Back to the well: 'Magnum P.I.' returns to television with CBS reboot

« Back to News

Kenneth Andeel / TV Media
Jay Hernandez stars in "Magnum P.I."

Jay Hernandez stars in "Magnum P.I."

Name the most famous mustache to ever grace a TV screen. You have 10 seconds to deduce the answer, and should you fail, a shadowy cabal of drug-dealing, bank-robbing, helicopter-hijacking racketeers will forever escape justice, in possession of a priceless crystal figurine and a dossier of fantastically important government secrets.

With stakes so high, I'm confident that you'll provide the correct information without breaking a sweat and declare that the single, indisputable answer is that of Thomas Sullivan Magnum, the now-iconic namesake of the 1980s hit, "Magnum, P.I." This fall, CBS is counting on the enduring recognition of that iconic character when it reboots the classic series with Jay Hernandez ("Suicide Squad," 2016) as the inheritor of the Magnum mojo. Catch the premiere when it airs Monday, Sept. 24, on CBS.

Hernandez is backed up by Welsh actress Perdita Weeks ("Ready Player One," 2018) in the role of Higgins, the straight woman to Magnum's wild card, and fellow Americans Zachary Knighton ("Happy Endings") and Stephen Hill ("Boardwalk Empire") as Rick and TC, close friends of Magnum's from his military past.

The pilot for the new series was greenlit in February of this year, and a polished trailer for the show was dropped in May. The person behind the controls is Peter M. Lenkov, a self-professed fan of the '80s "Magnum" and a writer/producer on CBS's first Hawaiian crime-fest reboot, "Hawaii Five-0." Lenkov's secret weapon for the pilot was director Justin Lin. Lin is best known for thrilling audiences with his dynamic and outrageous action sequences in the immensely popular Fast and the Furious franchise, and his skill at creating high-energy setpieces is bringing Magnum back with a bang.

The original "Magnum, P.I." first aired in 1980, but for many critics and fans, the show holds up in significant ways. It still receives praise for being an early depiction of a Vietnam War veteran character, and the charisma of its star, Tom Selleck ("Blue Bloods"), has cemented the titular character as a memorable part of TV history.

The modern sensibilities of figureheads such as Lin and Lenkov heavily inform the reboot, and the differences between the old "Magnum, P.I." and the new "Magnum P.I." go well beyond that missing comma. For starters, the mustache is MIA. The first teaser photo of Hernandez in his new role made it clear that the show wasn't interested in being a 1:1 remake of its predecessor and was willing to take big, potentially clumsy risks that could attract the ire of diehard Magnum-heads.

Magnum's second most essential possession (after the mustache) was his red Ferrari, and it turns out that that ride wasn't so sacred, either. The Ferrari appears in the trailer for the show, but after a good-natured meta taunt, the trailer sends the poor vehicle to explode into smithereens at the wrong end of a speeding, multi-ton transport truck. And then the pulverized pieces fall off a cliff. So much for tradition.

Perdita Weeks stars in "Magnum P.I."

Perdita Weeks stars in "Magnum P.I."

These sorts of changes seem like a declaration of intent and a statement that the show isn't interested in superficial fan service. Beyond these examples, however, are other alterations that seem to come from a more thoughtful place. The original Thomas Magnum was something of a boilerplate avatar of American heroism -- the strapping, broad-chested former quarterback that audiences would have recognized from countless other stories. Hernandez earned the role in a culture that has made strides in offering a variety of representation. The Mexican-American actor would have probably been relegated to supporting character status in the original series, but in 2018, a major network is happy to have him as the lead.

The casting of Weeks in the role of Juliet Higgins was a deliberate decision meant to erode some of the "Boys' Club" atmosphere of the original series, in which Higgins was a male character. Some commentators have expressed concern that the grudging friendship between Higgins and Magnum -- a big part of the original show's charm -- might be replaced by an overused dependence on sexual tension in the new formula. That will ultimately come down to the skill and restraint of the writing staff, however, and there's no inherent reason the new dynamic can't be as engrossing as its prototype was.

There will be other notable cameos, though. Supporting characters from "Hawaii Five-0" will pop up during the first two episodes of "Magnum P.I.," and more involved crossovers featuring lead characters will occur later in the season. Hawaii's not that big, so it's perfectly logical that all of these tropical crime-fighters would find their paths crossing.

The initial announcement and gradual reveal of the "Magnum P.I." reboot has drawn mixed reactions, and a fair amount of skepticism, but perhaps the increased scrutiny will lead to more interested eyeballs when the series debuts. The network is hoping that the recent success of other rebooted properties across the television world (including its own "Hawaii Five-0") bode well for the latest example of this trend. This fall will give us an idea as to whether "Magnum P.I." can recapture some of the lasting pop culture penetration and abiding critical acclaim of the original, or if it will end up swept out to sea. Catch the premiere on Monday, Sept. 24, on CBS.