Thought Vomit #178: ft. Magnum P.I.

It’s always a pot luck when you revisit a television show from your youth, especially one you remember fondly, or associate heavily with your childhood (think Knight Rider, Airwolf, MacGyver). Or when you watch a show that was critically acclaimed at the time, but you were too young to appreciate (or be allowed to stay up to watch). I did this with Miami Vice last year, and it was frankly unwatchable.

So it was with some trepidation that I popped in the Magnum PI DVD. I’d bought the first two seasons for my brother for his birthday, and I was keen to see it again myself.

I had vague memories of Tom Selleck’s red shirt, the dobermans chasing him, Higgins, and of course the red Ferrari.

And do you know what?

It’s still pretty good, and I am having a bit of a blast watching it.

Magnum PI
Magnum PI

And it got me wondering, why has this show stood the test of time more than others from the eighties? I think a lot of it is to do with how generic it was at the time; it wasn’t trying to break new ground, it wasn’t anything other than mainstream fare. It just concentrated on telling good stories, and developing characters in a vaguely interesting manner.

That’s not to say it’s bland, or afraid to play around with its own premise. Characters break the fourth wall (before Moonlighting ever did), it swings pleasingly from melodrama, to comedy, from heavy dramatic episodes to light fluffy ones. And it even explores some issues that weren’t really being explored at the time, namely the return of soldiers from Vietnam (which it does sympathetically).

It’s certainly worth a watch if you get a chance. I know it was up for free on the NBC site, and it’s bargain basement cheap on Amazon in the UK at the moment.

Here’s a fun blog about how one of the first season’s episodes was pitched on the fly.

And here’s what would happen if Magnum’s moustache appeared in every single film:

One thought on “Thought Vomit #178: ft. Magnum P.I.

  • October 2, 2013 at 3:02 am
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    I have also rewatched Magnum PI recently, since a TV station is rerunning the show. Interestingly enough, I find that it holds up less well since many other shows of the period. It’s not completely unwatchable like Knight Rider, Airwolf, Dynasty and the like, but IMO it hasn’t held up nearly as well as The A-Team, Simon and Simon, Remington Steele or the like.

    I guess part of the reason is that Magnum PI was heavily edited when it aired in Germany in the 1980s, i.e. most Vietnam war references were cut out, because they were deemed too controversial, and violence was often cut as well. So I didn’t really see the uncensored Magnum PI until now. The show is quite different from what I remember and I no longer like it as much as I did compared to other shows of the period. The fourth wall breaking was really new for the time, though the aftermath of the Vietnam war ran as a sort of background noise through many American 1980s shows even in the heavily censored versions we got with pretty much every action hero a Vietnam war veteran. And IMO both The A-Team and Riptide did the “friends who met in Vietnam and fight crime” thing better than Magnum PI. Particularly The A-Team was quite critical of the way the vets were treated by their own government, which quite surprised me in a show I remembered mainly as a funny romp.

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