For reasons unknown and despite repeated requests, CBS/Paramount never sent us review copies of Hawaii Five-O's eighth and ninth season sets. And so, after looking at Hawaii Five-O - The Seventh Season way back in October 2009, nearly 15 months ago, we leap ahead to Hawaii Five-O - The Tenth Season (1977-78), the year this once-great series was starting to show its age, and its gradual decline began to set in. The average episode is still okay, but the gems are fewer and farther between and this season has more than a few dogs. By season ten the once-slick, travelogue-like appeal of the series, proudly "Filmed entirely on location in Hawaii," is pretty much gone; visually Hawaii Five-O is uglier and grittier, perhaps partly a reflection of the islands' rampant over-development, when the quaintness of pre- and early-postwar Hawaii was bulldozed and supplanted with utilitarian high-rise hotels and over-crowded beaches.
This was also Kam Fong's last season as Chin Ho Kelly. If Danny "Danno" Williams (the late James MacArthur) was Steve McGarrett's (Jack Lord) right-hand man, Chin Ho was without question his left. (Spoilers): The character would be ignominiously killed off in the final episode of the season, and the complete absence of any dramatic impact at his sudden departure was emblematic of Hawaii Five-O's decline.
Most of what I have to say about the series and these DVDs was already stated in my reviews of Seasons One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six (and the aforementioned Seventh Season), except to note a few particulars about this set and to say, as usual, if you've been buying the earlier seasons all along, you're bound to enjoy this one, too, especially since CBS/Paramount's transfers remain as strong as ever.
Aloha, Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong)
As before, determined, tough-as-nails Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) heads Five-O, Hawaii's (fictional) state-managed police force answerable only to Hawaii's long-serving Governor Paul Jameson ('50s sci-fi icon Richard Denning, noticeably older, but always a delight). Steve's trusted right-hand man, Detective Danny "Danno" Williams (James MacArthur) is now more like an heir apparent than reliable disciple, while seasoned Chinese-American Detective Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong) is often tasked with the leg work. Both have been with Five-O from the beginning.
By season ten Detective Ben Kokua (Al Harrington), a mid-stream replacement for (ultimately irreplaceable) native islander Detective Kono Kalakaua (Zulu), has himself been replaced, this time by Duke Lukela (Herman Wedemeyer), a longtime semi-regular cop on the show since promoted to Five-O.
Sadly also gone are former Universal contractee Peggy Ryan as Five-O's veteran secretary Jenny and medical examiner Che Fong (Harry Endo), a Chinese-American Olan Soule, who disappears after the season-opener, "Up the Rebels." (This episode may have been shot during the ninth year. Guest star Stephen Boyd died nearly three months before it aired, yet Boyd seems to have done several movies after, further supporting this hypothesis.)
Hawaii Five-O's plots and visual appeal dominated over back-stories and character arcs, always virtually non-existent. Steve McGarrett especially but also his men were cops in the tradition of tireless Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb's Dragnet character): all work, no play, no life. And no back-story. Until Hill Street Blues law enforcement officers (as opposed to private detectives) rarely had home lives or love lives or even a past, at least insofar as their shows were concerned. No one seemed to catch on that some of Hawaii Five-O's best episodes were those rare episodes offering a glimpse into its characters' private lives: Danny's grief after a girlfriend's murder, Steve's rage toward a quack doctor taking advantage of his emotionally fragile sister.
Related to this was star Jack Lord's commanding, memorable presence and star power that came at the expense of all the supporting characters. In the tenth season especially, poor Danno, Chin Ho, and Duke do little more than stand around Steve's office like mannequins awaiting orders. They have less individuality than in earlier seasons, where Danno was the younger and less-experienced detective mentored by McGarrett, Chin Ho the veteran cop trusted by the local Asian community, etc. Here they're almost interchangeable, while Herman Wedemeyer, as Duke, is like the third guy from the left in a line of uniformed theater ushers.
When Chin Ho is killed off at the beginning of the season finale, "A Death in the Family," it's so perfunctory as to suggest the script may originally have been about the murder of any generic undercover officer. Though Lord sheds a few crocodile tears and displays his standard seething determination to catch Chin Ho's killer, McGarrett and the rest of the Five-O staff barely react when Chin's lifeless body is dumped at the foot of Five-O's Iolani Palace headquarters. A long, high-angle shot of Chin dead on the pavement is the last we see of him - there's not even a funeral or a wake or a toast to a departed friend. No nuthin'.
So forgettable is Chin Ho's death that it resulted in one of television history's all-time funniest mistakes. In 1997 producer-writer Stephen J. Cannell made a Hawaii Five-O TV-movie/pilot film reuniting most of the original cast, including Zulu though minus star Jack Lord, who by this time was in the final stages of Alzheimer's Disease. To his great surprise, Kam Fong was invited back to reprise his Chin Ho role - Cannell wasn't aware the character had been killed off. Not wanting to turn good money down, Fong kept him mouth shut during production, though after all his scenes had been shot the mistake was discovered. By this point it was to late to make any major changes so Chin Ho was allowed to come back from the dead and slip back into his old job, hoping no one in the viewing audience would notice. Few did.
The season's shows vary from pretty good ("Descent of the Torches," "Up the Rebels," "The Cop on the Cover," and "East End - Ill Wind," the latter one of a decreasing number of international espionage shows) to awful ("When Does a War End?"). The acting by the guest casts is often livelier than those of the regular cast, who've done this thing 220-odd times before, though flashes of Hawaii Five-O's former greatness peek through now and then. For instance, during "East End - Ill Wind," directed by Reza Badiyi, there's a wonderfully acted scene between McGarrett and a voluptuous manicurist (fetchingly on display in the opening beach scenes) that relies on subtle gestures and tight close-ups that Lord handles masterfully.
Guest stars this season - a pretty stellar line-up - include Rossano Brazzi, Mark Lenard, Jean Simmons, Geraldine Page, Gil Gerard, Kurt Russell, Tim Matheson, Stefan Gierasch, Maud Adams, Geoffrey Lewis, Leigh McCloskey, Lyle Bettger, Eleanor Parker, Sharon Farrell, Milton Selzer, Michael Conrad, David Birney, Soon-Tek Oh, George Grizzard, Charles Cioffi, Lisa Eilbacher, Carol Lynley, Anne Francis, Donna Kei Benz, David Dukes, Vic Tayback, James Sikking, John Rubinstein, Alan Oppenheimer, Sydney Lassick, Anthony Caruso, Eduard Franz, Peter Lawford, Nobu McCarthy, Mildred Natwick, Luciana Paluzzi, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Andrew Prine, John Hillerman, Laraine Stephens, and Reni Santoni. Semi-regular directors include Charles S. Dubin, Don Weis, Ron Satlof, Marc Daniels,
Video & Audio
Hawaii Five-O - The Tenth Season looks quite nice, if not quite as gorgeous as its earliest seasons, but that's because of the more ragged-looking cinematography, not the transfer. The image is sharp and detailed, near flawless. The season is on six single-sided, dual-layered DVDs with all 24 tenth season episodes. There's the usual warning that "some episodes may be edited from their original network versions," and apparently at least some music has been replaced on "The Big Aloha" due to perceived music rights issues. The Dolby Digital mono is fine, with a Spanish audio track, and optional English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles.
Older seasons offered "episodic promos" as an added feature, but now instead clips from the show precede the famous opening titles in place of a regular prologue.
Hawaii Five-O - The Tenth Season offers yet more of the same, only not as many good shows and a preponderance of lesser shows. Still, for fans that have been buying the series to this point, it's Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.