Friday, June 8, 2012

Exfanding Review: Hawaii Five-O

One of the many joys of having Netflix is the ability to pick up and drop any TV series that catches my interest, without any obligation to buy the DVDs or to continue watching if my interest begins to wane. Having demonstrated with The Dick Tracey Show that I can break free of my completionist tendencies and skip around if necessary, I was prepared to take on another detective show of sorts that I had no hope of ever finishing: Hawaii Five-O.

Twelve seasons? 279 episodes? 45-50 minutes per episode? It'd take me two weeks straight to watch it all, assuming I quit my job and spent every waking minute of my day marathoning Hawaii Five-Oh For The Love Of Jack Lord Make It End. I don't even like cop shows! But I have a passion for classic cinema, and that passion extends into the realm of television. It's not just entertainment; it's educational as well: film has a unique way of preserving our history and culture, and even the fictional elements have a way of hinting at the reality of the time.

If you're unfamiliar with Hawaii Five-O, the short version is that there's a crack police team in Hawaii known as "Five-O" that's always hot on the trail of every crime syndicate, con artist, and disgruntled tourist on the islands. Five-O is comprised of the levelheaded Steve McGarrett, who is rarely seen without his iconic blue suit; his ever-ready sidekick Danny "Danno" Williams; family man Chin Ho Kelly; Kono Kalakaua, the loyal tough guy; and a parade of replacements for anybody who leaves the show. I realize that Ben Kokua, Duke Lukela, and other characters who joined the regular cast later on are worth mentioning here, but the fact is, I barely saw any episodes with them in it.

The original plan was to selectively watch a few episodes from every season, choosing the ones whose descriptions sounded most up my alley and/or most important to a broader understanding of the show's overarching plotlines, assuming there were any. This worked nicely through the end of Season Four, by which point I'd realized three things:

1.) The episodes with the most appealing premises were the least relevant to overall plot and character development, and thus began to lose my full attention after about 10-15 minutes;
2.) The episodes that were most relevant to overall plot and character development had the least appealing premises, and thus began to lose my full attention after about 10-15 minutes;
3.) I was mostly watching to see who else would show up from Star Trek.

Hawaii Five-O ran from 1968-1980, which very neatly covers the hiatus between the last episode of Star Trek in 1969 and Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Star Trek: The Animated Series notwithstanding, this Trekless period of time is one where all the actors from The Original Series had previously disappeared from my radar. I've been spotting Star Trek alums in films such as Airplane II: The Sequel throughout the '80s and beyond, but before that? Either nobody did any acting, or else they were making appearances in shows I'd never watched.

Like Hawaii Five-O.

In one early episode, a Japanese man under the impression the year is still 1941 attempts to carry out his planned role in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. First off, it was jarring to watch a television show made in a time period where the majority of viewers would remember World War II as a part of their childhood, and not a Hollywood-coated history lesson. Second, it was jarring to see someone who was clearly not Japanese wearing heavy makeup to appear Japanese--the thought crossed my mind that any Japanese actor of the appropriate age for that role might potentially have found the subject matter to be too close to home.

Enough food for thought with those two points alone, but then I began to recognize the actor who McGarrett and the rest of his team were chasing. At first, I thought it was Charlton Heston, who I'd recently seen pass for a Mexican in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. When the credits rolled, I realized my mistake--it wasn't Charlton Heston, but Mark Lenard.

Mark Lenard, who played Sarek, Spock's father, on Star Trek. Suddenly I had a renewed interest in Hawaii Five-O.

As I continued watching, I saw Diana "Dr. Pulaski" Muldaur as a suspicious wife, Ricardo "Khaaaaaaaaan!" Montalbán as an expert racecar driver, Roger C. "Harcourt Fenton Mudd" Carmel as a Russian informant, and William "Denny Crane on Boston Legal" Shatner as a Texan detective, complete with an accent of such questionable authenticity that--I swear I'm not making this up--one of the characters in the episode was on the fence about whether he was a Westerner or only "affecting a Western accent."

It was a kick to see so many actors from Star Trek in such wildly different roles and situations than I was accustomed to. I'd never seen Mark Lenard or Roger C. Carmel in anything else, and it was fascinating to watch them take ownership of their characters--and amusing to realize how much of a character actor Carmel must have been when his Russian accent occasionally gave way slightly to a very fine English one.

Diana Muldaur was impressively...normal. As in, a persuasively regular person, and not a Star Trek character out of uniform. For someone whom I strongly associate with a particular character to show no trace of that character in a different role is no easy task. Especially for William Shatner, whose slyness and force fit the role perfectly, but whose accent--as consistent and inoffensive as it was--never convinced me of his origins. Funny how easily accents can make or break a character.

I find myself with a growing respect for how--in the movies I've seen, at least--Ricardo Montalbán's distinctive accent never seems to define his character. He's the kind of actor I admire most: one who can fully become a character even without changing his hair or disguising his voice. He could've played JFK, and I wouldn't have questioned why John F. Kennedy sounded Mexican.

In general, I have nothing but praise for the acting and direction. I even caught a familiar name directing one of the episodes--Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach on Cheers, which my wife and I are currently watching. The stars I recognized were one of the most compelling reasons for me to stick with the show for a while, but the unique setting was a selling point, too--I appreciated how Hawaii wasn't just part of the background, but an integral factor in the kinds of crimes Five-O would deal with. Culture, history, and geography played a big part, and I feel like that's not always true of detective shows.

I was simultaneously impressed and disappointed by the show's consistency--twelve seasons, and aside from the aforementioned cast changes, there were very few ways to tell the first episode from the last one. A few minor modifications to the intro theme, really. The actor playing Chin Ho had visibly aged by the end of his ten-year tenure, but the film quality and costumes and actors around him seemed to have been oddly unaffected by the passage of time. I think of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation whose first seasons seem like a completely different show coming off of later seasons, but Hawaii Five-O established itself almost immediately and never seemed to stray from its path. The only significant addition I can think of was a mildly distracting split-screen effect toward the end of the series that allowed the viewer to watch the bad guys running away and the good guys running after them in two different locations at the same time. Oh, and the uncontrollably shaky camera seemed to calm down a bit after a while, so there's that.

There was a lot to like about Hawaii Five-O. I'm just not big into detective shows. For fans of the genre, and even for aspiring film buffs such as myself, it's worth a look...even if you've only got a 10-15-minute attention span.

If nothing else, the title theme is really catchy:

And, just for the heck of it, let's throw in a little Star Wars, too:

1 comment:

CuntrySongAndMegaman said...

Sounds very interesting. Never actually got into cop shows past NCIS, but I might give this one a shot, especially with the new remake. Also, watching JUST for Star Trek characters is hilarious, like watching Star Wars movies to see if Chuck Norris or Clint Eastwood shows up... Or something completely different.