Did you ever play “Guess the TV Themes” like Brooks and Ackroyd do at the beginning of Twilight Zone: The Movie? If you did, I’ll bet you ba, ba, ba, ba’d your way through the theme to Hawaii Five-O. “And book ’em, Danno. . . and here comes that waaaave!!!”
Okay, so maybe I’m the only person who makes up words to the Hawaii Five-O song, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the series has one of TV’s most recognizable themes. It’s a pop culture legend – along with the phrase “book ’em, Danno” and Jack Lord’s immovable hair. (Donald Trump take note.) It’s the daddy of all cop shows but it didn’t exactly start out that way. Grab your surf board and get ready to hang ten, we’re headed for the islands thanks to Hawaii Five-0 – The Complete First Season.
Jack Lord (Stoney Burke) is Steve McGarrett, head of “Five-O”, an elite police squad dedicated to solving the biggest crimes on the big island. His right-hand man is the idealistic Danny Williams (James MacArthur) and they are ably assisted by the fatherly Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong) and the burly but boyish Kono Kalakaua (Zulu). With the scenery of Hawaii standing in as an additional character on the show, the Five-O team tracks down killers of the hired and homegrown kind, kidnappers, extortionists and all levels of members of the mob.
Firmly set in the late sixties, you’ll see plenty of references to hippies and the war in Vietnam. From environmental issues, to the flaws in the judicial system, to the plight of the wounded soldiers coming home from ‘Nam, this show isn’t shy about taking a stand.
Known as one of the top cop shows in TV history, Hawaii Five-O started out more Bond than Bullet. The two-hour pilot, which is included on this DVD set, is an espionage thriller complete with Red Chinese spies, double agents, and horrendous brainwashing techniques reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. Quite an exciting ride, but very different from the series most people remember.
Actually, mixing it up is one of the things Hawaii Five-O does best. By creating a special police force over and above the normal cop on the beat, they were able to take on a variety of crimes including those that would generally be handled by a higher authority such as terrorism, spying and crimes involving the military. This varied plate allowed the series to jazz up the typical cop show format creating a kind of suspense/procedural hybrid.
The second thing the show does well, is give you memorable, likeable villains. The villains on this show are so bad, they’re good! Take Victor Reese (Kevin McCarthy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), the money hungry murderer who preys on lonely women in the very first episode, “Full Fathom Five”. He’s so deliciously evil you almost want him to succeed! Then there’s Yaphet Kotto as the Marine Corporal who takes a wounded Danno hostage in a hospital ward full of intensive care patients in “King of the Hill”. Can’t blame him though, thanks to a bonk on the head, he thinks he’s back in Vietnam defending his little patch of ground from the advancing VC army (McGarrett and his men). So how can Steve rescue Danno without killing the armed and deadly but ultimately innocent solider? I think it’s one of the season’s best. And let’s not forget Big Chicken (Gavin McLeod, Love Boat) the weasley drug dealer. He appears in two of the season’s top episodes, “And They Painted Daisies on His Coffin” where Danno kills a young boy who appears to have been unarmed and “The Box” where McGarrett offers himself up as a hostage during a prison riot, placing himself in the hands of men he put there in the first place. Excellent from the first moment through to the end.
You’ll also find some very interesting guest stars in this box set, a grown-up Johnny Crawford (The Rifleman) as a Vietnam vet on leave who ends up caught in the crossfire between rival mobsters. Popular Disney singer, Tommy Sands is a nightclub performer who moonlights as a cat burglar and Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause) rocks the house as another nightclub singer who has himself kidnapped for the publicity but finds himself in deep when he tries to end the game.
Paramount did a very nice job putting together this set except that there’s only one special feature and that’s very disappointing. For a show with such a long, rich history, I was sad to see that there were no commentaries. On the other hand, the one feature they did include is fabulous. “Emme’s Island Moments” was a local TV show that produced a Hawaii Five-O tribute episode in 1996. This episode is co-hosted by James MacArthur and it features interviews with dozens of people who were involved in the series. Even more amazing, the show includes actual behind the scenes home movie footage and photos and they’re real gems. I think it’s terrific that this show, which was originally only seen in Hawaii, is included here.
Hawaii Five-O was the longest running cop show on television until Law & Order stole the title nearly twenty years later. A true pop culture icon, the words “Five-O” and “Book ’em, Danno” have become part of American language and the theme song is one of the most identifiable in the history of TV. But what’s even more important is that this is a truly great series. A variety of terrific stories with fascinating twists, gorgeous scenery, and memorable characters make this a must see for cop show fans.
Start with Season One or buy the entire run in one box set over on Amazon.