Back in January when I read the pilot script for the new “Hawaii Five-O,” I knew it was going to become a series. The dramatics just jumped out of the page: The episode opened in Korea with Commander Steve MacGarrett negotiating with an Irish terrorist who’s going to kill his father unless the naval intelligence officer releases his fellow terrorist brother whom he’s captured following a five-year search. After an attack from friends of the terrorists and explosions everywhere, MacGarrett’s forced to shoot his prisoner in self-defense. He knows he’s just signed his father’s death warrant.
“My brother’s dead isn’t he?! ISN’T HE?” MacGarrett doesn’t answer. “So is your father.”
The script read: “AS MCGARRETT FLINCHES AT THE GUNSHOT—WE SLAM TO THE MOMENT WE’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR: A POUNDING RENDITION OF THE FIVE-0 THEME KICKS IN OVER A BREAKING WAVE—mind-blowing, rapid fire IMAGES from the story you’re about to see—images that set the tone, introduce soon-to-be familiar faces, and showcase the islands of Hawaii—it BUILDS and BUILDS.”
Of course, that classic instrumental puts a snap into everything just as the “Mission: Impossible” theme made anything surrounding it—whether on television or film—that much more dramatic and suspenseful.
Because this was a reboot with new actors playing the old characters from the 1968-1980 series—Steve MacGarrett, Danny “Danno” Williams, Chin Ho Kelly, and Kono Kalakaua—I feared CBS would once again cast whites for the top two roles and Asian Americans for the bottom two. I suggested to the head of casting that Steve MacGarrett could be hapa—someone like Ian Anthony Dale who was so terrific in that “Cold Case” episode which focused on the Japanese American concentration camps. No such luck. The press was already reporting that the network wanted Alex O’Loughlin to be the star.
Why? He’d fronted two back-to-back flops for CBS: “Moonlight” and “Three Rivers.” I’m glad that in her Los Angeles Times review, Mary McNamara also questioned this casting decision referring to the actor’s “woodenness:” “Yes, he’s handsome, but why on Earth, when there are so many handsome talented actors out of work in this town, has Alex O’Loughlin been given three TV shows in almost as many years?”
Didn’t CBS consider that uh, maybe people didn’t like watching him mumble his way through scenes as he tried to hide his Australian accent? Who could see him as the new Jack Lord, who played the character with an angry conceitedness? Well, the charisma-less O’Loughlin got the role anyway. Scott Caan, James’s son, became Danny Williams, and Daniel Dae Kim from “Lost” and Grace Park from “Battlestar Galactica” rounded out the cast.
It debuted to pretty good numbers Monday night—14.2 million people. The show moved so fast, I often had to rewind the tape to be clear on just what happened and who shot whom. Unlike the original series which didn’t show the formation of the 5-O unit, this one introduces us to the four regulars one by one.
Danny Williams moved from New Jersey to the 50th state to be close to his daughter because his ex-wife moved there; he actually hates Hawaii. Chin Ho was fired from the police force falsely accused of taking a bribe. His cousin, Kono, is just graduating from the police academy but won’t be taken seriously because she’s related to him.
The governor (Jean Smart) offers MacGarrett the chance to form his own team to seek vengeance on his father’s killer and root crime from the island with full immunity (like she has the power to do that). Eventually, he accepts.
William’s “Danno” nickname gets a new origin: It’s what his baby daughter called him because she couldn’t say “Danny.” Awww. Only problem? When he first uses the name in front of MacGarrett, he mumbles it. Bad set up for the inevitable punchline, “Book ‘em Danno!” Another step backward from the original series (besides O’Loughlin’s casting) is that unlike Kam Fong and Zulu who played Chin Ho and Kono respectively, neither Daniel Dae Kim nor Grace Park are Hawaiian locals who give viewers the sense of what “real Hawaiian people” sound like. Neither attempts much of a Hawaiian pidgin accent so we have to rely on real local people to create the Hawaii flavor. There’s an obese Hawaiian who, in return for information, demands a lot of money and that MacGarrett and Williams buy shaved ice and two t-shirts from his store. As the two stand outside wearing the shirts with shaved ice in hand, a cute Asian girl asks MacGarrett, “Are you a cop?” “No!” “Well you look like a cop…” Pretty funny.
Long story short, in order to get to the leader of a smuggling ring, Kono (Park) goes undercover to pose as a poor immigrant looking to bring her aunt and uncle over from China. A crooked cop in the Honolulu police department (unseen) tells him she’s a cop and all hell breaks loose with the Five-O team rushing in to help though Kono’s quite capable of fighting off the bad guys herself.
The crook tells the team where to find the main Irish terrorist bad guy. I thought he’d become the new Wo Fat—MacGarrett’s arch nemesis who always escaped and kept returning to piss off Hawaii’s top cop. Nope. After a long fight, MacGarrett shoots him dead! Asked what the team leader wants to do with one of the subdued bad guys, MacGarrett answers, to Williams’s chagrin, “Book ‘em, Danno!”
The episode ends with the new team moving into formal headquarters and trying to think of a name for themselves. No one comes up with “Hawaii Five-O.” Let’s see how long it takes before someone does.
OK, so the new version is still hindered by two haole stars (one of whom’s not even American!) and two Asian Pacific Americans with smaller roles, but this time, both Chin Ho and Kono will get episodes that focus on their characters. In fact, at a meeting with CBS executives two days ago, I was told to watch for the third episode as it fleshes out Chin Ho’s back story.
After previews for next week’s show, a smiling dimple-faced Park got to utter another one of Jack Lord’s old catch phrases: “Be here! Aloha!” Aww, she looked so cute. Even with its faults, who can resist that invitation?
“Five-O” airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on CBS.
Well, At Least We Got… Department: Maggie Q stars as “Nikita” on the CW on Thursday nights. The premiere only drew 3.6 million people and the following week, 3.4 million, but the debut was the best ratings for the network in that time slot in a year and a half. It’s nice to see an Asian American starring in something.
What The Hell Was That?! Department: Margaret Cho and the latest batch of celebrities made their debut Monday night on “Dancing with the Stars” as an astounding 21.3 million people watched. Saying she wanted to prove she was a lady, she actually started out rather impressively, then suddenly looked like a vampire wanting to eat us. She flipped her gold cape, and it covered her entire face. Her partner had to take it down so she could see. That didn’t seem planned, but the ending obviously was as the comedienne started acting as if she couldn’t get back on her feet then falling at the end. It was a bizarre comical performance and the judges expressed disappointment that she didn’t trust her dancing abilities. They all gave her 5s mounting to 15 points out of 30. Although she scored the lowest of all the contestants, the viewing audience rescued her and David Hasselhoff was sent packing instead.
Well, That Was Fast! Department: A former Chinese American beauty queen was the only Asian American contestant on “The Apprentice,” which returned to its roots by allowing real people to compete for a job with Donald Trump. A good angle now that the economy’s in the toilet, but apparently, audiences weren’t interested. It fell about 50% from the opening of last Fall’s celebrity-version premiere. Nicole, a lawyer, volunteered to be the first project manager for the women’s team but after that initial display of initiative, she dissolved pretty quickly, always asking her teammates, “What do you think? What do you want to do?” and never asserting her own opinion.
Before long, they grew tired of her not leading the team or making decisions and her team’s design of a modern office lost to the men’s version. Although contestants are usually nice after the first competition, the claws quickly came out and just about everyone said Nicole should be fired. Displaying what you might expect from both a beauty contestant and an Asian person, Nicole didn’t fight back strongly enough until the very end when it was down to her or two other contestants, but it was too late. Although Trump disagreed with her colleagues and felt she displayed leadership qualities (in the brief time he dealt with her), he had to fire her. Still, because he liked Nicole, he said he’d set up a meeting with her and the “Miss Universe” people for a possible job.
Correction Department: In my review of “Hachiko,” I said that one of the producers, Vicki Shigekuni Wong, is the daughter of JACL’s Phil Shigekuni. Jean Hirata pointed out that Vicki’s actually the daughter of lawyer Thomas Shigekuni, who comes highly recommended as he’s Jean’s longtime family lawyer. Phil himself wrote to say Vicki’s his cousin.
Till next time keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.