Sunday, 10 January 2016

Magnum P.I., Season 1 (1980)

Andy Sidaris's 1985 film Malibu Express features a handsome, moustachioed private investigator with a fancy car and a knack for bumping into beautiful women.  I can't imagine where he might have got the inspiration for that character.  It's so very original, and had never -- oh ... wait a second.

So obviously there might have been a tiny bit of inspiration from this show.  Oh well.  At least, unlike later Sidaris films, Malibu Express is not set in Hawai'i.

Thomas Magnum is a private investigator who lives in a guest house on the estate of reclusive author Robin Masters.  Very reclusive: we never see him on screen.  We do hear his voice though, which is provided by Orson Welles.

In any case, Magnum did a favour for Masters in the past, which is why he's allowed to stay on the estate, much to the chagrin of Masters' majordomo, Higgins.  The prim and proper Higgins is not a fan of Magnum's rather free-wheeling approach to life, and is not above setting his doberman dogs on the PI when he's finding Magnum particularly irksome.

Anyway, the show's a "mystery of the week" type deal with Magnum being called on to solve a case that pretty much invariably involves an attractive young woman in some way.  Either she's the client, or the daughter of the client, or he's hired to find her ... well, you get the idea.  Basically the formula of the show is handsome lead + fast car + gorgeous scenery + attractive woman = ratings.  I'm sure Sidaris figured the same thing.

The thing that separates Magnum P.I. from Sidaris's film - other than the need to stick to TV content regulations - is that the people making this show knew what they were doing.  They know how to hit the light and breezy tone they're going for, and they're not above a little stylistic cheekiness: Magnum often delivers voice-over narration of the type you might get in a noir film, even though the show is pretty much as not-noirish as you could imagine.

Magnum P.I. was a very successful show of its time and it is not hard to see why.  It's certainly not deep or challenging TV, but it has a likeable cast and a solid formula, and it delivers engaging light entertainment.  Despite the very different character line-up and setting, it fills a similar role to something like Castle would today.

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