Series Premiere — Hawaii Five-0, “Pilot”

While watching the revamped Hawaii Five-0 pilot tonight, I tweeted that it felt weird watching an hourlong drama series on CBS. This is literally something I have never done unless you count the random episodes of JAG I used to catch as a youngster when my mom regularly enjoyed that series. But for most of its running time, Five-0 doesn’t feel like a traditional CBS procedural, but instead a witty action movie with charming leads and pretty explosions. For this pilot, with generally low expectations, it’s a surprisingly effective formula that is completely entertaining.

I don’t think I’ll be checking in with Five-0 each week, but that’s more on me than the series itself. To be honest, I really, really like this pilot episode. Any televisual effort that doesn’t make Alex O’Loughlin a cardboard cut-out of a performer is something of an accomplishment on its own, but even aside from that minor miracle, there a number of enjoyable elements present here: The supporting cast around O’Loughlin (who does good work here as the straight-ish man), particularly Scott Caan as Danno, is strong. Daniel Dae Kim slips right in to the role of Chin Ho and Grace Park is just fine in her slightly more limited screen time as Kona.

Moreover, the pilot is tremendous to look at, which is to be expected from a Hawaii-set series. It’s odd to watch this and see things happening in a more modern, realistic looking Hawaii after six years of Lost where the island’s locales almost always served as other cities, countries, etc. In that respect, it’s fun to get a look at the real Hawaii, even if the episode tends to suffer from the CSI: school of an otherworldly amount of second unit location glamor shots. The action is well-edited and explosive and thankfully stays away from any reliance on the shaky camera aesthetic that’s dominated these type of media products in recent years.

While those two positives are possibly relegated to this particular episode since the pilot’s director Len Wiseman won’t be helming every episode and those subsequent episodes surely won’t have the same kind of budget or time, I am fairly confident in the cast’s ability to keep the characters interesting enough. I was actually surprised at how much work the pilot does in making McGarrett and Danny real people with at least somewhat meaty issues (father’s death and divorcée with a child, respectively) since CBS is kind of known for bringing on procedurals with lame or non-existent attempts at characterization (again, see the CSI: series). Caan and O’Loughlin have strong, masculinity-powered chemistry in a way that makes the series more of a buddy cop effort than the original ever was and aside from The Good Guys, what other series is really trying that kind of approach these days?

Finally, there are hints of serialization present with the case McGarrett’s father was investigating before his death, which is always a nice thing. I don’t expect it to take up much of the forthcoming episodes, but just as NCIS carries stories over across episodes, I suspect Five-o will do the same.

Frankly, I don’t see any way that this isn’t the season’s biggest hit, and for once, I’m happy with a CBS procedural topping the charts. Future episodes won’t be as expansive and great-looking as the pilot, but if Hawaii Five-0 can keep the tone light and continue to make sure there’s some semblance of character development, it will be worth watching on a mostly regular basis.

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