Mag­num PI and his teeny shorts are way more fun than the grim de­tec­tives of ‘Crim­i­nal Minds’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

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

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