A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this classic crime series about a team of detectives in Hawaii was considered groundbreaking when it hit the screen in 1968 but seems dated now. Filmed on location, the show made a point to include a multiracial cast and often featured references to Asian cultures and the politics of the Pacific Rim. These efforts were progressive then, but the small glimpses of Asia are no longer exotic; instead, they seem somewhat clichéd and stereotypical. Still, overall there aren't too many moments that are inappropriate for kids. There are a fair number of fights, and main character Steve McGarrett sometimes has romantic encounters, but all of these scenes seem quite tame by today’s standards. One thing you'll see more of is smoking, which is accurate for the era.
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What's the story?
On one level, HAWAII FIVE-O is a fairly standard cop show. Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) heads up the Five-O team, a unit of the Hawaii state police charged with investigating the islands’ toughest cases, including unsolved murders, espionage, mafia activities, and other crimes. The show makes the island into one of the characters, showcasing many of its beautiful locations and its multicultural population.
Is it any good?
But on another level, the series has become a cultural touchstone. When it hit the air in 1968, Hawaii Five-O offered a look at what was then a far off and exotic place. Filmed on location in Hawaii, the show cast Hawaiian and Asian actors in many key supporting roles and sprinkled its scripts with Hawaiian words and plenty of references to the Far East. Running for 12 seasons, it made the islands seem familiar even to people who had never left the mainland. And don’t forget about the instantly recognizable theme song (second only, perhaps, to Mission: Impossible for TV’s most distinctive tune).
Sadly, the series doesn’t pass the test of time. Its view of Hawaii in the late 1960s and 1970s is like a fun look into a time capsule, but the plots drag it down. McGarrett’s foes include Chinese spies, cold-blooded serial killers, gold smugglers, turncoat gangsters, and other far-fetched villains. The stories might have made for entertaining TV when they originally aired, but today they seem hokey and unbelievable. And the brief glimpses of Asian and Hawaiian culture, so progressive then, seem slightly patronizing and stereotypical today.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about cop shows. How does this series compare to current police dramas? Are there any issues that seemed controversial then that aren't a big deal now? How about vice versa?
Do you think this story would benefit from a remake? How would a modern-day version of Hawaii Five-O differ from other current cop shows, or from the original?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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