RARA-AVIS: Magnum, P.U.

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 26 Jul 2006

On Jul 26, 2006, at 6:51 AM, rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com wrote:

> "Magnum is bad enough."
> I know you're not a fan of MAGNUM - P.I., but I really
> think you're selling the show short.
> First of all, despite his good looks and considerable
> personal charm, Magnum was a lot more hard-boiled than
> you're giving him credit for. In one episode, he
> deliberately murdered an unarmed KGB agent because he
> knew it was the only way to get justice for a murdered
> friend. The friend was a regular on the show, and the
> episode ended witha freeze-frame of Magnum firing his
> .45 at bad guy.

And in far too may others he just minced around in his Hawaiian shirt smirking at the camera and trading barbs with Higgins. Oh, the hilarity.

Considering how rarely the show got heavy, it seems inexplicable to me that they invested in so many supporting characters that just screamed "comic relief".

Relief from what?

> Strong stuff. And all the more strong because it
> contrasted so harshly with the lighter-hearted
> episodes the show had.

Oh, it could be hard-boiled. But too often it wasn't. The whole recurring Higgins schtick, for example, seemed more like something out of THREE'S COMPANY. In fact, Mr. Roper and Higgins seemed cut out of the same (cheese)cloth.

> Aside from that, it was a very well-written show, with
> Magnum doing actual detective work, talking to
> witnesses and following leads.

I'll give you that -- some (some) episodes were well-written. But far more often they were gimmicky and silly (all those "very special" episodes), padded out with schtick. And how well written is it when you've got a detective tailing someone in a bright red Ferrari?

> The slowly unfolding story of Magnum's Viet Nam
> service and the trauma he suffered, the realistic and
> heartfelt friendships Magnum had with the other
> regulars, the family relationships back on the
> Mainland, all were elements marking it as a carefully
> characterized and well-crafted piece of work.

His pals were essentially one-note Charlies (except for those occasional "special episode," possibly included in each actor's contract, where they were allowed to stretch their acting muscles and we were supposed to believe their characters suddenly had depth). One scene between, say, Rocky and Rockford or Harry O and his lieutenant buddy -- or even those looks between Peggy and Mannix -- had more heartfelt emotion than a season of Magnum and his doofus buddies high- fiving each other.

> It may have seemed like a lot of gimmicks
> indifferently thrown together, but beneath the
> surface, it was a lot more than that.

It not only seemed like a lot of a lot of gimmicks indifferently thrown together -- frequently that's exactly what it was., particularly as the show went on and on. And because the show's writing was so erratic and its tone so uneven any good stuff that occasionally rose to the surface too often seemed more like a fluke than anything.

(Coincidentally, SIMON AND SIMON also plundered the whole angsty Vietnam/male-bonding schtick while also frequently relying on gimmicks -- often the same sort of gimmicks as Magnum -- when they ran out of story ideas.)

The biggest reason I don't mind (too much) them including MAGNUM on the SLEUTH list would be because of it's undeniable popularity, not because it was particularly well done or innovative or influential. Mostly it seemed like a typical P.I./buddy show to me, a solid but not particularly clever update on the 77 SUNSET STRIP/HAWAIIAN EYE formula.

Magnum, Magnum, lend us your chest hair comb...

But gee, I'd still much prefer MANNIX. Or HARRY O. Or PETER GUNN. All tighter and tougher and better written and acted and more consistent than MAGNUM.

Although I imagine this thread's about to be snipped short -- none of these shows were adapted from books.


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