NBC's drama 'Hawaii' lacks a true identity



The show is an immature knockoff, one critic says.
By DIANE WERTS
NEWSDAY
What is it with vomit? It's a big thing in several of this season's series pilots. And there it is in the first new fall drama to hit the air, NBC's "Hawaii," when hot, young police detectives find four severed heads in a car trunk.
Do we really need to see that? Guess so. Just like the upchuck.
It's the sort of stuff 12-year-old boys love, and this might as well be the cop show for them.
Think "Starsky & amp; Hutch" on steroids. Half the dialogue could spring directly from that 1970s romp, with its quippy banter and exasperated commander (Cary Tagawa) chastising, "I'm getting too many complaints about you two!" That would be too-cool kid cops Ivan Sergei and Eric Balfour, both better suited to play the type of stoner teen Balfour essayed on "Six Feet Under" than effective officers solving ugly urban crimes. They're into car chases, too, and "comic relief" involving jocular humiliation.
Next, think "Miami Vice," whose evocation of 1980s locale chic this hour aspires to update. Of course, "Vice" was an original adult concept, whereas this is an immature knockoff. "Hawaii" is, however, equally filmed on location, which means lush shots of scenery from surf waves to green mountains to volcanic lava fields, not to mention bikinied bods, beachside mansions and Waikiki glitter. The same way "Vice" acknowledged Miami's Hispanic culture, this hour takes note of Hawaii's Polynesian history and multi-ethnic populace, however clumsily it crams in sugar mills and indigenous spiritual traditions.
Characters
Some is presented through the eyes of the new guy from Chicago, Sharif Atkins, segueing from that windy city NBC hour "ER." He's teamed with Michael Biehn, the token grown-up, a veteran officer given to hackneyed pep talks ("Everybody takes care of each other, everybody comes home"). When it comes to the token woman, there's Aya Sumika's ambitious uniform officer, whom the pilot manages to get not only unclothed into a hot tub but into a debasing situation at the same time.
Let's not even go there with NBC press releases calling Peter Navy Tuiasosopo her "jovial Samoan partner." (Aren't they all? Unless they're menacingly intimidating.)
Viewers might accept "Hawaii" as simply dumb fun, which we could suspect is the goal of series creator Jeff Eastin, the writer of such why-think TV as "Shasta McNasty" and the upcoming "Rush Hour 3."
But this show veers too often toward dark drama and attempted character study. When that goes off track, it throws in another bloody body or slo-mo shoot-out. This is certainly no businesslike "Hawaii Five-O," no personal saga like "The Byrds of Paradise," no moody mystery like "Marker" or even glossy escapism like "North Shore," other Hawaii-set hours that at least appeared to know what they wanted to be (whether they succeeded or not).
"Hawaii" is still in search of its true identity. Like any adolescent.

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