Magnum, P.I. premiered in December 0f 1980, forever establishing a new perspective on the television crime drama genre. Magnum (Tom Selleck) defies the stereotypical stigma associated with returned Vietnam vets at the time by portraying a happy-go-lucky man driving a Ferrari and solving crime in Hawaiian paradise. Not only this, but Magnum stood out for his narration of episodes, offering the character’s innermost thoughts to audiences and even helping the storyline along. Magnum was a different kind of law enforcement altogether; one that triumphed and struggled in a more humanistic way than ever shown before. No wonder the show became a smash hit. Then again, while smash hits may have a string of favorite episodes, they also come with their defective episodes. Cue the Magnum, P.I. theme, because here are its 5 best episodes–and its 5 worst.
10 Worst: “Billy Joe Bob”
The Season 2 opener wasn’t quite the best way to kick things off. When an ex-cheerleader goes missing, her Texan brother comes storming to Hawaii–and causes plenty of trouble for Magnum. Mostly, the episode is Magnum reigning in Billy Joe Bob and keeping him from beating up, or killing, practically everyone that is unfortunate enough to cross his path. Billy Joe Bob is a little too bloodthirsty and too much of a vigilante to make Texans look good, and Magnum is understandably frustrated most of the episode. If anything, the episode at least is a good lesson in proving that vigilantism will get you nowhere.
9 Best: “Don’t Eat The Snow In Hawaii”
Few series have done a better job of establishing the main character right from the get-go. The very first episode, a two-part special, helps us get to know Magnum’s character as well as his story. When a Navy buddy of his is killed and subsequently framed, Magnum goes the extra mile to find the truth and prove his innocence.
Not only do we get to know Magnum, but also his friends, Rick (Larry Manetti) and TC (Roger E. Mosley). The episode even makes a casual reference to its Hawaiian predecessor, Hawaii Five-0. If any television writer writing for crime dramas is looking for inspiration, they need look no further than this episode for its fast-paced storyline, theme of friendship and dedication, and of course, Magnum’s character.
8 Worst: “Photo Play”
This Season 6 episode seems promising. Woman taking pictures of road signs (yes, actual road signs) in Europe is followed to Hawaii by unscrupulous man wanting something that she is unaware of. Magnum helps her piece the puzzle together to discover that while she was taking pictures, she accidentally captured a picture of her pursuer who wants his picture back. You see, the man is a criminal who years ago faked his death, so understandably he wants it back. The thing that makes this episode a little ridiculous is the fact that of all the ways to introduce such a storyline, a woman taking pictures for her book on road signs is either a truly clever way to do so–or else the writers were just bored and couldn’t think of anything else. We’re leaning towards the latter explanation.
7 Best: “Laura”
In this riveting Season 7 episode, the incomparably talented Frank Sinatra guest stars as a recently retired police sergeant named Michael Doheny from New York that comes to Hawaii in search of his granddaughter’s killers. Magnum is at first unaware of Doheny’s true reasons for being in Hawaii but following the sudden and unintentional death of one of the killers he tells Magnum the truth–and he makes it clear that if he gets to the other murderer first, he intends to kill him.
The episode is indeed tragic considering Doheny’s circumstances, but it’s also a good example of someone being torn between morals and justice. His morals as an officer versus his need for justice as a grandfather is no easy feat, and Sinatra delivers his performance beautifully.
6 Worst: “Who Is Don Luis Higgins…And Why Is He Doing These Terrible Things To Me?”
There are a few episodes that feature one of Higgins’ (John Hillerman) half-brothers. He’s got half-brothers all over the world that are strikingly different from one another. One a Texan, one from Ireland and in this particular episode, one from Costa de Rosa. Hillerman plays each of these characters in a dual role. The Costa de Rosa brother throws Higgins and Magnum in for a loop when it comes to identity crises and true intentions. It’s hard to believe Higgins would have so many brothers with astonishingly different personalities and backstories (perhaps this was an attempt at comedy?), so this episode is a tad ludicrous. Yet, what saves this episode from being completely facetious is the chess tournament and the Gunga Din story…watch and you’ll see what we mean.
5 Best: “Memories Are Forever”
Magnum’s been through some difficult times, exceedingly so considering his military background. In which case, it’s nice to see something go right for him. When Magnum thinks he’s spotted his wife, whom he believed to be dead in a bombing raid, he desperately tries to find her and uncover the truth.
Suspiciously enough, he is recalled for active Navy duty and requested to testify back in Washington, D.C. It’s interesting to see Magnum juggle these things in his search for his own personal truth and Selleck delivers his performance spectacularly–it’s just a shame that we had to watch Magnum let go of the love of his life once more, but we did see Michelle in later episodes.
4 Worst: “Summer School”
What makes this episode so terrible is the fact that it’s simply a laughable concept. As Magnum fans, we’d never buy it, so why would anyone else? Robin Masters, the owner of the estate Magnum and Higgins work for, sends his troubled nephew RJ (Tate Donovan) to Robin’s Nest for Higgins to “straighten out.” Instead, RJ causes a mess of trouble. Not only does he give Higgins and Magnum a hard time, but he even impersonates Magnum and takes on one of his clients, who foolishly believes the too young and guileless RJ is Magnum. Of course, Magnum must undo the damage before it’s too late for RJ, who is nearly killed trying to find the person the real Magnum was hired to find. Sometimes karma has to make someone learn the hard way, regardless of how brutal it may be.
3 Best: “Rapture”
A diving adventure with TC turns into a case for Magnum when he sees a young boy underwater–without scuba gear. The boy guides him to a clue, and the episode takes off from there. Friends fear for Magnum’s sanity as he continues to see the boy all the while trying to connect the dots and solve the case; turns out, the young boy was murdered alongside his grandfather in a boat explosion.
This episode intricately demonstrates Magnum’s intuition and reliance on his own instincts, as well as how much he cares. Featuring an apt quote by Higgins, who declares that while he may have studied Aristotle, Socrates and several other works, participated in intellectual debates and written scholarly articles on various subjects, nothing could have properly prepared him for the inner workings of the mind of Thomas Magnum. We concur.
2 Worst: “Echoes Of The Mind”
This episode is only bad because it’s so terribly sad. Magnum is hired by Diane (Sharon Stone), who believes she is being pursued by people intending to cause her harm. Turns out, the problem is much more complex than that. Diane’s mental health is suffering, and she also acts out the personality of Deirdre, her “sister”, which turns out to be a second personality of Diane’s. Magnum figures this out, but it’s too late–Diane commits suicide at the end of the first part of the two-part episode. The second episode leaves Magnum devastated and blaming himself for being unable to save her in time. Let’s face it: we hate it when Magnum can’t save the day as much as Magnum does. Yet, it’s real life: you can’t always save the day, and it’s a difficult lesson to learn.
1 Best: “Home From The Sea”
The Season 4 opener is definitely one of the best, if not the best, episodes to come out of the series. On July fourth, Magnum spends the day alone. He always spends the day alone, as it’s the day his father died many years before. This time we find Magnum at sea, but when he has an unfortunate encounter with a speed boat, it leaves Magnum alone and adrift out at sea. What makes this episode so alluring are Magnum’s flashbacks to his past, especially where it concerns his father, and we learn the origins of Magnum’s wristwatch, a gift from his father. The series is no stranger to flashbacks, but this episode gives them a different symbolization and meaning that is heartwarming and heartbreaking simultaneously. Meanwhile, Magnum’s friends Rick and TC, plus Higgins each get a sense at different times that Magnum is in trouble… the sixth sense is an incredible power here. Magnum is saved, but we are given a deeper respect for and bond with the series’ main character following this episode.
Magnum, P.I. is without a doubt one of the best television shows in history. Its popularity is still evident to this day, notably for its narration, flashbacks, storylines and of course, Magnum’s wit–especially when it comes to his bickering with Higgins. It’s easy to watch the series over and over, and with eight seasons of classic Magnum in Hawaii you’ll never get bored–perhaps you’ll come up with your own best and worst episode list.
NEXT: Magnum P.I.: 5 Things That Are The Same As The Original (And 5 That Aren’t)