So Magnum's 73? He's ever-young to me
... and I, along with many others, would far rather see him in the show's reboot than some unhairy pipsqueak
I know what you’re thinking.
Thomas Magnum was your TV dad or husband too. And now CBS is rebooting Magnum PI and what started as another day in paradise is spiralling down faster than an Island Hopper chopper whose tail rotor has been nicked by a.45 slug.
My abiding memory of Thomas Magnum is pure lust. Not for him specifically (although let he or she who has never gazed longingly at Tom Selleck cast the first stone). I lusted after his life. I craved that tiny flat, full of marvels like well-fitting baseball caps and a rubber chicken and bottles of beer you could open with your hand. I didn’t like beer (I was about 10) but I adored the idea of being able to drink it whenever I wanted. It was freedom that I craved: the long-legged, loping, tidal-pool-swimming, lawn-driving ease of it all.
It was inevitable that they’d remake Magnum PI, just like they’ve remade It Can’t Happen Here and called it the Trump administration. Most of popular culture now is a process of photocopying a photocopy of a picture that enough people originally liked to guarantee a small profit.
The new version of Magnum PI, however, isn’t a photocopy. Judging by the trailer for the pilot, it is to the original show what shaky cellphone footage of a high school musical based on the Real Housewives of Orange County is to Citizen Kane. It’s a hot mess. Except for the part at the beginning where Magnum, sans moustache or dimples, skydives out of a spaceship, through the atmosphere, and lands on Hawaii. Literally. That’s not a hot mess. That’s a moment of perfect synergy between the 14-year-olds who wrote the episode and the nine-year-olds they wrote it for.
All of which is why the response to the reboot has been an overwhelming howl of grief. The consensus is loud and clear: Magnum PI should never have been remade.
I was one of those doing the howling. Why can’t they just let sleeping giants lie, I asked my rubber chicken, Higgins? Why can’t they leave my childhood alone?At least, that’s what I asked until I saw a very short clip this week of the glorious man himself, being asked about the reboot.
Selleck was talking to Entertainment Tonight about his new show, I Don’t Care. That’s not actually its name but it’s what I call everything he’s been in since Magnum. Asking me what Tom Selleck is doing these days is like asking me what Alexander The Great is doing these days. I’m sure it’s grand and that he’s ripping up the afterlife, but it’s not really the Battle of Gaugamela, is it?
Having listened attentively to Selleck’s thoughts on I Don’t Care, interviewer Nancy O’Dell finally asked the only question anyone wanted asked.
“Who would you like to be the actor to play you, to play Magnum, I should say?”
It was a beautifully childlike slip that spoke for all of us. Selleck is Magnum. Magnum is Selleck.
And the actor seemed to agree. With the touch of a twinkle, the actor replied: “Uh, me?”
O’Dell laughed and applauded, and Selleck diplomatically suggested that, without wanting to sound vain, Magnum PI was still showing in 100 countries (he’s fantastic dubbed into Italian, as are TC, Reek and Iggie-Bayeebee) and that many fans might not accept anyone else in the role.
The whole interaction, however, was one of those that get filed under Charming Banter, or at least Ageing Star’s Polite Resistance to Change. There was no question that Selleck’s reply was anything but a rueful joke.
And yet, why not?Why, I began to wonder, were we so quick to accept one of only two possibilities? Why did it have to be either no reboot or a derided reboot? Why couldn’t Tom Selleck reprise the role? Why was it so outlandish to imagine Magnum PI featuring a 73-year-old private detective?
I know the easy answer to that question: demographics. Younger people are easier to sell to, and so younger audiences are courted. Hence the endless reboots, origins stories and prequels, taking us relentlessly back and back and back until our heroes are 30-year-old foetuses, their development arrested by pop culture’s terror of maturity.But as I watched Selleck hint that he might want another crack at Magnum, I had to wonder if the suits aren’t perhaps missing a massive trick by pandering only to younger markets. Hundreds of millions of people older than 35 grew up with or were seduced by Selleck’s Magnum. I’d bet that tens of millions of us would watch him now.
Because, of course, he’d still be working: not being the sort to contribute to a pension, Thomas Magnum was never going to retire. If Higgy-baby or Robin Masters had left him anything in his/their will, he would have squandered it years ago. Magnum would still be working, as most of us will be when we’re 73.
And that’s a show I would watch; not for the car or the shirts or the giggle of the 1980s, but to see a charming and supremely magnetic actor and character reunite for a second era.
By current standards, Magnum PI is an old show. But the world has changed since then, and neither Tom Selleck nor Thomas Magnum are old. They’re just a little slower, a little less quick on the trigger – and probably a lot more interesting.
So how about it, television executives? When do the reboots stop and the stories continue? When do we see what happened after the sun set on another day in paradise?