Imagine an island; an island where all the modern reboots of classic TV shows go to play out their second lives. By now, it would have to be a series of islands, given how many reboots and revivals, re-imaginings and reinterpretations have stormed the fall television schedule. So imagine a chain of islands — not unlike Hawaii.
Now, picture the island getting overcrowded. All those shows are bumping into each other, and they’re not getting along. It’s like on “Lost,” when the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 suddenly ran into The Others, and things got heated. Not wanting any disturbance on the island, its overlords — lets call them Corporate Broadcast Survivors, or CBS for short — devised a peace treaty where the islands would be shared. Some reboots would get their own space, down on the beach or up in the mountains, but those sharing enough common ground (really, any common ground at all) would get together from time to time to have some fun.
Welcome to the corporatized synergistic world of “Magnum P.I.” — it’s so much more than a reboot, and so much less fun than than the original.
All the reboot pieces are in place: Jay Hernandez is the new Tom Selleck. He’s a private investigator living in the guest house of an unseen millionaire’s mansion, and he’s working with a team of ex-military buds to keep the peace in Hawaii. This Magnum is lacking a mustache, but he’s still a charming Lothario who fits in a few critical shirtless scenes between skydiving in outer space and jumping from a speeding car to a flying helicopter without breaking a sweat. (The scene’s CGI makes the characters look so smooth and plastic, they may as well be action figures.)
Hernandez gives off the natural charisma needed to carry a procedural, and his cohorts (including “Happy Endings'” Zachary Knighton) are given brief moments to shine (albeit less brightly than the central star). The action scenes are fine, even if their special effects leave a lot to be desired, and the pilot is perfectly serviceable. There’s some heavy exposition about the mystery woman who broke Thomas Magnum’s heart (it comes up twice), and there’s an obvious love interest living on the grounds with our hero. (Perdita Weeks is property manager Juliet Higgins, the literal woman next door who likes to do yoga and bust balls.)
All this would be enough to please fans of the CBS model: easily digestible, easy-to-follow episodic action not far-removed from the network’s mothership formula, “NCIS.” To point out the flaws is pointless, given that things like disposable characters and questionable living expenses are baked into the recipe. (How Magnum plans to pay for the costs to fix a clearly totaled Ferrari is irrelevant, as are all practical considerations in this fantasy series.)
But here’s where “Magnum P.I.” goes beyond its revived peers: It’s not just a reboot; it’s part of the CTU — the CBS Television Universe. Like the many crossovers that have come before, the new “Magnum” features allusions to another long-running, Hawaii set, procedural reboot: “Hawaii Five-O.” As announced previously, multiple characters from the Alex O’Loughlin-led drama pop up on “Magnum’s” island, and a forced line specifically mentioning “the Five-O” is dropped in just in case you missed the connection. There are already plans for the shows to officially crossover, and fans of either better catch up on both in order to better appreciate all the winks, in-jokes, and clever asides bound to be littering the upcoming “event.”
Yet even if the actual crossover episode is billed as a “special,” it doesn’t feel like a treat anymore. Gone is the fun when stars from “Cheers” flew up to Nantucket for a guest spot on “Wings,” or Steve Urkel brought his “Did I do that?” shenanigans to an already “Full House.” These aren’t one-off gifts for fans of Must See TV or TGIF; it’s a conscious ploy by CBS to protect its investments. The sheer fact that the crossover pieces are built into the pilot spoils a lot of the joy in seeing how the two Hawaii-set police procedurals could somehow come together.
And a lot of that joy has already been sucked out by the machine making the new “Magnum.” For a pilot to begin with a man skydiving from outer space and end without a trace of distinguishing personality points to two problems: a) It’s meant to be generic enough for mass appeal, and b) Creativity isn’t driving this series. Reboots, remakes, and revivals are usually inessential, but even the ones with the least motivation to come back can work with the right cast (“Will & Grace”) or intentions (“Queer Eye”) can work. “Magnum P.I.” is a reboot coasting on the name of its predecessor that’s trying to ensure success in the ratings by tying itself to another reboot that’s already successful. There’s no natural imagination involved, just fiscal obligation.
This kind of thing, whether you like it or not, is the future. Corporate synergy has been in effect long before Jack Donaghy educated the masses of its many benefits. It’s just another way to ensure if viewers watch one show they’ll stick around for one more, and then one more after that, and one more after that. CBS is taking control of its properties in order to solidify its brand in the upcoming brand wars. And if “Magnum P.I.” works, how long will it be until more shows are created simply because they can easily tie into other shows?
Visitors to the island (aka modern TV viewers) are a bit like Jack during “Lost” Season 4. He left the islands a long time ago. He said goodbye to those shows, and yet there’s a pang in his stomach telling him he has to go back. But before you get swept up in the thought of revisiting those warm, sunny beaches laced with cozy pockets of nostalgia, be warned: Some of these reboots aren’t just reboots. They’re being twisted to connect with other stories and match a modern formula for financial success. Enough twisting, and the life wrings right out of it. You won’t be left with the old “Magnum P.I.,” but something unnatural; an empty, unrecognizable hybrid lurching through the jungle. And before you know it, you’ll get gobbled up by what these reboot-crossover hybrids truly are: smoke monsters.
“Magnum P.I.” premieres Monday, September 25 at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.