Hawaii Five-O (tv)

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Steve McGarrett

REVIEWED: 12-01-97

Taken from The Boston Phoenix's "Character Sketches," a celebration of viewers' favorite TV characters. Click here for the full article.

It was the contrast between his steely, no-nonsense gaze and luxuriant pompadour that drew me in: hard-edged efficiency melded with tropical indulgence. Steve McGarrett, as played by auteur and control freak Jack Lord, embodied the contradictions of law enforcement in what mainlanders saw as an "anything goes" paradise. The emotive twin of Dragnet's stolid Joe Friday ("That's what these kids get for trying drugs"), McGarrett combined Clint Eastwood's edginess with a West Coast sensibility: Dirty Harry goes surfing. Viewers were even treated to tantalizing glimpses of his personal life -- McGarrett was "a bachelor who enjoyed sailing" -- as our man in the lei worked over various island ne'er-do-wells.

When the series debuted in 1968, I was a mere tot in Corvallis, Oregon, glued to the black-and-white TV set while Mom and Dad spun Meet the Beatles on the hi-fi. The psychedelic '60s, flying out of control at this point, didn't interest me at all. Instead, it was McGarrett's staccato delivery, his contemptuously polite way with his minions, and his general disregard for constitutional niceties -- "Gentlemen, I want you to turn this place inside out" -- that freed me from my parents' grad-student ranch house. McGarrett chasing after fingerprint-less thieves (they worked in a pineapple-canning factory); McGarrett ordering around the state's governor; McGarrett hunting down his nemesis, Wo Fat, "a Red Chinese agent in charge of the entire Pacific Asiatic theater." It was the world writ small, infinitely dense and utterly exotic, yet with a strangely familiar Fleurs du mal scent. It was both sordid and glorious, and Steve McGarrett, omniscient and unknowable, was its lord of creation and death.

Hawaii Five-O was the last TV show I watched regularly. After McGarrett sailed off into the sunset in 1980, why bother?

Film Vault Suggested Links
Columbo (tv)
Dragnet (tv)
Law and Order (tv)

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