It was acceptable in the 80s: why Magnum PI should be spared reboot hell

The show about a mustachioed investigator looks set to be the next 80s revival but why do the likes of Dallas and Dynasty fail to ignite second time round?

By now, people have grown accustomed to television reboots. Whatever surges of fury they may have felt when CBS announced its Hawaii Five-O remake have long since been trampled into mush, thanks to the onslaught of reanimated classics like Lethal Weapon and MacGyver and Dallas and Dynasty and DuckTales and The Magic School Bus and the forthcoming Greatest American Hero redo. Reboots have simply become another bad thing were helpless against, like supervolcanoes or antibiotic resistance.

But sometimes, just sometimes, somebody will have the gall to announce a reboot so brazen that it fires up the pit of the belly again. To wit, CBS has just ordered a pilot production commitment for a Magnum PI remake.

Magnum PI, for crying out loud. Is nothing sacred? Sure, on the surface, the original Magnum PI was just one of a glut of post-Vietnam shows about vigilante justice with a charismatic male lead and storylines that wrapped up neatly at the top of the hour. But it was special. Everyone knows it was special. By some absurd alchemy Magnum PI ended up perfectly written, perfectly cast and perfectly soundtracked, managing to be both of its time and utterly timeless. You dont mess with Magnum PI.

Die-nasty: the original Dynasty triple threat of Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll and Joan Collins. Photograph: Allstar/AARON SPELLING PROD.

Worse, the new Magnum will be produced by Paul Lenkov, who has made a cottage industry of watering down shows you used to love. Lenkov was also the mastermind behind the Hawaii Five-O and MacGyver reboots, which should be enough to give you pause. His speciality seems to be taking good, sturdy, landmark shows shows which were undeniably key parts of the cultural landscape first time around and turning them into wallpaper. His versions are bright and lively and absolutely hollow, full of grinning haircuts who operate without any meaningful motivation. Theyre empty calories. Theyre things designed to make noise in the background while you look up recipes on your phone. Ive tried watching Lenkovs Hawaii Five-O. I really have, multiple times, but its impossible. Theres no weight to it. Its like watching mist.

And now theyre going to do the same to Magnum PI. Admittedly the original wasnt perfect remember the Murder She Wrote crossover episode and shudder but it was solid and muscular enough to still stand on its own today. A new series will be utterly superfluous, not least because Tom Selleck wont be playing Magnum.

This is why the Magnum PI remake will fail. Its easy to reduce Sellecks performance to the peripherals a moustache, a cigar, a nice car but that would be to do Selleck a grave disservice. The role fitted him like a glove, as if it had been created for him. He got to be funny and charming and wounded and angry and sexy, often all at the same time. Selleck was an unreconstructed man playing an idealised version of himself, and he was rewarded with an Emmy and seven consecutive Golden Globe nominations. His Magnum was what people wanted James Bond to be, stripped of all the alcoholism and sociopathy. The entire series rested on Sellecks shoulders, and to simply palm it off with some modern-day B-list milquetoast is immediate death.

Magnum PI is not alone in being untouchable. There have been many attempts to revive The Rockford Files over the years with Dermot Mulroney, Josh Holloway and Vince Vaughn variously mooted to play the lead but they all ended up dead on arrival because nobody could hold a candle to James Garner. Not even Sawyer from Lost could come close to his shambling brilliance, which is saying something. There will never be a Rockford Files reboot because Garner will never be topped, just as there will never be a Columbo reboot because Peter Falk will never be topped.

The same should apply to Magnum PI. The original series was lightning in a bottle, and its insulting to think it can be replicated. It couldnt be replicated when they wanted to do a series with Eva Longoria as Magnums daughter and it cant be replicated now. If youre desperate to relive the 1980s, then do something smart like Stranger Things or GLOW and capture the feel of the era while mining fresh ideas. Or, if you absolutely must, pick another show to remake. Pick Small Wonder or The Powers of Matthew Star or Shes the Sheriff. But just leave Magnum alone, for all our sakes.

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