Reboot vs. Original: Which ‘Magnum P.I.’ Is Better?

Magnum PI -Jay Hernandez, Tom Selleck - Magnum PI -Jay Hernandez, Tom Selleck

Yup, reboots are very much in. Just try watching TV without stumbling on a souped-up new version of some long bygone hit (see: Dynasty, Hawaii Five-0, etc.). Now CBS has resurrected its 1980–88 smash Magnum, P.I., about a beach-loving, awfully hirsute and surprisingly competent Hawaii-based sleuth.

Here, two writers make a case for their preferred gumshoe: the original, played by Tom Selleck, or the update, with Jay Hernandez.

New Magnum

"Death is Only Temporary" - An aging tychoon suffering from dementia (guest star Ben Vereen) asks Magnum to find his lost love who recently contacted him - only problem is that she died thirty years ago. Also, Rick and TC meet a fellow vet who is having a hard time adjusting to civilian life, on MAGNUM P.I., Monday, Oct. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum Photo: Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved8

Let’s get this out of the way: Jay Hernandez is not Tom Selleck. But that’s not a bad thing. Casting him was one of many smart moves that executive producer Peter Lenkov did in freshening up — not copying — the original series. And what Hernandez lacks in ’stache, he makes up for in wit and charm, characteristics that are paramount in defining the private investigator.

His tight-knit crew (and former Marine buddies) — helicopter tour guide TC (Stephen Hill) and beach club owner Rick (Zachary Knighton) — are also welcome: They provide not only crime-solving support but also comic relief in their group bantering.

But the relationship that has to work for the show to succeed is the one between Magnum and Higgins, the majordomo of novelist Robin Masters’s Hawaii estate, where our hero handles security. Like Selleck, the late John Hillerman could never be duplicated. In this version, Higgins is a woman (Perdita Weeks), a fun twist. Though still adversarial, Higgins and Magnum have a delicious will-they-or-won’t-they layer that didn’t exist before. — Jim Halterman

Old Magnum

(CBS via Getty Images)

Let’s get this out of the way: A man is not his mustache. And the bush that’s sat on Tom Selleck’s lip for more than 40 years has no bearing on his Thomas Magnum. Likewise, Hernandez’s baby stubble doesn’t hurt his version (OK, maybe a little).

But what Magnum No. 1 will always have over his successor is a heavy backstory that gave his antics (and Hawaiian shirts) a little more meaning. The show’s cocreators, Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson, forged the character in response to the popular portrayal of Vietnam vets in the 1970s as ruined men — mentally and physically — who couldn’t or wouldn’t re-enter civilian life. But Magnum thrives in everyday society. (Yes, Hernandez’s Magnum is also an ex–Navy SEAL, but it’s a character device, not a statement.)

And no disrespect to Perdita Weeks, who portrays caretaker Higgins on the new series, but the verbal sparring between the PI and Higgins (John Hillerman) on the original can’t be equaled by any other man, woman, Alexa, Siri… — Aubry D’Arminio

(The original airs Sundays at 10/9c on Cozi TV and streams on the Starz app.)

Magnum P.I., Mondays, 9/8c, CBS