Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wide H50pen Spaces

"We've got to find a way off the Island!"
Okay, so Hawaii Five-O is a little before my time. I was two when the show ended its recordbreaking run in 1980, and I honestly can't say I've seen a single episode in its entirety. That said, CBS has done good work with the hype. So much so that I felt a little pumped going into this premiere Monday for a variety of reasons.

"Respect the shades, McGarrett."
First off, H50 grabbed the 9 Central timeslot that's been held by CSI: Miami for nearly a decade. While the CSI, Law & Order, and NCIS franchises are well-crafted, I find myself longing to return to a more romantic take on law enforcement. Numbers is my personal pick for the best crime drama from the past decade.

You could transplant the setting to Arthur's Camelot, make Charlie a wizard instead of a mathemetician, call the FBI the Knights of the Round Table, and it would essentially be the same show. The math is mystic, the characters are fun, and the action felt larger than life.

The crime procedural dramas, by contrast, feel claustrophobic after a while. The characters are dwarfed by the science. They view law enforcement through the lens of professionalism rather than adventure. There's nothing inherently wrong with that take, which actually skews closer to the reality, but that's precisely the problem for me.

So I entered the H50 pilot already somewhat invested in its success. The advertisements promised big action, an expansive setting, and an old-school buddy cob vibe. As someone who came of age at the height of the 80s action franchises, this naturally appeals to me.

So did it meet my expectations? Absolutely. The teaser sequence feels like something straight out of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone film. Within a minute there's a hostage situation, a military grade helicopter attacking a federal prisoner transport, and a cold-blooded murder. H50 is built for widescreen.

The characterization keeps pace with the action, too. McGarrett's partner, Det. Danny "Danno" Williams, is a "mainlander" who hates Hawaii. He's only here to be closer to his daughter, who lives with her mother and very rich stepfather. His divided loyalties pave the way for conflict with the single-minded McGarrett. This leads to some humorous exchanges, like when a sulking Williams reminds McGarrett that it's common courtesy to apologize when you get someone shot. It's a classic complementary mismatch in the vein of Lethal Weapon's Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic, if a bit more subtle.

While it will take some time to see where the group dynamic goes, Detectives Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kona "Kono" Kalakau (Grace Park) round out the task force nicely. Kelly's motivation as a cop on the outs looking for a way back has potential, and "Kono"'s easygoing nature offsets McGarrett, Williams, and Kelly's brooding ways.

H50 still has room for some slight tweaking. Nearly every chase ends with lethal force. While I have nothing against these scenarios in moderation, I do see a need for balance. A chase is typically more fun because the bad guy gets caught, not killed. The commercials made use of the nostalgic, feel good "Book 'im, Danno" line. Unfortunately, that line loses something coming right off yet another dead perp.

The pilot deals with McGarrett's quest to avenge his father, though, so it's likely the tone will balance out by the next episode. Here's hoping they can take down the body count a notch without losing H50's edge.

Regardless of that minor criticism, this show's off to a strong start in the race to make my "can't-miss" list. It's not quite Numb3ers good, but it might fill the "fun-factor" void left by that show in time. Here's hoping H50 is just the beginning of a programming shift that takes crime drama out of the lab and back into the wide open spaces.

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