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TV Review: ‘Magnum P.I.’

An exposition-heavy hour fails to soar despite plenty of action

“Magnum P.I.,” CBS’s reboot of the Tom Selleck drama, has a panache problem.

The show is certainly showy-looking, with an opening sequence depicting Magnum (Jay Hernandez) parachuting into North Korea and rescuing a dissident’s wife and child by driving through the side of the family home. And yet the reveal—that Magnum is telling an embellished old war story to his friends, to whom he introduces us in labored voice-over—is done clunkily and with a painful maximum of exposition. Little in the pilot of this “Magnum” evinces much trust in the audience, or much willingness to defer over-explanation for a moment.

The show’s writers, at least, attempt to introduce a touch of wit into Magnum’s endless voiceover. “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking,” he notes, describing his lifestyle as a private-security agent and part-time private investigator on lush Oahu. “This guy’s life doesn’t suck.” Maybe so, but the chill attitude of a Hawaii-based bro who spends much of his time chilling with friends hardly jibes with the relentless, nearly breathless tone with which this unusually pilot-y pilot tries to catch us up on the state of play. (His best friends, to wit, are his fellow POWs from the war in Afghanistan, during which time a writer had also been embedded with them; that unseen writer, a holdover plot element from the original series, is now a wealthy celebrity and Magnum’s boss. Phew!) A little patience might have been merited; we deserve a little more time to get to know these characters.

As Thomas Magnum, Hernandez is charming enough, and does yeoman’s work selling the show’s endless voice-over. It’s a fair question, perhaps, how much the show will let us get to know him. An incident at the Television Critics Association press tour, when the show’s executive producer erroneously said that the show has no Latinx writers on staff, marked a moment in which the show’s priorities became clear when it came to fleshing out Magnum as a real person played by a Latino actor. Worse still, he’s a cipher in every sense. Plenty of work has been done here to build out a scenario—where Magnum works, who his friends are, and so on—but we come to know too little about who Magnum is.

Which is a problem for a show that’s sold in part on its lead’s charisma; there needs to be something behind the smile. And though it’s early yet, there was time spent wheel-spinning in the first episode that could have gone towards an extra scene of humanity. His best friends (Stephen Hill and a way-over-the-top Zachary Knighton, working so hard to provide comic relief that he feels ported in from another, more absurdist show) work to shorthand a character history the show has yet to make us believe. Hernandez deserves the chance to loosen up a bit; hopefully once the show finds its groove, the voice-overs will bear a little bit less exposition, and this new Magnum will come into relief as a character, not just a famous name.

TV Review: 'Magnum P.I.'

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