I had low expectations for the CBS remake of the venerable 1970s’ cop show, “Hawaii Five-O,” and I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun the remake is. Granted, I have no allegiances to the original show; my knowledge doesn’t extend much past the theme song or the “Book ‘em Danno,” phrase that’s poorly shoehorned into the pilot. But the remake is entertainingly diverting, though unsurprisingly empty, the sort of show that makes for excellent background television watching during rerun season.
The pilot starts off strong, building a modest backstory for Steve McGarett (Alex O’Laughlin), whose father is violently murdered, and any show that can kill off the brilliant character actor William Sadler in the first five minutes deserves at least some attention. His murderer, too, is played with Marsterian flair by James Marsters of “Buffy,” fame, and it would’ve been nice if he’d had a longer arc. But this is CBS, home of self-contained scripted television, so you can only hope for so much.
After the father’s murder, the Hawaiian governor, here played by a CBS mainstay, Jean Smart, recruits McGarett to put together a task force, one he can use to find his father’s murderer and which will be used to track down and dispose of similar baddies throughout the course of the series. He enrolls an old high school buddy, Chin Ho Kelly (“Lost’s” Daniel Dae Kim), a cop recently kicked off the force after being wrongly accused of taking kickbacks. The detective assigned to his father’s murder, Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan) is also brought into the task force, after he butts heads with McGarrett over a jurisdictional pissing match. Grace Park’s surfing cop, Kono Kalakaua, rounds out the force, mostly by providing a lot of bikini shots. It’s that kind of show. No judgments.
Still, “Hawaii Five-O,” isn’t worth anymore than mild escapism; it’s certainly not appointment viewing. The leads are suitable, especially Caan’s wisecracking Danno, who balances out O’Laughlin’s charming woodenness. He’s a better-looking guy than he is an actor, but O’Laughin serviceable in a role that will frequently call for shirt removal, while Kim still feels like he’s a “Lost” castaway who walked onto the set of another series while moping around the island looking for Sun Kwon . The storyline, at least for the pilot, was nonsensical, and less of a mystery than a series of really well executed action sequences (Underworld’s Len Wiseman directed the pilot) strung together tenuously to provide a through-line for the Marsters’ bookends. The writing is ponderous and tin-ear, but it’s delivered with modest skill.
But the biggest thing holding back “Hawaii Five-O,” besides no aspiration to be anything other than an amusingly frivolous cop show, is CBS. I don’t know what it is about the network, but there’s an indescribable CBS sheen on all their scripted fare (save for “How I Met Your Mother,”) a sheen that’s covered in dust and dead skin, as though to make their 59-year-old target audience feel more at home. On a different network, this “Hawaii Five-O,” might have felt a little more edgy, more energetic, and less conservative. On CBS, however, it has the same mothball scent that trails its “NCIS”, “CSI” and Tom Selleck. Still, while I don’t expect to continue watching “Hawaii Five-O,” it’s definitely the sort of self-contained series that I’d stop on during a channel-flipping excursion, if only to watch the beach scenes and well-choreographed explosions.