Magnum PI: Season Four
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Magnum PI: Season Four

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In the year 1983 the popular television series Magnum, P.I. was entering its halfway point. Four out of its eventual eight seasons was to start. The exploits of private investigator, Thomas Sullivan Magnum (Tom Selleck) would continue to try to solve cases expending as little effort as possible. It was not that Thomas was lazy, he was dedicated and determined. It was just that he has been through a lot during his service in the Vietnam War and he wanted to enjoy the luxurious surrounds afforded by Hawaii. He was not only a good detective he was an excellent friend especially to two former war buddies, TC Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick Wright (Larry Manetti). The three became close during their time in the war and now are always there to help each other out. Magnum primarily works as the head of security on the vast Robin Masters estate. This usually brings Magnum in contention with the major domo of the Master’s Estate; Jonathan Higgins (John Hillerman). While Thomas enjoys a floral shirt, short paints and enjoying life Higgins is the prototypical British middle manager, decided to his sense of duty and protocol.

The typical problem with a popular series that has a few years behind it is the stories tend to repeat themselves. The creators of Magnum avoided this in a very novel fashion. Instead of depending on the premise (private eye in Hawaii) to drive the plots this series was more character driven than most of what came before. The writers where not afraid to have an episode with no villain at all, case in point, the season four opener. ‘Home from the Sea’ opens on July 4th 1983. While TC is taking his little league boys to a ball game, Rick is getting ready to take his latest beautiful girlfriend Sandy (Constance Forslund) out on the King Kamehameha Club’s luxury yacht. Higgins is in the midst of a grudge polo match with an American team. He is cheered by fellow British citizen Agatha Chumley (Gillian Dobb) who has a serious crush on the proper Higgins. Thomas has a little tradition of spending the 4th alone, away from all his friends. His surf ski is swept away by a careless boat leaving him alone in the ocean, caught in a powerful current taking him to sea. As Thomas treads water his thoughts wander to his boyhood and memories of his father Thomas Sullivan Magnum II (Robert Pine) and his mother Katherine (Susan Blanchard). He uses advice from his father to fight off the loneliness, cold and the shark that has targeted him. It turns out that the 4th of July was when Thomas learned his father was killed in action in Korea. Meanwhile back on the island his friends all have a bad feeling about Thomas and drop everything to look for him. This episode was an incredible showcase for the talents of this cast and the writers of this series. Basically there is no action, no chases and no crime to solve but it holds your attention.

During this season more of the dangerous times for Magnum and crew come from them agreeing to do some seemingly easy favor. Whether it squiring Rick’s young sister around Hawaii or a surprise birthday present for Higgins things never seem to turn out as expected for the group of friends. There are usually some bad guys lurking about with an evil plot to hatch. This infused enough action to keep the die hard fans riveted to the screen week after week. It was this balance between typical action series faire and personal exposition of the main characters that really put this series above the competition. Instead of standardized one dimensional characters this season offered much in the way of the motivations behind the people. The audience is able to identify on an emotional level with the characters making it superior to most of what is one television today. Story lines would extend not only from episode to episode but spanned several seasons creating a unique world that made us anxious to tune in each week. The relationships are far from average as well. There is a begrudging respect and admiration between Thomas and Higgins. Although they are from completely different worlds they are friends, although they would be very hesitant to admit it. Usually they plot against each other; Thomas with little pranks and Higgins with his control of the estate. This always added just the right touch of humor to the series.

The actors in this series have used the previous years well melding into an ensemble cast that is still legendary in television. They are all believable as a group of men that have survived war, capture by the enemy and now life in paradise together. By this season they where able to play off of each other with ease. Tom Selleck simple put owns the role of Thomas Magnum. He has the dashing looks to make the ladies swoon and the every man qualities that have the men in the audience want to go out for a beer and a game with him. It takes considerable talent for an actor to pull off a story floating alone in water with his only dialogue provided by a voice over but Selleck pulls it off. Larry Manetti has been given a chance to really grow with this season. While he was mostly comic relief in the previous seasons now we get to see a more serious side of Rick. Likewise Roger E. Mosley is afforded an opportunity to show that TC is a struggling business man that really wants to make a living off his helicopter charter gig. John Hillerman makes Higgins into a fairly complex character; serious about his work while able to enjoy the more gentile aspects of life. Together they form a cast that displays true synergy, the whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

Universal has continued to bring season sets of this timeless series to DVD. They still insist on the double sided format which has been problematic to some players. The video is a fairly good full screen transfer with only a few signs of the twenty years that have passed. The colors are usually good but do not pop. The audio is provided in a reasonable two channel mono that is better than anything I’ve herd with televised syndication showings. There are a couple of minor extras, a little flash back to the eighties featurette and an episode from the up coming season five set. This is quality television that the whole family can enjoy together.

Posted: 4/8/06

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