Every Monday night on CBS, viewers are greeted with the names and faces of the regular cast members of Hawaii Five-0. Yet there are the names that fade by in the opening credits without whom there would simply be no show. They are the producers, directors and writers of the series.
“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage” is an old expression used both on Broadway and in Hollywood. Above all, the necessity of good writing either dooms a series or sets it up for a lengthy run. There’s really no in between (unless your name is Kyle Killen, you write shows critics and fans rave about and still almost nobody watches). Thus, the writers of Hawaii Five-0 have one of the most unenviable jobs, and that’s to keep millions of us happy and tuning in week after week. They field interviews and bravely put themselves out in the social media sphere, subject to as much endless ridicule as they are praise.
While fans may be happy with the direction of the show one week, a reversal in attitude may put the brakes on any ratings momentum – and this season, it’s been a real uphill climb for Five-0. As I mentioned in previous blogs, the show is down some 4 million sets of eyeballs in Live+7 viewer retention. (At its high, nearly 16 million for the season 2 premiere to just over 11 million for the season 3 premiere). Now I’m not suggesting Five-0 has lost all of those viewers – some of them have turned to Netflix, gaming consoles with streaming TV, tablets, smart phones and other means to watch programming not counted by Nielsen. Still, a substantial number are gone. Like… gone baby gone. As in, not coming back. Beyond the competition, here’s why I think they left:
Dramatic license-taking is awesome…until its not
I’m not sure how many of you consider Hawaii Five-0 a guilty pleasure,’ but that used to be code for “a show I wouldn’t even tell my best friend I watched.” It normally involves the basic act of sitting in front of the screen without any real cerebral engagement due to the heightened ridiculousness of what you’re actually watching. Now granted, TV series live and die thanks to fans’ dedicated disbelief, but watching Steve McGarrett get shot, stabbed, dropped off a cliff, hit by a car, thrown off a high-rise, tasered, tortured and generally beaten to a pulp week after week with minimal side effects is like asking viewers to believe real Navy SEALs are made of actual Tungsten or some super metal alloy that is virtually indestructible. Now, I’m not asking for McG (or for that matter, Chin, Kono or Danny) to go off the reservation based on the crap storm of physical, emotional and psychological trauma each one has endured. But the writers have reached a level of inefficiency in not allowing these characters to show more visceral, human emotion and I think it’s finally causing people to change the channel.
See also: Unbelievable action moments. AKA Wo Fat’s escape-by-giant-carnival-claw-game in the season 3 premiere.
The puzzling introduction and subsequent abandonment of multi-layered characters
Martin Sheen once wrote (discussing his time on “The West Wing”), “If the audience doesn’t care about these people they won’t get the series. One must be drawn in by them, to their work, to their inpidual personalities, to their inpidual characters, to the struggles in their personal lives. They come from a place and they stand for something.”
There’s no way to say this and be kind about it – season 2 of Hawaii Five-0 was rudely interrupted by Joe White and Lori Weston. While I have nothing against the actors (Terry O’Quinn and Lauren German, who tried their best to do a lot with very little), their characters were extremely one dimensional. O’Quinn’s Joe White made it through 10 episodes of stalking, sulking, glowering, glaring and carrying an otherwise unpleasant disposition while forging and breaking alliances with McGarrett and the Five-0 team. Their odd psychological battle of wills meant to grip viewers until a striking season finale went over like a lead balloon, based on real-time social media feedback and cursory glances at various websites and message boards.
Weston, meanwhile, was brought in as another female lead while the writers tried to explore a specifically tailored concept for Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park) that took her away from the Five-0 team. With a jarring insertion into the series, not to mention the media’s perception that Lori Weston was either the “female Steve McGarrett” or brought in to play his love interest, German entered the show with two strikes against her. The writers failing to flesh out the character over 15 episodes was the third.
Murder Mystery instead of Murder and Mystery
The requirement of a token case of the week doesn’t have to be a detriment to a procedural. Shows like CBS’ Blue Bloods and NBC’s Law & Order: SVU manage a rather meticulous construction of a crime at the beginning of an episode that builds to a satisfying climax at the end of the hour. They do so while detectives navigate career and personal obstacles, and the writers still manage to make audiences feel a level of empathy or outrage for the perpetrator or the victim of a crime, or even for the crime in general.
Without a big guest star, or the involvement of one of the friends or family members of the core four, Hawaii Five-0 has struggled in this department. The most recent episode, “Popilikia,” was the first time in a while the show has kept me entertained through both the crime aspect of the show (thank you, mystical fortuneteller of misfortune) and the continued push-pull of the Steve/Doris relationship. The unearthing of that microfilm from a metal box under the floorboards of the McGarrett home means infinite possibilities for future episodes. It’s like this season’s version of the mostly-forgotten Champ Box – a nice play of murder and mystery rather than the standard murder mystery. That being said, lets hope the writers learned from the mistakes of season 2’s less-than-accelerated pace to get to that “A ha!” moment this time around.
Some other thoughts:
Some of you are probably thinking, “Wow. You’ve been a little harsh on Hawaii Five-0.” Nonsense. (Or, you say “tomato.” I say “constructive criticism”). I love Hawaii Five-0. I love the bromance and the carguments, the relationships between the core characters, and the moments of triumph in between all the messiness that is their personal/professional lives. I love that Steve McGarrett, in all his hotness, is a craptacular boyfriend. I love that Danny and McG’s genuine attraction to one another is based mostly on the fact that they can’t start or finish a conversation without the desire to get the upper hand and be a giant goof about it. I love that Danny loves his daughter so much it pretty much oozes out of my TV screen. I love that Kamekona is the comic relief and Max has more quirks than Ducky Mallard in NCIS. I also love Hawaii. So much so that I flew like five or six thousand miles to Oahu in September, dropped a few thousand on the trip and would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant getting to spend time with some fanatical fans again.
All-in-all, I’m hopeful that the uptick in ratings as season 3 progresses means that Five-0 will maintain a formula that breeds quality and consistency, and thus a more widespread audience.
**House rules: Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section. I fully welcome the feedback, but only if you can offer it in a respectful manner. Ripping into this blog on the sole philosophy that I’m completely wrong in my assessment of the show isn’t constructive to either of us, nor to your fellow fans who many also want to contribute. We can always agree to disagree, but name-calling, spamming and flaming aren’t welcome here. Ergo, your comments will be moderated appropriately.