Hawaii Five-O's successful 12-year run proved one thing: A drama doesn't have to be perfect or overly complex to succeed.
Hawaii Five-O's plots were straightforward and self-contained. They rarely had big surprises or twists, and the plot of one episode rarely carried over into future episodes. However, the stories were (for the most part) well written, intelligent, and often unique. For example, in the sixth season's "Draw Me a Killer", a young man "in love" with a female comic book character murders people who resemble her fictional adversaries. This sort of creativity resulted in interesting plots that didn't have to depend upon shocks or gimmicks to be watchable.
Hawaii Five-O was authentic. It was shot entirely on location in Hawaii. Most took place in Honolulu, but the show saw some time on the other islands, as well. Local actors were used to fill nearly every minor part in almost all episodes. While many of these actors were clearly amateurs, you didn't care. This actually added to the show's charm and authenticity. Some of these locals had recurring parts, being seen in different roles in as many as 14 episodes. That also wasn't a big deal, provided you didn't take the show too seriously.
Hawaii Five-O was nice to look at. The show went out of its way to create scenes with beautiful backdrops, allowing the viewer to feel he's on a Hawaiian vacation while in his own living room.
Hawaii Five-O featured one of the best opening theme songs and title sequences. It still holds up well 37 years later. Even the end title sequence, showcasing about 20 native Hawaiians paddling a boat through the ocean off Hawaii, fit in with the show's Hawaiian authenticity. A bit of trivia regarding the opening sequence: The famous wave at the beginning was NOT filmed for Hawaii Five-O, and was instead taken from some 1962 stock footage. This footage was so unimportant at the time that it is now unknown exactly where that wave video originated. Also, the 10-year-old boy shown on the beach was randomly selected and given $5 for allowing himself to be filmed. He didn't know he was in the opening titles until kids at school teased him about it! The first 7 seasons of the show were by far superior to the final 5. The show especially deteriorated by season 11. This was simply a case of a show that had run its course, and it honestly should have been canceled two years earlier.
Jack Lord did a superb job as Five-O head Steve McGarrett. We never got to learn too much about the lives of the other characters, but it was always clear that they were there to support McGarrett. The unity and dedication amongst the characters of the show was comforting to watch. While many cop shows (such as NYPD Blue) introduce conflict between the main characters, this had no place in Hawaii Five-O. This was a show about Five-O versus the criminal element of Hawaii.
Despite the repeated showcasing of Honolulu's crime, Hawaii Five-O actually did a lot to boost Hawaii tourism. You would think that episodes showing tourists as murder victims would put people off. Perhaps everyone felt protected by McGarrett and Five-O, even if both were just a work of fiction.
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