Friday, April 14, 2006


My favorite TV show as a teenager was MAGNUM P.I., and Universal was kind enough to send me THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (1983-84) box set for review. As it happens, I remembered this season vividly, as its season premiere, an episode entitled "Did You See the Sunrise," had a kicker of an ending that had a huge impact on me and had stuck with me ever since.

We're all familiar with the show, right? Tom Selleck played Thomas Sullivan Magnum, a hunky Vietnam vet-turned-private eye, who lived on the estate of never-seen millionaire novelist Robin Masters in Hawaii, and drove Masters' red Ferrari. A prototypical slacker, Magnum maintained an adversarial relationship with the estate's major domo Higgins (Jonathan Hillerman) and sometimes strained friendships with his wartime buddies Rick and T.C. (Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley), all of whom were frequently dragged into his P.I. cases (and shot at). The show featured lots of pretty Hawaiian scenery, loud Hawaiian shirts and chicks in bathing suits. Eighties escapism at its finest.

By this third season, the focus of the show was firmly on Magnum and his pals, with the plots taking a back seat to their familial bickering. That's not to say the show wasn't entertaining or that every episode was fluff, but let's just say that following the stories didn't strain the brain. There are some good ones, however. The above-mentioned season premiere has a ludicrous plot but some great characterization and a real gut-punch climax. Other high points include "Flashback," in which Magnum dreams that he's a private eye in 1936; "Almost Home," in which Magnum must clear the name of a dead sailor accused of being AWOL during the Pearl Harbor attack; and "Faith and Begorrah," which sees Hillerman playing double roles as both Higgins and his illegitimate half-brother, an Irish cleric with ties to the IRA.

The set is typical Universal TV-on-DVD fare: 22 episodes spread across three double-sided, double-layered "flipper" discs in slim packs. The episodes are presented in their original full frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio and are just okay. There's a fair amount of grain and some occasional dirt, but watchable. I had playback issues on one disc which rendered one episode unviewable, but that's par for the course with these double-sided discs. The only extra is an episode from Season 4, "Letter to a Duchess." Audio is 2.0 Dolby mono and is adequate – levels are good and there's no noticeable background noise.

Overall, another adequate catalog television release from Universal. If you're a fan, you'll want it, but don't expect anything special from the presentation.

BUY: Magnum, P.I. - The Complete Third Season