Friday, September 21, 2018

TV REVIEW: CBS' 'Magnum P.I.'

CBS will debut its new original drama series Magnum P.I. on Monday, September 24 at 9/8c. following the season premieres of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon. The drama stars Jay Hernandez, Perdita Weeks, Zachary Knighton, Stephen Hill and Tim Kang.

Read on for my thoughts on the new reboot after screening its first episode.

CBS' new version of Magnum PI is perfectly fine and watchable. New leading man Jay Hernandez is believable as both an action star and the sexy private investigator whose charm helps him solve cases. However, there are significant moments throughout the premiere where it seems like the show was designed out of a corporate mandate. It was written through the sneaking suspicion of what would be a popular show based on recent trends in the industry. It's just not imaginative in the slightest. It feels like it comes off of the conveyor belt of a factory giving the audience a product they are already very familiar with. CBS basically went out looking for an updated take on a title from the '80s or '90s with the understanding that it won't just be a bunch of white guys filling out the ensemble. This show didn't come out of someone's brain for how to reinvent the formula of Magnum PI. Instead, it came from the desire to attack audiences through recognizable intellectual property. There is an awareness of the title Magnum PI. The viewers CBS is targeting with its shows probably remember the original version and are much more likely to know what to expect. It's a way to cut through the clutter of a media landscape with 500 original scripted shows. It's been the trend the broadcast networks have been embracing heavily over the years. But there has to be a difference between bringing a past format back due to creative ingenuity and doing so because of the likely profit. This show mostly showcases how CBS has a very specific format when it comes to its development team. They understand what works for the network. And right now, they are more than happy to crank out another formulaic update of a show that was once heavily popular. It's just problematic when all of that also plays out on the screen with it being clear that the creative team really didn't put much thought into how the changes they were making would impact the structure of the show.

Blind casting can be a very good thing. It means that casting directors aren't looking for a specific type when casting a role. The industry has used it as a phrase to be more welcome to different races, ethnicities and backgrounds in filling out ensembles. Sure, CBS has still predominately been a white male driven business. With the behind-the-scenes scandal going on in the corporate structure right now, that shouldn't be all that surprising. And here, the plan was always to make the new Thomas Magnum an actor of color. Jay Hernandez isn't the typical face leading a CBS procedural. That's what makes that visual so powerful and important. However, blind casting also runs the risk of the creative team believing that the racial identities of the characters aren't important. They absolutely are. For Magnum PI, Thomas Magnum being a latino man is basically just a hook. It's a gimmick. That's as far as the creativity and desire for understanding goes. The creative team believes race doesn't matter. He is simply a former Navy SEAL who has set up shop in Hawaii. Every week he solves cases with his unique team of friends. But the show making this significant change to the character has to amount to something as well. The show needs to be aware of what it means to have a Latin man experiencing the world. It's different than how a white man sees it or how a woman views it. These differences have to mean something. That diversity of perspective can only bring more value to the show. And right now, the show is mostly just being a procedural that doesn't really have anything to say with its main characters.

All of this also extends to one of the ensemble characters having a gender switch. In the original series, Higgins was a man. In the new version, Higgins is a woman played by Perdita Weeks. This change does nothing for her basic plot function in the series. She is the property manager of the massive estate that Magnum does security consulting for. They are constantly butting heads. And yet, the gender change of the character means that the show delves into will-they?/won't-they? coupling territory between Magnum and Higgins. There is the sense that they do have that bickering kind of banter that will develop into something more romantic. That's the way that the audience will perceive this relationship now. It's a massive change that also has to mean something. But it also seems like the only thought the creative team put into making the decision was believing there needed to be one female cast member because it couldn't just be four guys hanging out in Hawaii. It is still that to a certain extent as well. There are five series regulars and four of them are men. Sure, only one of them is a white man. But there's such a uniformity to the tone as well. So it never really seems as if the show can diversify the stories it is telling with each specific character. It's a starring vehicle for Hernandez - which again isn't a bad thing at all. It just makes the show a little more boring and familiar. It's just solid enough for fans of these kinds of procedurals.

Of course, it's also difficult to get a sense of what the ongoing series will be for CBS. Justin Lin has become a go-to pilot director for the network. His work usually makes it to air as well. And yet, he's a director who goes all out with the budget afforded to a pilot even though the weekly series will never be able to recreate the kind of stunts or special effects work ever again. As such, it's up to the producing director to actually set a template for what is manageable for the production to do every week. Without seeing a second episode, it's hard for any critic to judge what this show will do as a weekly experience for viewers. Sure, there is the full expectation of it becoming a hit. CBS is betting on it being the show to revitalize its Monday lineup. The network is boosting the premiere numbers by airing the returns of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon ahead of it. And yet, it is also hindering its chance at success because it is forcing it into functioning within the same universe as Hawaii Five-0. Peter Lenkov has become a go-to guy at CBS for revamping these classic shows in ways that make them popular once more for the average CBS viewer. It worked for Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver. But those shows aren't massive hits. So, setting the new Magnum P.I. in that world and requiring viewers be aware of the connections feels like a chore and one that may not be beneficial. Hawaii Five-0 is no longer a massive hit. As such, it may not be as exciting to the casual viewer as everyone involved with the shows would like to believe.