Hawaii Five-O: The First Season review, Hawaii Five-O: Season 1 DVD review

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Buy your copy from Amazon.com Hawaii Five-O: The First Season (1968) starstarstarno starno star Starring: Jack Lord, James MacArthur, Zulu, Kam Fong, Herman Wedemeyer
Director: Various
Category: Drama
Buy from Amazon.com

Despite a 12-year run on CBS that lasted from 1968 to 1980 (a record for the longest-running police drama in television history until its thunder was rudely stolen by “Law & Order”), I don’t think I ever saw more than the opening credits of an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” until the first season DVD arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago. Given, however, that the show featured arguably the greatest TV  theme song ever, those opening credits alone were enough to secure my interest in checking out the series.

Okay, sorry, that’s not entirely true.

I mean, yes, it is a kick-ass theme (the zoom shot to Jack Lord standing on a penthouse roof is money), but that’s not the only reason I wanted to pop in these DVDs as soon as they arrived. If you’ve never seen an episode of the show either, let me give you a link to the article that really inspired me to check it out.

If you click here, you’ll find the extremely hilarious musings of Mark Evanier. After his TiVo began spontaneously recording “Hawaii Five-O” reruns, he observed that “every episode seemed to be a new arrangement of about eight of the same 12 scenes,” then provided a brief description of each. Three words: drinking game, ahoy!

Although it’s a funny piece (and definitely accurate), don’t be turned off by the formulaic nature of the show. “Hawaii Five-O” is definitely one of the better cop dramas of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and a significant reason is the show’s star, Jack Lord, who played Steve McGarrett. Lord had done several high-profile films (in addition to a string of Westerns, his most notable role was that of James Bond’s longtime friend, Felix Leiter, in 1962’s “Dr. No”) and countless TV appearances, but “Hawaii Five-O” was unquestionably the series that defined his career. Steve McGarrett was a former Navy intelligence officer who’d been appointed leader of the Hawaii state police force, called the Five-O. His straight-laced methods were almost as legendary as his pompadour-inspired hairstyles, but both were regularly outranked by the order he regularly barked to his second-in-command, Danny Williams (James MacArthur): “Book ‘em, Danno!”

There have been a lot of comparisons made between Steve McGarrett and Horatio Cane, David Caruso’s character on “CSI: Miami,” because the two actors share a decidedly deadpan style. But make no mistake: Lord is five times the actor that Caruso is. To be fair, when he’s on a case, Lord plays McGarrett as stoically as Jack Webb in “Dragnet,”
but we see McGarrett crack a smile on a regular basis. (Also, you’d never catch Caruso or Webb in the crazed-pattern shirts that McGarrett favors during his off-hours.)

One thing that’s notable throughout the first season of “Hawaii Five-O” is the show’s unabashed love of red herrings. Several episodes latch on to what appears to be the solution to the crime committed at the very beginning of the proceedings, only to have them turn out to be completely and totally unrelated. This technique is used throughout television history, of course, but few series nowadays would spend 10 to 15 minutes building these plots -- they’d have them over and done with in a scene or two. It was also a pretty dark show for its time, with occasional shots of bodies lying in pools of blood and victims’ screams that could chill you to the bone. Despite the bright, gorgeous Hawaiian landscape that highlights each scene, the patter between the various officers is generally delivered at a rapid clip, at times making for an almost noir feel. You will, however, undoubtedly find some amusement from watching scenes in the primitive-by-today’s-standards police lab.

There are a bevy of classic guest stars throughout the first season, including a decidedly strange performance by Ricardo Montalban as a former Japanese Navy officer turned Hawaiian crime boss. If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Ricardo Montalban doesn’t look the least bit Hawaiian or Japanese,” you really need to see what they did to his eyes here to try and make him fit the part. It’s an embarrassment that’s right up there with John Wayne’s performance as Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror.” Others who pop up with decidedly less embarrassing moments in the spotlight include Kevin McCarthy (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”); Sal Mineo (“Rebel Without A Cause”); Yaphet Kotto (“Homicide”); Sally Kellerman (the movie “M*A*S*H”); Farley Granger (“Strangers on a Train”); and, wait for it, Gavin McLeod (“The Love Boat”) as a drug dealer named Big Chicken.

But, of course, “Hawaii Five-O” isn’t about the guest stars, it’s about Jack Lord. Steve McGarrett was one of the great TV cops of all time, and he’s in all his glory in this first season of the series.

Special Features: There’s only one, really, but at least it’s an interesting one. In 1996, a local Hawaiian television station aired an original special entitled “Memories of ‘Hawaii Five-O,’” hosted by Emme Tomimbang and Danno himself, James MacArthur. There are interviews with many members of the cast and crew, though you’ll have to endure the toe-curling dialogue that Tomimbang and MacArthur get stuck spouting at various points during the special. (At the end of the pre-show teaser, she turns to him and says, “Book ‘em, Danno,” and he replies with a laugh and a pat on the back, “No, no, Emme, we’re gonna book ‘em…together.”) You might wonder why they opted to use a special made in ’96 rather than putting together a new featurette, but the answer is simple: just about everyone from the cast has died since this special was made. It’s therefore a blessing that Tomimbang put together this special when she did. As a result, we get to see what were surely some of the last interviews with Richard Denning (Gov. Paul Jameson) and Herman Wedemeyer (Duke Lukela), both of whom died in 1998, Kam Fong (Chin Ho), who died in 2002, and Zulu (Kono), who died in 2004.

~Will Harris