I know I'm not the only one who would tune in religiously to watch Magnum P. I. once a week during the eighties. In fact, even after the show was done I still used to catch the repeats in syndication after school on weekday afternoons. For whatever reason, during my pre-pubescent years, the thrilling adventures of a former Vietnam veteran turned private investigator in the exotic locales of Hawaii really peaked my interest. Having not really spent much time with Mr. Thomas Sullivan Magnum III in the last decade, however, I wasn't sure how it would all hold up over the years. Thankfully, this DVD set put those fears to rest and I found that the show still manages to make for an entertaining time killer.
For those of you who have been living in a cave or weren't around in the eighties, the series followed Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck and his mighty moustache, which really should have gotten it's own on screen credit in each and every episode) who happened to work as the guy in charge of security for a rich cat named Mr. Robin Masters. When he wasn't keeping things safe on the fancy schmancy estate, he was running his own business as a private investigator and out there solving crimes for a myriad of different clients, many of whom happened to be hot chicks.
Magnum doesn't really fly solo though – Jonathon Higgins (played with exemplary smugness by John Hillerman) is in charge of making sure that Magnum does his job properly and seeing his former service in the British army has made him a bit of a 'rules fanatic' he tends to be a thorn in Magnum's side from time to time. Oddly enough, a few of Magnum's former war pals have also made Hawaii their home. When he gets in too think, he's not afraid to call in a favor or two and his buddies T. C. (Roger Mosely who was in The Mack oddly enough) and Rick (Larry Manetti who appeared opposite Pamela Anderson in Snapdragon!) will come running to help him out whenever they can.
That's more or less the setup for the show. Between his job keeping the lovely estate where he resides safe and sound from unwanted intruders and the work he does for his various clients, Magnum keeps pretty busy even when he just wants to kick it and relax a little bit. The various clients provided all sorts of different reasons for Magnum to get into trouble and it was because of this that the series usually stayed pretty fresh and interesting.
What really made Magnum P. I. work though was the cast. Sure, the Hawaiian locations gave the series a much prettier set than most private detective shows had (and it also allowed the producers to throw in some stock footage here and there to pad things out a little bit and give us a better idea of how Hawaii looks, I suppose) which does set the series apart from other similar TV series. However, even those gorgeous shots of the jungle fauna and the ocean beaches get old, fast. It's the cast that makes this series work, and Tom Selleck has to get a lot of credit for that. While his career hasn't exactly sky rocketed since the show went off the air (though neither has it crashed and burned like a lot of eighties TV stars) he really was perfect for the lead role. The ladies loved him for his look and his coolness and the guys liked him for his smoothness with the women who came into his life and for his skills behind the wheel of his Ferarri. The interplay between Magnum and Higgins always allowed the series to explore some fun and effective comedic ground and the friendship between Magnum and his friends was always infectious and entertaining. At the same time, the performers were good enough that when the storylines called for more dramatic turns, they were able to deliver the goods and everything stayed reasonably believable.
While the series does show its roots as an eighties program (the fashions, musical score, and vehicles give it away instantly) the show does prove to hold up as a solid detective series and because of this it does definitely have quite a bit of replay value. The episodes in this second season are an improvement over the first as the characters are better established, their motivations and intricacies more apparent and understandable, and the action and drama in the scripts is tighter and more believable because of that.
The episodes contained in the second season are laid out on the three DVDs in this set as follows:
Billy Joe Bob
Dead Man's Channel
Woman On The Beach
From Moscow To Maui
Memories Are Forever (Two Part Episode)
Mad Buck Gibson
The Taking of Dick McWilliams
The Sixth Position
Try To Remember
One More Summer
The Last Page
Elmo Ziller Story
Three Minus Two
The episodes are all presented in their original fullframe aspect ratio as they should be. Quality is decent, but hardly spectacular. There's plenty of mild print damage noticeable throughout the episodes and the stock footage inserts are fairly heavy in the grain department. There are a few times where some of the colors look just a little bit washed out as well. Overall though, the episodes look pretty clean and they're perfectly watchable, they're just not perfect.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track does have some nasty hiss present in some scenes, and it is quite noticeable. While it isn't so heavy as to obscure the dialogue or anything like that, it is definitely there and if you're listening for it you won't have any problems hearing it. That aside, the tracks are okay – you can hear everyone when they speak and the music and sound effects are balanced nicely and don't beat you over the head. It's just a shame that the hiss is there… subtitles are available in French, Spanish and there's an English closed captioning option as well. There are no alternate language dubs provided on this set.
There are absolutely no Magnum P. I. related extra features on this DVD set at all, which is a real shame. The set isn't completely barebones, however, as Universal has supplied a complete episode of The A-Team (Diamonds And Dust) and a complete episode of Knight Rider (Brother's Keeper). While this is obviously a marketing ploy (both shows have season sets streeting on the same date that this set hits shelves) at least it's a little more than nothing and both series are fun 80s romps in their own rights.
While Universal could have done a lot more with this set in terms of cleaning up the sound and the picture quality, the episodes still look and sound decent enough. It's a shame that they didn't put much effort into securing some supplements for the series, but what's done is done. When the dust finally settles, Magnum P. I. – The Complete Second Season still comes recommended based not on the quality of the DVD release but on the quality and strengths of the show itself.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.