Remember those Cheetos commercials where Chester Cheetah had a meter to adjust levels of cheese? Well, if Chester were to see the revamp of the iconic “Hawaii Five-0,” he’d crank that lever all the way up to Dangerously Cheesy. Filled to the brim with shootouts, explosions and bikini-clad women, “Hawaii Five-0” is the television equivalent of a Michael Bay movie — which could translate to either mindless fun or a torturous experience.
Mondays at 10 p.m.
The show follows an elite law enforcement squad cleaning out high-profile criminals from Hawaii because apparently, behind all the wind surfing and luaus, the state is a hotbed of international terrorism. The team answers only to the governor (Jean Smart, “24”) who promises them “full immunity” and “no red tape,” which is just a convenient plot device to allow characters to bypass proper police procedures, letting them shoot first and ask questions later.
The squad is led by Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), a former Navy SEAL who, in the show’s pilot, puts together the task force to hunt down the man who killed his father. McGarrett is a veritable G.I. Joe, an extremely proficient soldier who is as impassive as an actual action figure. It all comes down to the ineptitude of O’Loughlin, who drags down the show with his inability to emote or inject any sort of personality into his character. O’Loughlin is so awful that it feels necessary to take a (relevant) tangent to momentarily raise some hell.
What exactly is CBS’s obsession with Alex O’Loughlin? “Hawaii Five-0” is his fourth collaboration with the network in the past four years. He was given the lead role in “Moonlight” and “Three Rivers,” two instantly forgettable series that lasted 16 and 13 episodes respectively, and he was the male lead in crapfest “The Back-up Plan,” released earlier this year by CBS Films. There’s clearly some sort of talent deal going on — O’Loughlin is objectively a very bad actor and seriously limits the potential of “Hawaii Five-0.”
O’Loughlin’s miserable performance is only accentuated by the excellence of Scott Caan (“Ocean’s Eleven”), who plays his partner Danny “Danno” Williams. Caan is witty and goofy as a divorced dad who moves out of his New Jersey comfort zone to Hawaii so he can be closer to his daughter. Caan is a magnetic presence, cracking jokes throughout gunfights and crime scenes but unearthing his softer side in the appropriate occasions.
The squad is rounded out by two fairly flat characters: Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim, “Lost”) and the show’s single significant female character, Chin Ho’s cousin Kona (Grace Park, “Battlestar Galactica”). Chin Ho doesn’t do much besides brandish a shotgun (though he’s sure to develop as the show progresses) and Kona is relegated to disgustingly exploitative eye candy — she’s shown in her underwear twice within the pilot and engages in a catfight in the second episode which, yes, ends up with both women fighting in a pool.
“Hawaii Five-0” fits nicely on the CBS schedule, among all the episodic crime procedurals. Yet instead of mere homicides à la “CSI,” the crime of the week is larger in scope, involving such nefarious deeds as human trafficking and the abduction of very important people. These lead to some very entertaining action sequences — quite impressive for network television — that look incredible due to ace cinematography and well executed direction.
But the action also highlights a major flaw of the show: There are no stakes. During the shootouts, the four main characters may get nicked or bruised, but as an audience, we know that they will be perfectly fine by next week. As fun as the action sequences are, there’s a significant lack of suspense knowing that our heroes are not in any danger. Compare this to “24,” where every firefight generated heart-stopping tension, as any given character (even Jack Bauer) could be killed.
“Hawaii Five-0” works as a turn-off-your-brain, subtext-free hour of television. And no matter how much O’Loughlin sucks it up or how grossly exploitative it is toward women, there are enough elements in place to make it a fun time-pass (if you have time to pass). Plus, it has the greatest theme song of all time. Objectively.