Is the new 'Magnum P.I.' as good as Tom Selleck's old show?

Jay Hernandez is Magnum in <em>Magnum P.I</em>. (Photo: CBS)
Jay Hernandez is Magnum in Magnum P.I. (Photo: CBS)

The new version of Magnum, P.I. is, by default, one of the fall TV season’s most high-profile shows. That’s simply because — like Murphy Brown and the freshly exhumed Last Man Standing — it’s a familiar title that’s been revived. Magnum comma in the new title: streamlined! — stars Jay Hernandez in the role made famous from 1980 to 1988 by Tom Selleck. Selleck’s Thomas Magnum was a Vietnam War veteran who kept his posttraumatic stress disorder under control by chilling out in Hawaii as a laid-back private eye. He had a mustache and a twinkle in his eye.

The new Thomas Magnum is a veteran of war in Afghanistan, chilling out in Hawaii as a laid-back private eye. He has a goatee and a twinkle in his eye. The first episode of the reboot, developed by producer Peter Lenkov, follows the 1980 Magnum pilot as it was originally conceived by producer-writers Don Bellisario and Glen Larson: An old friend of Magnum’s is killed, Magnum feels guilty he couldn’t save the pal and enlists other pals — his former comrades in war, T.C. (Stephen Hill) and Rick (Zachary Knighton) — to solve the case. And yes, New Magnum lives, as Old Magnum did, on the lush estate property of the never-seen, bestselling author Robin Masters — property that is overseen by an ex-military British caretaker named Higgins. In the original show, Higgins was played by John Hillerman; in the new show, Higgins is a woman, played by Perdita Weeks.

The fidelity to the original only goes so far, of course. The pilot is directed by Justin Lin, who provides a little Fast & Furious action to the opening sequence, which finds Magnum leaping out of a space capsule outside Earth’s atmosphere, parachuting into a North Korean fight scene. It’s an intentionally over-the-top, devious way to launch the show, and a signal to the audience that this Magnum is going to be as frequently tongue-in-cheek about notions of heroism as O.G.

Magnum was, and with a bigger budget. If casting a Latinx actor in the role was meant to suggest anything other than an open-minded casting process, it’s certainly not spelled out in the debut episode, which doesn’t touch on Magnum’s ethnicity. There has been, inevitably, a certain amount of complaining about what I’ll call Magnum P.C. — you know the kind of whining: Thomas Magnum is a white guy, why can’t he stay a white guy? (Changing Higgins to a woman has also inspired some grousing, with even less possible justification.) Hernandez is fine as Magnum: He pulls off the character’s essential charm as a man of action who’d prefer to come across as a good-natured beach bum.

Assiduous fans of the original will note other careful details carried over here: Magnum still drives a red Ferrari, and Higgins holds the leashes of a pair of noisy Dobermans, Apollo and Zeus. The original series did crossovers with Angela Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote and the stars of Simon & Simon; similarly, the new Magnum is scheduled to have visits from island neighbors via the also-rebooted Hawaii Five-O.

All in all, the new Magnum is a success in its execution; the question is, who will watch it? Fans of the original are now aging Gen X-ers, but they, and the baby boomers who can still grip a remote control, are CBS’s key demo anyway, so that’s a plus for the network. But will those oldies be turned off by Hernandez’s take on Thomas Magnum? As milliennials or younger — why would you schedule appointment-television time with a very standard-issue hourlong drama like this? The new Magnum P.I. is perfectly fine, but in an era when so much television is first-rate, is “perfectly fine” enough to keep a show on the air?

Magnum P.I. airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Watch: Magnum P.I. cast on why reboot features mustache-less Mexican-American leading man

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