Magnum PI and his teeny shorts are way more fun than the grim detectives of ‘Criminal Minds’
At some point TV-producers decided that ‘depressing’ was ‘realistic’, that ‘science’ was ‘police magic’, and that crime was largely fought at night
Criminal Minds (RTE2, Sunday) is about tedious cops who use superpsychology and a private jet to solve horrific serial murders. The squad is made up of all seven kinds of person (older white man, black man, blonde woman, nerd, etc) and together they do the job of a single TV detective of yore (this is possibly a union thing).
This week a man is killing organ donors so his daughter will get pushed further up the organ-transplant list. He’s a bit of craic compared to the regular cast, as serial killers usually are. “He might end up eating my liver,” I often find myself thinking, “but at least I could have a pint with him.”
Crime solvers were once far more entertaining. On Monday ITV4 showed an old episode of
Magnum PI guest-starring Jessica Fletcher from Murder
She Wrote. Magnum is a furry, moustachioed beefcake (Tom Selleck) who lives on a Hawaiian estate with a posh Englishman in a safari suit called Higgins. He spends his time lounging around on the beach, driving a Ferrari, eating ice-cream and getting into shady property deals. The estate is owned by “Robin Masters”, a bestselling novelist who lets Magnum live there for reasons that are unclear. Robin Masters
never appears onscreen in
Magnum PI, but sometimes his voice is heard. He is played by – this is not a joke – Orson Welles.
We don’t know what Robin Masters wears, but Magnum wears the shortest shorts you have ever seen. If you were to sing “Who likes short shorts?” in Magnum’s direction, and Magnum didn’t turn to you sincerely and say: “Me. I like short shorts, very much. Who’s asking?” then he’s a liar.
Thomas “my eyes are up here” Magnum does change his clothes for dinner. He’s not an animal. In this episode he smartens up by tucking a Hawaiian shirt into a smarter pair of shorts with pockets and a belt. These must be his dress shorts. If, like other TV detectives, Magnum has a secret sorrow, then it’s not alcoholism or a bad marriage, it’s that he wishes he could always wear shorts. Tragically in this episode he sometimes wears jeans.
Higgins also has a distinctive style. He combs his balding hair starkly to the side, wears military flavoured khakis and admonishes Magnum for uncouth behaviour in louche silky tones. Like Magnum, he has a moustache, but his is trimmed and neat like an English garden, not luxuriant
and multi-dimensional like the mountainous fur-ranges on Magnum’s upper lip.
Higgins is no slouch in the trouser department either. At one point he walks into shot in the biggest pair of slacks I’ve ever seen. They’re belted just below his nipples and they balloon outward into Elizabethan pleats. Seriously, they’re massive.
Watching Higgins’s vast clownish pantaloons next to Magnum’s teeny-weeny breechclout, it’s clear that trouser size was a very important theme for
Magnum creator Glen A Larson (as the decay of US infrastructure was a key theme for Wire creator David Simon). The show should really have been called
Big Pants, Little Pants. In contrast, Criminal Minds would be called something boring like
Normal Trousers or Tasteful Work Wear. Instead the creators went with
Magnum PI, which is helpful because without the clue in the title it’s hard to guess Magnum’s profession. Indeed, when a seductive older lady in a power swimsuit (with shoulderpads) gazes at his microscopic shorts and offers him “twice the normal rate”, my guess would have been “high- class gigolo”.
Magnum is stumped by the attempted murder of this lady, her friend and Higgins, so they hire an “investigator from the mainland”.
“Who is he?” demands disgruntled Magnum.
“She,” says a potential murder-victim.
“She?” says Magnum in horror (it was the 1980s).
Then Jessica Fletcher descends the stairs like a f***ing boss.
Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) is a mystery-writing feminist icon who solves crime beneath an exploding cloud of golden hair. She lives in Cabot Cove, an idyllic little town and the murder capital of America. Everywhere Fletcher goes there are murders. Death stalks her. You could do a murder forecast by predicting her movements. This would get most people down, but in the midst of death Jessica Fletcher is delightful. Frankly I don’t care if she’s doing the murders herself.
Magnum and Jessica Fletcher have different styles of detecting. Whereas Magnum favours a
shorts-based, gun-shooting approach, Jessica Fletcher prefers to peer at her perps with withering disappointment and to let the death penalty do her killing for her (like Fox News).
When the hitman ineptly strikes again, Magnum and Jessica argue over who the true target is. They do the sensible thing: they wait to see who he tries to kill next. Then Magnum chases him through a dinner party and murders the hell out of him. Everyone is just fine with this and the episode ends with Magnum chuckling over a Jessica Fletcher novel.
Magnum and Jessica Fletcher and Simon and Simon and the Fall Guy are much more fun to be around than the joyless technocrats of Criminal Minds,
CSI and Law and Order (though Raylan Givens in Justified has some of Magnum’s swagger). At some point TV-producers decided that “depressing” was “realistic”, that “science” was “police magic”, that crime was largely fought at night, and that it was credible for crime fighters to fly private jets as long as they rarely smiled. Magnum smiles all the time, and with his big moustache it looks like a double smile. And he can do all the things those grim contemporary
guys do, backwards, in shorts.
Pants: Magnum and Higgins