Hawaii Five — uh, oh
September 22, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
Having the good sense to keep the theme song was one thing the producers got right with the new “Hawaii Five-0.”
The music has that anthemic quality of making people start dancing where they stand, a clumsy shuffle known as the haole hula. Some even have this uncontrollable urge to stand up and cheer when they hear it … which can be a tad embarrassing if you have it as a ringtone.
Between the surf guitar, the horns and the pounding shorebreak drumbeat, the instrumental song says more than a lyricist could, maybe not about the real Hawaii — but certainly about a Mainland fantasy of it.
That fantasy — updated from the original slightly cheesy but still classic TV show from the late ’60s and ’70s — was what I felt like I was watching when the new series debuted on CBS Monday. Updates include semi-automatic weapons, flak vests, helicopters and heat-seeking missiles and cool bikini babes surfing big North Shore waves.
Instead of Jack Lord and James MacArthur hitting the beach in business suits and leather shoes to chase down their suspects, now we have new detectives Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny Williams (Scott Caan) trading clever guy lines as they speed to the scene of the crime.
It’s glossy, it’s action-packed, and some critics have praised the new show’s similarity to a summer action blockbuster on the big screen.
So why is the vast majority of the test subjects in our no-way scientific study so definitely underwhelmed?
We’re protective of our home, ventures my colleague, Staff Writer Kehau Cerizo. She actually conducted the research for the study on Facebook, asking her friends, “Hawaii Five-O” or “Hawaii Five No”?
Apart from constructive suggestions that Linda Lingle and Dog the Bounty Hunter deserved cameos, the answers tended toward the latter.
Between the relentless action, the attempts to talk local and the efforts to work landmarks like Pearl Harbor in as backgrounds, the production winds up demonstrating the opposite point:
It’s not quite Hawaiian style. It doesn’t get it. It’s more like Beverly Hills in aloha shirts.
For all the dated signposts of the original TV series — still running stronger than ever in syndication — the original “Hawaii Five-0” knew its place … and its time. Honolulu might have felt a little like Rangoon, with sleazy underworld gangsters doing their business in the backs of seedy Waikiki nightclubs, but you always felt the soft, sensual breeze blowing just outside.
In the late ’60s, the young state of Hawaii with its rainbow of ethnicities and array of cultural customs, still had more in common with the rest of the world, especially its neighbors around the Pacific, than with the other 49 stars on the American flag.
In its old, clunky way, the original series sensed this. In its new, glossy way, the new series doesn’t.
Updating the original concept of “State Police” to now be a terrorist-fighting task force, the show offers paramilitary-aloha action that barely bothers to notice the scenery on its way to the next helicopter-and-missile battle. Instead of small-scale crime, now the force is combatting the Chinese sex-slave market.
While Caan and O’Loughlin sneak in the occasional good line, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are a lot more fun to watch, representing the home team. I could only image the reaction in local bars across the state watching Park singlehandedly handle a bunch of guys who assumed she was just a girl.
But as appealing as they may be, they’re at the mercy of writers who never get very far from the danger zones of stereotyping and profiling. For its clever touches, like the “Theme from Psycho” ringtone and Caan’s single-dad confessions, the whole script felt like little more than a build-up to the punch line: “Book ’em, Danno!”
Don’t get me wrong. The new “Hawaii Five-0” isn’t bad — it’s just not as good as we want it to be. It’s still worth cheering on, and wishing well, for the boost it gives the local economy, if nothing else.
Audiences will be able to get a different glimpse of life in the islands — a kinder, gentler and definitely wackier glimpse —when the made-on-Maui comedy, “Get a Job,” premieres at the Hawaii International Film Festival on Oahu next month.
In the meantime, if you’re searching the TV screen for the real Hawaii, you can’t do better than UH Rainbow Wahine volleyball.
It’s state of the art, whether you’re talking about using television technology to unify a state made of islands — or capturing the unique spirit of this amazing place with no special effects beyond the grace and gorgeous smiles of these gifted girls.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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