Hawaii Five-O goes under the political knife

(Lance Boyle turns from facing the camera to Miriam Kale. They are sitting in high-backed upholstered chairs across a black coffee table. All around are enlarged stills and posters of the new Hawaii Five-O.) Miriam, the pilot of the new Hawaii Five-O was easily the most hyped show this September. Did the hype live up to expectations?

Miriam Kale: “That’s a tough question, Lance, because I didn’t know what sort of expectations I was supposed to have. The original series that ran on CBS from Sept. 20, 1968, to April 4, 1980, is one of TV’s most famous and beloved police dramas. The things that made it work, that made it so memorable, are unique to the show and the time it ran. Any remake would have to be seen as a cynical move to exploit a cultural institution to pander to an increasingly illiterate and undemanding audience.”

LB: “So, your answer is ‘no,’ I take it.”

MK: “You ever hear of the term ‘jumping the shark’?”

LB: “Of course. That’s when a bad episode signals the beginning of a successful TV show’s slide into mediocrity or oblivion.”

MK: “Well, the new… I can’t even say it…I’ll call it ‘H5O’… it signifies the moment that TV itself jumped the shark!”

LB: “But TV has been cannibalizing and recycling shows for years, if not decades. The New Addams Family, the remount of Beverly Hills 90210, not to mention the proliferation of CSI, and Law and Order clones. (to the TV monitor) Larry, do you agree with Miriam and what did you think of the new Hawaii Five-O pilot?”

Larry Levy: “I appreciate Miriam’s affection for the old Hawaii Five-O, but her attack on the reboot is off-base. Television isn’t the same medium it was in the ’60s, ’70s or even the ’80s. It now has to compete with video games and the Internet for audience share, so reinventing a successful series is a safe way for a producer to appeal immediately to both old and new audiences. It’s all about risk-management.”

MK: “Larry, are you conceding that TV is creatively bankrupt and that the bastardization of successful shows is justifiable in the name of financial expediency?”

LL: “Creativity costs money and profit margins today are razor thin, so why should a producer risk failure on being creative when a sure thing like a reboot is available? Believe me, you’re going to be seeing a lot more remakes and spin-offs. Take the two Charlie’s Angels movies starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. They aren’t anything like 1970s TV series.”

MK: “Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, choppy editing and pointless action…I guess that’s how success is defined in your world. (Larry Levy tries to interrupt) Speaking of worlds, I guess we should be thankful that the Internet wasn’t around in 1980 because we wouldn’t have had Magnum, P.I.”

LB: “How’s that?”

MK: (to Lance) “After Hawaii Five-O wrapped, CBS wanted to keep its Hawaiian production facilities so it jumped right into another series, one that turned out to be arguably the most creative, and best-written PI show. There was even a hint of continuity because the show made passing references to Steve McGarrett and Five-O. But pre-Internet requirements like good casting, thoughtful writing, and believable, long-term character development are now expensive frills, according to Larry.”

LL: “Character development?! Please! The old Hawaii Five-O had no character development. Everyone was a stereotype. Chin Ho and Kono, especially, were little more than errand boys for McGarrett. This new series, with younger actors, will give these characters real dimension.”

LB: “He does have a point, Miriam.”

MK: “A small one. It’s true that Chin Ho and Kono were badly underwritten, and Kam Fong and Zulu, respectively, were often reduced to uttering wooden banalities like ‘Sure, Steve,’ ‘Right, Steve,’ and ‘You got that, bruddah.’ Sometimes, James MacArthur’s Dan Williams didn’t fare much better. The fact is, Hawaii Five-O was really the Steve McGarrett show, and Jack Lord carried it. We can argue that the writing and character development could have been better, but I can’t accept Larry’s superior attitude toward H5O since it suffers from the same problems.”

LB: “For example.”

MK: “To begin with, Alex O’Loughlin’s version of Steve McGarrett is horribly inept. In fact O’Loughlin should be in the running for the worst actor on television….”

LL: “That’s going too far!”

LB: “Let her finish, Larry. I’m interested in seeing how Miriam backs this up.”

MK: “First of all, Steve McGarrett is supposed to be a former commander in the U.S. Navy. That implies a certain level of maturity, discipline and dignity. Jack Lord had that in spades. O’Loughlin gives us a callow, violent, glib youth who looks like he learned military discipline from PS3 video games. He spends most of his time glaring menacingly and talking tough, as if he were trying to channel his inner psychopath. There is nothing intelligent or believable in O’Loughlin’s McGarrett, which just proves that slapping a uniform on an Australian pretty boy, sticking a gun in his hand, and making him spout macho clichés does not make him an actor.

“In fact, I could argue that the show isn’t even written, because writing implies the meaningful use of language. H5O consists of a series of violent action sequences and macho posturing held together by a thin adhesive of clichés, leaden banter and perfunctory dialogue. Just look at that dreadful early scene, when the governor asks ‘McGarrett’ to head up a new task force. We’re forced to watch him go through a predictable, time-wasting refusal (we know he’s going to accept), and spout combative banalities.”

LL: “Look, O’Loughlin is not trying to be Jack Lord! He is giving us a completely different McGarrett, one for the 21st century.”

MK: “We don’t need one, and that goes for the other B-list actors, none of whom was credible.”

LB: “None?”

MK: “Grace Park’s main function is to be eye-candy. In her only substantial scene in the pilot she took off her dress. In the next episode she got into a brawl in a swimming pool with a female member of an abduction ring. What is this: Charlie’s Angels meets Xena: Warrior Princess?!” Scott Caan brings an aloof blandness to Dan Williams. We’re supposed to accept McGarrett and Williams as quarreling buddy cops but his rapport with O’Loughlin is non-existent, and the byplay between them is truly painful. Starsky and Hutch were more realistic.”

LB: “How about Daniel Dae Kim?”

MK: “He also glowers well, and his Chin Ho promises to be equally generic and unremarkable. One more thing: Kim and Park are both Korean, and look nothing like Hawaiians. The fact that Kam Fong and Zulu were Hawaiian gave Hawaii Five-O cultural credibility.”

LB: “Is the lack of Hawaiians on the show a problem for you, Larry?”

LL: ” Not at all. We go with the people who do the best job.”

LB: “Larry, earlier you said we need a new McGarrett for the 21st century. What does that mean?”

LL: “We live in an age of terrorism, and a state security agency, even a fictitious one, needs to focus on that. The old McGarrett dealt with murders, kidnappings, robberies, blackmail, smuggling and some international espionage, but he couldn’t be expected to cope with something as sophisticated as cyberterrorism and exercise the kind of law enforcement it requires. That’s why comparisons with the old show are not relevant.”

LB: “But terrorism is generic, amorphous and subject to political definition. It has no substance, no local or cultural definition, and that makes the location of Hawaii distinctly irrelevant. You could situate this show anywhere, and that’s a problem for me. There’s nothing identifiably ‘Hawaiian’ about it.”

MK: “Excellent point, Lance. Watching H5O reminded me how unremarkable it was, and how the plots could easily be recycled from dreck like NCIS. However, Larry is absolutely correct in one regard.”

LB: “What’s that?”

MK: “The kind of law enforcement in H5O would never have be seen in Hawaii Five-O, and the reason is obvious: McGarrett, Williams and the rest were police officers, who served the law; they weren’t callow vigilantes who treated the law with contempt. In Hawaii Five-O, the villains, even the worst ones, were recognized as people who had civil rights under the law. In H5O, villains are reduced to evil stereotypes, devoid of any understandable motive, and so whatever is done to them is perfectly acceptable.”

LL: “I suppose you want them to show sympathy for terrorists? If it were up to you, McGarrett would be a boy scout.”

LB: “I don’t think that’s what Miriam meant.”

MK: “You’re right. My point is that, unlike Hawaii Five-O,H5O dehumanizes people and makes torture and aggression palatable. For example, in the fourth season of Hawaii Five-O the episode “Is This Any Way to Run a Paradise?” centred around a radical anti-pollution activist who calls himself “Kahili,” after the Hawaiian god of battle. He stages pranks and acts of sabotage against Hawaii’s worst polluters, and he draws up a hit list of the heads of the state’s five worst polluters.

Without condoning Kahili’s acts, Kono expresses understanding of his motives, thereby presenting Kahili as a rational being. The ‘innocent’ polluters came across as exploitative and callous, justifying their disregard of the environment in the name of stockholder greed. This episode not only managed to be entertaining, but provoked an intelligent debate about corporate self-interest and destruction of the environment, and it’s still relevant!

“No such sophistication is possible in H5O, since it’s designed to short-circuit thinking in favour of violence-worship in the name of national security.

LL: “I hate to break this to you, Miriam, but we live in violent times, and if you don’t want TV to reflect this fact that’s your problem.”

MK: “Violence, I can deal with; raising it to the level of acceptable police conduct, I can’t, and one scene above all that demonstrates it. Toward the end of the pilot, O’Loughlin’s character is standing over a suspect who has just been whacked across the head by Caan’s character. The suspect asks: ‘What kind of cops are you?’ O’Loughlin’s McGarrett answers: ‘The new kind.’

“Think about that for a minute. What’s ‘new’ here? Cops beat suspects in the past, so beating, per se, isn’t it. A clue to the answer lies in the suspect’s question. As reprehensible as he was, he expected the police to act within the law. After he was struck, he was genuinely shocked. To him, McGarrett and Williams weren’t cops; they were like him. This is Larry’s 21-century H5O: a gang of vigilantes that act under the cover of authority, and isn’t that just what the Department of Homeland Security is?”

LB: “Do you think you’re reading too much into the show Miriam? I doubt that the producers went out of their way to make a Hawaiian version of The Wild Bunch.”

MK: “Possibly, but in a world where the cult of terrorism is used to justify persecuting dissenters, demonizing Muslims, and normalizing Israel’s genocide of Palestine, shows like H5O breeds the sort contempt for law that makes people rationalize and condone such acts. A venerable show like Hawaii Five-O should not have been bastardized to inculcate lawlessness in the name of national security.”

LB: “On that note, I’d like to thank my guests Larry Levy, CEO of Redundancy Entertainment and Miriam Kale for joining me. and I’ll see you next week in The Cutting Room.”