Magnum, P.I.

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Airing on CBS from 1980 to 1988, Magnum, P.I. seemed at first glance to be yet another Action Series show, using the old Hawaii Five-O production facilities in Hawaii, with a handsome lead actor talented in comedic schtick and the usual buddies helping him solve his case-of-the-week. But it soon revealed its more dramatic plot-threads by alternating the comically-toned episodes with those concentrating on the Vietnam War background of Thomas Magnum and his friends. The concluding scene in the Season Three two-part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise" was the key moment that illustrated Magnum's darker side. It remained the most unexpected and controversial scene of the series' entire run.

These deeper character-developing episodes became fan favorites, and helped to spur the series to a five-year stay in the top-20 rated shows on television between 1981 and 1985. Also, both Tom Selleck (Magnum) and John Hillerman (Higgins) won multiple awards for their work.

Magnum was assisted ably by his friends TC and Rick, and alternately helped and hindered by Higgins, the manager of Robin Masters' estate where Magnum lived. Masters was only occasionally heard as The Voice of Orson Welles via telephone.

Creator Donald P. Bellisario became known for his darker, almost fantastical overtones (see Quantum Leap), and they were introduced slowly into Magnum, P.I.'s storylines by way of prophetic dreams, psychic connections, and ghosts.

A feature film adaptation has long been planned. George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey, and even Selleck himself have been floated as possible big-screen Magnums. However, in 2018, a rebooted version of the series premiered on CBS, starring Jay Hernandez as Magnum and Perdita Weeks as a Gender Flipped Higgins.

Tropes used in Magnum, P.I. include:
  • Action Series
  • Aloha Hawaii
  • Angry Guard Dog: Zeus and Apollo, Higgin's "lads." Although they're perfectly friendly to everybody but Magnum.
  • Aside Glance: Magnum gave one to the audience whenever something ridiculous was going on.
  • Arrogant Kung Fu Guy: The villain in "China Doll".
  • Awesome McCoolname: Thomas Magnum.
  • Band of Brothers: Magnum, Rick, and TC (not to mention poor, blown up Mac) all served together in the same Seal unit in Vietnam. What they went through over there is precisely why Magnum would die for either of his friends, and they for him.
  • Big Fancy House: Robin's Nest is a 200 acre beach front estate.
  • Black Best Friend: TC--who is the most normal and likable of the group. He is also Badass enough to pull a Scary Black Man on occasion.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: TC, during part of "Did You See the Sunrise?". Brainwashed by a brutal, Soviet officer during the Vietnam War to later become a sleeper killer.
  • British Stuffiness: Higgins.
  • Catch Phrase: Magnum narrating to the audience: "I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong/right."
  • The Charmer: Rick, who usually has some bikini-clad girl in tow.
  • Clear My Name: Magnum spends most of "Foiled Again" trying to clear Higgins of the murder of an abusive bully who'd married the woman Higgins loved.
  • Cliff Hanger: The memorable seventh-season finale "Limbo," in which Magnum apparently dies from a gunshot wound; originally intended as the series finale.
    • The actual series finale did end on a cliffhanger, albeit a much lighter-hearted one. Rick is getting married, but hesitates when it comes time for him to give his vow. Magnum, T.C., and Higgins all prompt him, "I do," and finally he opens his mouth and says, "I..." and the credits start rolling.
  • Cool Car: The Ferrari 308 (and the '29 Bugatti replica in "Flashback").
  • Crash-Course Landing
  • Crossover: With Murder, She Wrote and Simon and Simon.
  • Cultured Badass: Higgins.
  • Cultured Warrior: Higgins.
  • The Driver: TC, except with a helicopter instead of a taxi. He has the most mundane job flying tourists and packages around the island on his private chopper. Except when Magnum aggravatingly leans on him for favors he never gets around to repaying.
    • It is a Running Gag of his to complain about gas money. Of course if you owned a chopper company in Real Life you would be aggravated about that too.
  • Eighties Hair: Well, look at the production dates, but pretty much every female has big, BIG hair. Not to mention Magnum's perm.
  • The Faceless: Robin Masters, only seen onscreen once, and most definitely not from the front. Icepick was only mentioned and never actually seen for the first few seasons.
  • Family Honor: In "China Doll" Magnum falls in love with a girl who it turns out is from a family charged with guarding the ashes of the last Empress of China and has kept that tradition for generations despite several family members being killed by gangsters.
  • Fan Service: Not just the unending stream of women who want Magnum, this was Tom Selleck as a Memetic Sex God wearing a loose shirt that shows off plenty.
    • Actually most of the women who want Magnum are amiable comic relief. The real fan service is all the nameless women in swimsuits that have nothing to do with the show other then the fact that it is in Hawaii.
  • First Name Ultimatum: Higgins does this to Magnum a lot.
  • Food as Bribe: To Lt. Tanaka, when he's on a diet. At other times, Magnum just has to pay him money.
    • Also used shamelessly with Mac whenever Magnum needed a peek at classified military documents.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Rick.
  • Friendly Enemy: Magnum and Higgins are constantly at odds, but gradually develop a genuine fondness for each other.
  • Friend on the Force: Lieutenant Tanaka.
  • Genre Busting: It is an uneasy bridge between hardboiled and cozy. The estate and the club are more cozy while the wretched hive of Honolulu is more hardboiled. Magnum himself is usually more like a hardboiled detective. Some plots however resemble cozies more.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Higgins is this except when he is quarreling with Magnum.
    • Which is a good deal of the time.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Higgins--very, very much.
  • Good Guy Bar The King Kamehameha Club.
  • Improbably Cool Car: What in the world is a hired gumshoe doing taking that Ferrari into the nastiest parts of Honolulu?
  • Knowledge Broker: Icepick, by way of Rick, is Magnum's go-to guy for information that can't be acquired through legal channel.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Magnum's aforementioned Aside Glance to the audience whenever something ridiculous was going on.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Magnum and Carol Baldwin. She logged more time with Magnum throughout the series than any of his numerous love interests. Could possibly be seen as Will They or Won't They?, but if the show hinted at this at all, it was extremely subtle.
  • Long-Lost Relative:
    • Over the course of the series, we come to learn that (a) Magnum met and married a woman in Vietnam, (b) she's still alive, and (c) she has a daughter.
    • Higgins's series of half brothers.
  • Meaningful Name: Averted. Magnum's main weapon is a Star Model B (a 9mm 1911 clone).
  • Mentor Archetype: TC is this to his Little League team.
  • Mixed Archetypes
  • The Munchausen: Higgins is always telling stories about all his adventures. They annoy his companions despite the fact that some of them are quite interesting. They are also all quite true.
  • Near-Death Clairvoyance: Also "Limbo".
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: Large amounts of the show take place in Honolulu Harbor, full of mobsters, Dens of Iniquity, prostitutes, Drunken Sailors, and Shore Patrol looking for the Drunken Sailors -- and no one picks up the litter.
    • One wonders at Magnum not only driving a Ferrari into a place like that but leaving it to go into a bar to ask questions.
  • One Steve Limit: TC's first name is also Thomas.
  • The Patriarch: Rick considers Icepick to be like a father to him.
  • Perpetual Poverty
  • The Philosopher: Magnum is, and more then Higgins would suspect. Quite likely a Warrior Poet too. His Private Eye Monologue can include some quite deep thinking.
  • Porn Stache: Magnum himself of course, but Higgins and TC too. A very high facial-hair quotient.
  • Private Detective
  • Private Eye Monologue: Magnum in every episode. Played with whenever Luther Gillis shows up and narrates his own adventures.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Higgins.
  • Rancher: In one episode, there is a teenage rancher who needs our heroes' help.
  • Recurring Character: A veritable arsenal of them. Carol Baldwin deserves special mention, being the closest thing the series ever had to a regular female character.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Magnum is red, Higgins is blue.
  • Retired Badass: Higgins. Occasionally we get evidence that not everything about his stories is exaggerated.
  • Series Fauxnale: "Limbo".
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Magnum versus Higgins, though usually rather lighthearted.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: common on this show
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Tyler McKenny in "All for One". He has a backstory of fighting all over the world sometimes as simple merc, sometimes as an outsourced expert for some cause he really does have some feeling for. He has a dubiously pleasant personality and cons the team into going to Thailand on one of his missions.
  • This Is Sparta: Higgins's prayerful response to most of Magnum's activities: "Oh. My. GOD!!!"
  • The Un-Reveal: In the final seasons, Magnum suspects that Higgins was the real Robin Masters all along. This is never proven (or disproved).
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Higgins has three illegitimate brothers, all played by Hillerman.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: More then you might think for a thriller, including some tidbits of history and culture, including local Hawaiian history as well as that of other places associated with cases.
    • The pilot centers around a plane discovered in the water that had been shot down during the Pearl Harbor hit. It was on a run from the Philippines carrying government gold, to get it out of the way. In other words it was based on the premise that the US Government was expecting war, but expecting the Philippines to get hit first, as was Truth in Television.
  • Vigilante Execution: Magnum, at the conclusion of season 3's two-part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise?". One of the most memorable moments of the series.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Higgins and Magnum.
  • The Voice: Orson Wells as Robin Masters.
  • The Watson: Rick
  • Wham! Episode: "Did You See the Sunrise?"
  • Yakuza: Appear in more then one episode.
  • You All Meet in An Inn: The King Kamahemeha Club is a good place to hire Magnum.