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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The New Hawaii Five-O: Christie and Cheney Would Approve

TV series and movie remakes of earlier -- often iconic -- hits are usually disappointing to the fans of the original.  (Think about the nice-try-but-still-subpar 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes.)  

Sometimes the remakes fail to "connect" with the original, disappointing both the fans of the original and receiving indifferene from the current audience which is left wondering what the "big deal" was with the original.  (Examples include the 2005 remake of Rollerball, the classic 1975 movie intersecting the appeal of sports violence on television with corporatism, starring James Caan and John Houseman, and the absolutely horrendous 2007 movie remake of the dated 1980s TV hit Miami Vice.)

Rarely do the remakes live up to the creative success of the original.  Two exceptions come to mind:  The hugely successful (in spite of) Tom Cruise trilogy of Mission: Impossible movies, and the brilliant political allegory Battlestar Galactica which starred former Miami Vice police chief Edward James Olmos. I am reminded of a third notable remake: ABC's V (a scheduled midseason replacement), a reimaging of a successful early 1980s NBC miniseries about alien invaders in big saucer-type ships which was absolutely and brutally ruined in a subsequent NBC weekly series.  

It was with these observations in mind that I watched the series premiere of the remake of Hawaii Five-O last night on the CBS network.  (Check out the surprisingly cool reboot of the original credits and theme song, and then compare it against the 1968 original and even this rejected 1998 CBS pilot that would have had Gary Busey playing McGarrett!)  I remember watching reruns of the original, which ran from 1968 to 1980, also on CBS.  Much has changed about the pace of crime dramas. 

The current show's producers deserve a lot of credit for some subtle tribute-paying to the original.  First, the reimaging of  the title song is an absolute hit.  Secondly, here we have opening credits for a show accompanying the theme song, a feature which has slowly been abandoned (Can you think of another show with credits and a recognizable theme song other than CSI's use of The Who's timeless "Who Are You?" comes to mind?)  The opening credit montage clearly evokes -- yet updates -- the iconic opening of the orignal show, including the classic wave and Iolani Palace.  It even has a McGarrett turning around on a hotel balcony (watch quickly, perhaps only those who remember the original will even notice). 

The best tribute to the original, however, came when the new Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) goes into his murdered father's garage and lifts up a car cover to reveal an antique 1960s vintage black Ford Mustang...the car driven by the original Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord).  The original Ford Mustang is in the original show's credits (go check); then pull up the 2010 pilot episode and you'll see for yourself what I'm talking about.

After that, the new show takes off on its distinct path.  This is where fans of the original would get "lost" (pun intended) if there was too much of a departure.  My impression is that the new show stands on its own.

First, the remake shows a brighter Hawaii with tropical blues and greens abounding.  You can imagine that tropical humidity, with a 70 degree dewpoint coming right off the screen.  This is not the Hawaii of the original, or even of Magnum, P.I.  

Secondly, the cast seems to mesh.  You have a "core of four" on the show.  While the original McGarrett was clearly that show's star and unquestioned dominant figure (as Jack Lord was already a star in his own right when the original premiered), the new McGarrett is perhaps the least defined of the four main characters.

Now, for the legal analysis.  How would the new Hawaii Five-O fit into the existing legal framework?   In the first episode, we have the governor granting McGarrett "full immunity" to go after these criminals and terrorists.  It seems like the script writers didn't know how to launch the new McGarrett.  Is he a good cop, a felon needing redemption to get a sentence reduction recommendation, or a vigilante?  

How does McGarrett's new strike force fit into the existing state government?  The original show had Jack Lord often conferring with -- and appropriately deferring to -- both the governor and the attorney general (each of which were recurring roles).  The new show -- at least episode one -- implies that legal, procedural niceties like chain of command and constitutional rights are solid concrete barriers to "fighting crime."  Let's review the evidence.

We have the new McGarrett secreting evidence at a crime scene (the tape recorder in his father's tool box), interrogating and threatening a suspect (well, we know he's a really bad guy) and failing to announce his presence before entering a suspect's bungalow.  The original McGarrett would never have done -- and did not do -- any of these things.  But you can bet that government leaders who believe that the ends justify the means -- Dick Cheney and Chris Christie, raise your hands -- would approve.

While this show is fiction and not a docudrama by any means, do take note of the message to the audience: It's OK for the good guys to "cut corners" when it comes to procedures and rules.  In the real world, such an attitude is often characterized by judges as "police misconduct" and, when done by prosecutors, as "prosecutorial misconduct."  Some prosecutors will use other terms like "official misconduct," "official corruption" and "felony."  The show sends a message -- which Crime, Politics and Policy disapproves of -- that the post 9/11-authoritarianism of government is not just good, but necessary, when in reality these tragedies have been exploited by those in government to expand its power at the expense of basic civil liberties and constitutional protections,.  More troubling is the implicit imputing of the lowest of motives and character traits to those who raise these concerns. 

Another critical difference:  The new McGarrett backs down when confronted by the suspect outside the aforementioned bungalow when he threatens to shoot an innocent bystander in a brief stand-off.  The old McGarrett would never -- and I mean, never -- have taken his finger off the trigger.  Fortunately, sidekick Danny "Dan-o" Williams (whose character is a former New Jersey cop from the New York suburbs who likes "skyscrapers") saves McGarrett from being killed.  I suspect Williams (played by Scott Caan, yes, the son of Sonny Corleone, er, James Caan) will be the best actor on this show -- not the new McGarrett.

There is a degree of subtle comedy in the show.  Take note that Williams is a divorced father and takes the occasional phone call from his ex-wife.  The call produces a Psycho-like screech from the cell phone.  Just a little light humor that was absent from the starched-shirt, buttoned-down seriousness of the original.

One final question.  Given that the opening episode revolved around international arms-smugglers and people-smugglers, where was the Department of Justice here?  (Perhaps future episodes will introduce the Justice Department as some sort of barrier to future investigations, presenting "turf battles" and otherwise getting in the way of the flawed good guys of the new show.) 

So far, the show seems like a creative success and may actually be worth watching.  For now, the show is scheduled to run Monday evenings at 10 pm Eastern time. 

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who writes regularly on civil liberties and constitutional rights issues and will represent clients on matters regarding such issues.  Mr. Dixon also represents small businesses, their owners and managers on legal and strategic issues, including government investigations and regulatory and tax inquiries.  Mr. Dixon is available for comment and consultation at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at


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