). It’s only during the Christmas party in the mess tent that Father Mulcahy realizes that he has made something of a good impact, first when Charles thanks him for having his mother send him his old toboggan cap, and then later when Hawkeye singles him out during a toast.

M*A*S*H did several Christmas episodes during its eleven year run, but this one stands out to me for several reasons. One, it centers much of the episode on Father Mulcahy, which didn’t happen very often. Two, instead of singing a traditional Christmas song, Hawkeye leads everyone in singing a lovely version of “Dona Nobis Pacem”. And three, the episode ends with one of my favorite lines from the series. As the party is broken up by incoming casualties, the voiceover reading of Father Mulcahy’s letter to his sister says, “You know, sis, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel useful when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

“The Christmas Story”, Dragnet– A local church’s baby Jesus has gone missing from its nativity scene and Friday and Gannon are on the case. The statue has little monetary value, but it’s sentimental value can’t be measured and the parishioners would be very sad to go a Christmas without it. Being diligent detectives, Friday and Gannon follow a tip provided by an altar boy (Barry Williams) that leads them to a suspect (Bobby Troup), but he only borrowed a friend’s car and got into a little fender bender; he didn’t take any baby Jesus. Dejected, Joe and Bill go to the church to let the padre know they didn’t find the baby Jesus, but they’d keep looking. Just as they start to leave, a little boy pulling baby Jesus in a wagon comes into the church. It turns out that he’d prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised Him that if he got it, he’d give Him the first ride.

I’m not one for religion. I tend to cringe and shy away when people ram home the “Christ” in Christmas. But this episode is an exception and it’s all in the handling of the case and the ending. Our detectives are pursuing this matter seriously, as they usually do, but the justice is less nabbing a thief and more doing right for a congregation. The little boy who took the statue was fulfilling a promise, something that is more in tune with the holiday spirit than any of the sappy treacle that often gets splattered on the screen.

“Christmas with the Addam’s Family”, The Addam’s Family– It’s the common holiday problem that all sitcom parents face at one point or another: Santa. Pugsley and Wednesday are told by the Addams’s unkind neighbor that Santa doesn’t exist. The family bands together and elects Uncle Fester to play the role to restore the children’s faith. When he gets stuck in the chimney, each member of the clan takes it upon themselves to prove that there really is a Santa.

This could easily be a mediocre, overly-sweet episode, but this is the Addams family. This delightfully loving family is weird and wonderful and only they could pull off a Santa overload with such sincerity.

“Operation: Silent Night”, Magnum P.I.– While ferrying Magnum, Rick, and Higgins to their various destinations before he catches a flight home to New Orleans, T.C.’s chopper crashes on a deserted island that the Navy uses for target practice. Though Rick is convinced they’re all going to die, everyone else is pretty confident that they’ll get off the island soon enough. T.C. works on the chopper while Higgins forages for food and Rick and Magnum gather firewood for a signal fire. They end up discovering a downed Japanese WWII plane, which Higgins salvages to create a boat, which later sinks. Rick falls in a bog that he thinks is quicksand, which causes him to imagine his own funeral. T.C. despairs over his inability to fix the chopper and as such, he’ll miss his flight home. And Magnum, who was going to play Santa to some orphans, dons the outfit once again and provides the group with a Christmas tree to boost their spirits. All the while, the guys are unaware that off-shore, a Navy commander (Ed Lauter) with no Christmas spirit is about to bombard the island for practice.

What I love about this Christmas episode is how it’s so tangentially related to Christmas. There are obvious Christmas references and elements (Magnum dressed as Santa is hard to ignore), and there’s even a Scrooge in the form of the Navy commander insisting that his crew do drills on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. But the episode isn’t dressed up in garland and lights and bows. There’s no heavy-handed true Christmas spirit bashing us over our heads. It’s four friends coming together in a difficult situation not because of some of magical holiday emotion but because that’s just what they do. There’s also the nod to another December holiday celebration. In addition to Christmas, T.C. also celebrates Kwanzaa, which he educates Higgins (and the audience) about.

Okay, I might have gone on a little long, but don’t for a minute think that’s because I’m having a change of heart about Christmas or Christmas episodes.

Oh no. Does my heart look three sizes bigger to you?

Reboots of Reruns

Reboots of TV shows aren’t new. The New Monkees, The New Adam-12, The New Odd Couple, The New Gidget, The New Perry Mason, which aired while the old Perry Mason, Raymond Burr, was starring in Ironside, which would later be rebooted in 2013. Oh, and there’s reportedly another Perry Mason reboot in the works. From Dragnet to Kojak, Love Boat to Fantasy Island, Dark Shadows to Mission: Impossible, reboots have always been a thing.

I’ve changed my stance on reboots somewhat. As much as I would love for the people in charge to stop dipping into the pop culture well of yesterday and instead invest in fresh ideas written and performed by those not necessarily straight, white, cis, and mostly male, I’m no longer screaming about the originals that are being rebooted as being untouchable and sacrosanct.

Why?

The reboots are not for me.

If the reboots were for me, they’d just put the reruns on. I mean I love shows that went off the air before I was born. But. Why can’t they be redone, updated, and polished for a new audience? It worked for Battlestar Galactica. The original ran only one season, written off as a hokey Star Wars rip-off, though it was followed by the single-season sequel Galactica 1980. The reboot ran four season, garnered quite a bit of attention and acclaim, and created quite an enthusiastic fanbase. I never got into it as I prefer my Cylons shiny and the bad guy to have a purple light bulb for a head and wear a disco cloak, but even I know that we were all blessed having Richard Hatch back on our TVs on a somewhat regular basis.

I cried foul when it was announced that Hawaii Five-O was being rebooted. But it’s in its ninth season now. The only episodes of it I’ve watched pertain directly to the original (the remake of “Hookman”, Ed Asner’s character from “Wooden Model of a Rat” coming back, their take on “Cocoon” for the season 9 opener) and while I appreciated those episodes and the fact that show goes out of its way to pay such homage and respect to the original, I’ve never felt compelled to watch it on the reg. It’s not for me. But other people enjoy it plenty.

To me, it’s actually a good example of a reboot. The love for the original is plainly visible. The important elements are intact. The stories and cast have been updated, the characters tweaked, but at their core, they’re very familiar.

The reboot of Magnum PI appears to be going in this direction, which makes sense since the guy who developed it also developed the Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver reboots. I watched the first few episodes, and I think the respect is very much there. No, Magnum doesn’t have a mustache (though there was a mustache reference in the second episode), but he’s still a handsome and charming war vet turned private investigator and all-around do-gooder and at his core, that’s who Magnum is. There is an unfortunate lack of short-shorts, though. We’re being denied man thighs.

But that’s a personal complaint.

Also greater than the mustache is that this Magnum is Latino. That’s one nice aspect that reboots can provide. Diversity. Yes, there’s always squawking when a male character is recast as a woman (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica, Kono on Hawaii Five-0, Higgins on Magnum PI), which tells more about the squawkers than it does about the shows. But let’s be real, kids. Television, particularly action and sci-fi shows, are largely sausage fests. There’s nothing wrong with women cast as known characters provided that the characters reflect the change.

Getting non-white actors in those classic roles, too, opens up a world of storytelling provided the change is reflected. There are now new dimensions added because the characters aren’t working what’s considered the default. The reboot of One Day at a Time features a Cuban-American family. Back in the ’80s, The New Odd Couple (not to be confused with the 2015 reboot of The Odd Couple) featured a Black duo played by Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. Reboots also offer the opportunity to create new characters that could be played by non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-cis actors.

Reboots aren’t going away. So long as they can be viewed as a pop culture lure to draw in old fans while creating new, something with a vague scent of money to it, they’re going to keep getting the green light. And some of them are going to be positively horrid bombs that spit all over their source material and they should be rightfully shunned.

But others won’t be. Others will end up being pretty okay. And if we can’t enjoy them, then we should leave them to those that do because we still have the originals.

And if they ever need a consultant, I’m available.