Home From the War, or a Few Words on Magnum PI and Reboots

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Last month’s news about a Magnum PI reboot reminded me of how much I love the original show. Present tense.

Last fall, I wrote a letter introducing myself to a television producer and this confession came out:

I was the kid who started calculating how many suburban half-acres I would have to mow in order to buy a red Ferrari 308. Like Thomas Sullivan Magnum, I pursued an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. I did these things for two reasons—because I loved Magnum, PI, and because I knew what they would mean to my father.

It’s why I can’t listen to the bitching and moaning about this television season’s flurry of reboots. I’m excited about a new Magnum, and honestly, about a new Greatest American Hero.  I’d be interested in a savvy, darker take on Hogan’s Heroes too, if there was one. I’d love to be the showrunner on a more true to life version of Gilligan’s Island, where, after one of his dozens of seemingly harmless screwups, the other castaways turn against him and it becomes much more like Lost than the lighthearted romp we remember. Think of the dramatic possibilities of a Gilligan series finale. Rescue may have been the goal, but could the castaways ever again find that sense of common purpose, of camaraderie, of love, that they found on the island. It’s not hard to see Gilligan reduced to saying the same tearful words as Lost’s Jack Shepherd, “We’ve gotta go back!”

Today, I see all the possibilities of Magnum as he navigates the aftermath of America’s longest war. I work with veterans daily in my teaching, and I’ve learned that the most compelling narratives about prosecution of that war and its consequences are not the kinds of tales that grab headlines. Magnum and his closest friends represent the presence of decency in a world that is often not. The Magnum, T.C., Rick, and Higgins of the original series represent an almost Victorian concept of chivalry and duty. As so many of the original series episodes point out, theirs is a soldier’s code. It was my dad’s code, too. I’m sure that the new series will investigate the obvious tension between duty and honor and morality in the modern world.

But if you want to know what Magnum really meant to me, I suggest you check out this essay I wrote, Home from the War: An Appreciation of Magnum, PI. It first appeared in the literary magazine Barrelhouse, and was reprinted in their essay collection Bring the Noise. Because you, you intrepid traveler, are here, you can read it.