Friday, July 20, 2007


DVDs have become a wonderful way to relive childhood memories. As my lovely wife and I work our way through season one of Hawaii Five-O, it’s as if my life is flashing before my eyes, in a pop culture sort of way. For about 30 years, this show followed me from pre-schooler to working drone, and my admiration for it grew steadily along the way.

Hawaii Five-O was one of those television juggernauts, much like Law & Order is today. Beginning in 1968, the show ran for 12 seasons, holding a steady and loyal audience through the 70s. My grandmother was one of its devoted fans since it provided the kind of detective stories she loved. Just like Perry Mason and Burke’s Law before, Hawaii Five-O showed dedicated professionals piecing together clues in a methodical way until they found their perpetrator. There was really no mystery for the audience, since we usually knew whodunit before the catchy opening credit sequence began. The joy of the show was watching Steve McGarrett, Danny "Danno" Williams, Chin Ho Kelly, and Kono put together the clues and zero in on the criminal before he or she flies the coop (or the island as the case may be).

A typical episode went something like this: A creepy, sweaty villain commits a crime. Cue snazzy opening credits sequence featuring waves, hula dancers, and Jack Lord’s hair. McGarrett and the team show up at the scene of the crime and scope the place. McGarrett simmers with controlled contempt for the villain, then sends Danno out on some useless fact-finding mission; e.g., “Locate every person on the island who purchased a grape soda in the last 48 hours.” Ever the faithful bottom, Danno rushes off with a clip board. Chin Ho goes out and talks to the Chinese locals and Kono tails somebody. Meanwhile, the villain commits another crime in an even more heinous and sweaty way. McGarrett gets pissed and pounds his desk. The guys rush in and rattle off a bunch of factoids which McGarrett writes on his chalkboard. They all puzzle and stew until Che comes up from the crime lab and lays out the whole case based on fingerprints and carpet fibers. The gang rushes over to the villain’s clapboard house just as he’s about to commit another crime. They pull their .38 Specials on the sweaty bad guy and McGarrett utters the immortal line, “Book ‘em, Danno.” Big wave crashes and the music swells. The end.

Once in awhile, they would shake things up by doing an episode with Chinese superspy, Wo Fat. He was McGarrett’s arch enemy and, like Sherlock Holmes’s Moriarty, the one villain who always eluded him. I can’t say I shared my grandmother’s enthusiasm for the show while it was in its original run. Jack Lord seemed way too square for me. I preferred cool, maverick cops like Baretta and Starsky & Hutch. I thought Five-O was dull and stilted. In fact, everyone in my family couldn’t understand grandmom’s fascination for the show. We often joked about it. My grandfather, who was forced to watch every episode, just thought it was a bunch of noise and violence. He would often joke with us, “Well, I have to go home now and clean the blood out from under the TV.”

In the summer of '79, while my family was having a cook-out in honor of my grandfather’s birthday, my Aunt Kay was reading an article from the newspaper about changes they were making to Hawaii Five-O to help its flagging ratings. I was shocked. I didn’t know the show was still on the air. The article described how Danno and the boys had been replaced by younger, hipper detectives including one female cop. My grandmother seemed confident that the show would remain successful, but I was TV-savvy enough to know that any major overhaul to a series meant the end was near. That was the last season of Hawaii Five-O.

A few years later, my parents had divorced and my mom and I ended up moving into a house two doors down from my grandparents. Hawaii Five-O was shown every day at 4 p.m. in Baltimore, and since I was usually home from classes by that time, I started watching it. I became fascinated by the exotic locale, comfortable with the predictable formula, and admiring of the detectives' earnest pursuit of justice. One summer, when my grandfather was in England visiting relatives and my grandmother wasn’t up for the trip, I spent many an afternoon watching the show with her. It was the only bonding experience I ever had with my grandmother. We found something we both liked. I became obsessed with Hawaii Five-O. Then it disappeared from my local stations.

I had nearly forgotten about the show until The Family Channel decided to air the reruns during the summer of 1997. I was overcome with excitement and annoyed my co-workers to no end with my constant prattling about how great the show was. Every night at 9 o’clock, I was parked in front of the TV watching Hawaii Five-O for that entire summer. Then, once again, it abruptly disappeared. In January of 1998, Jack Lord died. I was genuinely saddened. I announced the news to my co-workers, one of whom replied, “Yeah, I hear they’re holding Wo Fat for questioning.”

Five years ago, Dreamworks announced that they were going to produce a movie version of the crime drama, but like any Dreamworks project that doesn’t have the work “Shrek” in it, they never got it off the ground. I’m still hoping to see that crashing wave on the big screen, with an updated version of the theme song blaring in surround sound. Just don’t do anything stupid like cast Ben Affleck as McGarrett.

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