Before the Pilot – Photo Credit: Unknown
Ten years. Two hundred and forty episodes. More debate, conflicts, and opinions then you can shake a stick at. But, the one thing I’m sure of. Pretty much 100% of the Hawaii Five-0 fandom can agree that Season One was by far the best season of the entire run. Were the stories better in the first season than any other? Like all H50, that’s debatable. There were, obviously, hundreds of wonderful stories spread out over all ten years.
But Season One was special. I’ve said it before, Hawaii Five-0 was a 10-year love affair and Season One was the beginning of that love affair. Like many new romances, it struck without warning. Like deciding at the last minute to accept an invitation from a friend to attend a party you hadn’t intended to go to, and you meet, by chance, the one who changes your life forever.
In those first months of a new romance, everything is fresh and new and exciting. Every new experience embraced by the excitement of new discovery. It’s the immediate onslaught of a lust for everything to do with this new love. It can be rather overwhelming. Eventually, hopefully, the heady intoxication of that lust mellows into a long lasting, deep and abiding love.
Maybe that’s why we tend to think back on the stories of Season One and think they were so much better than anything that followed. Not necessarily because they were, but because we were all caught up in that lust of first love. Season One will always be my favorite season.
Monday, September 20, 2010, 10pm. For all intents and purposes, a time I would normally be sound asleep, having no interest in starting off my work week already too tired from a late night of watching TV. But a “friend”, in the guise of Daniel Dae Kim, convinced me to give this new Hawaii Five-0 a chance simply by his presence in the cast. Having loved him on LOST, I was happy I’d get the chance to see him in something else. And met, by chance, the show that filled my imagination and my heart for the next ten years. I was intrigued in the first five minutes. By the first commercial break, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love.
S1 – E1: The Pilot:
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the Pilot episode of Hawaii Five-0 was one of the best pilots ever written and/or filmed. Yeah…. ok… I’m biased, I know. But the H50 pilot had some pretty damned impressive names attached to it. Of course, we’ve all come to know Peter Lenkov, who wrote the pilot script, over the 10 years of the show’s run, but the pilot also had as Executive Producers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who also collaborated on the story. This powerful duo has been at the helm of some pretty spectacular TV and Hollywood productions, including the powerful Star Trek universe among many others. Add to that the pilot’s director, Len Wiseman, another Hollywood heavyweight, and you have the recipe for one hell of a great episode.
But, of course, the success of any recipe, is in the quality of its ingredients. The term “lightning in a bottle” was never truer than in the casting of the Hawaii Five-0 pilot, from the main characters all the way through to the guest stars and those who, eventually, became ongoing recurring cast. Pilots can, obviously, be tricky as writers are trying to not only provide a story that they hope will hook an audience but also introduce characters in a way that will make people want to invest their time to get to know them. The H50 pilot did this in spades.
Starting off with the biggest uncredited star of the show. Hawaii itself, as we’re treated to our first look at the beauty of Oahu. The aerial shot of the shoreline as Steve’s plane is descending is breathtaking. The shots of beautiful people enjoying the beaches and the ocean are sprinkled throughout the pilot. It’s something TPTB used to great effect all the years of the series. It’s a sort of counterbalance to all the death and crime which pretty much all the stories have. For those of us in colder climates, it was a weekly escape to sun and sand. A mini vacation every seven days. Week after week, these views of Hawaii were stunning.
And they did, indeed, provide a story that hooked the audience. From the very first moments on screen, the pilot screamed “movie quality”. Watching Steve’s convoy under attack, the mercenaries propelling down from black helicopters, the explosions, and the military fire fight, all with the beautiful Kualoa Ranch in the background standing in for S. Korea, well, it all simply took my breath away. When Victor Hesse murdered John McGarrett as Steve listens over the phone, and Steve’s scream of horror, anguish, and grief, I sat there simply stunned. And we were only five minutes in! Damn straight, I wanted more!
Of course, we meet our four main characters in the pilot and while there was some pre-existing familiarity between some characters (for instance, Steve and Chin knew of each other, being several years apart at Kukui High School and Chin and Kono were cousins) they all meet each other for the first time and seeing them come together to form what would, eventually, be Five-0 was a blast to watch. The chemistry between all the actors was tangible but between Alex, Scott, Daniel and Grace it was off the charts. Taylor Wily, Will Yun Lee and Jean Smart as Kamekona, Sang Min (who were only supposed to be in the one episode) and Governor Jamison, were so wonderful they ended up coming back again and again. The addition of James Marsters, William Sadler and Norman Reedus, in limited but extremely powerful and meaningful roles, was no less inspired.
And, of course, I fell in love with the two most important characters and the most important relationship of the show’s entire run pretty much instantaneously. What was it for you? Was it the first time we saw Steve’s eyes in close-up in the Humvee? Was it Danny in the Mustang? Was it when they pulled guns on each other in the McGarrett garage? Was it when Danny leveled Steve with one hell of a right cross or was it that first heart to heart on the beach behind Casa McG? Honestly, this is a multiple-choice question that screams for an “other” and an “all of the above” choice as well, doesn’t it? Whenever it was, the foundation for this most spectacular of relationships was very firmly set in the pilot and it only got better and better as time went on.
It was the “bromance” between Steve and Danny that became the hallmark of the series and was highly promoted by CBS in PR for the show. Their ongoing banter, along with their great comedic timing, became enough of a cultural phenomenon that the word “cargument” was added to the Urban Dictionary before Season One even hit the mid-season mark.
The easy chemistry and rapport between Alex and Scott was phenomenal right off the bat. You would have thought they’d been working together for years. The way they bounce off each other has always been so easy and fluid. It was never forced. Alex and Scott have both said in numerous interviews throughout the years that the moment they began their first riff off each other in the car it was as natural as breathing for them and that the relationship between these two characters is the lynch pin for the entire series. Ten years later, you’d be an idiot to argue with that assessment from the stars themselves.
As with any pilot, the purpose is to establish not only the characters but certain elements of a plot that will hopefully sustain a show moving forward. I’m only guessing here, but I would think the original objective is to be successful enough to earn a full first season, then hopefully more. The H50 pilot succeeded in giving us characters we didn’t need to “learn to love” but loved immediately. It also provided us with the groundwork for stories through the first season and for stories and themes moving forward.
Steve – a stoic and tough Naval Intelligence Officer and former Navy SEAL who hasn’t been home to Hawaii in “a while”. A man with definite “daddy issues” which kept him from seeing his father for a very long time. Danny – a hard-nosed by-the-book detective who hates Hawaii as fiercely as he loves his daughter, Gracie. We briefly meet Gracie and learn about Rachel and Step-Stan. Chin – former HPD, wrongly accused and forced out but finally getting back “in the game”. Kono – the rookie, with everything to prove as a former surfer turned cop with a disgraced cop as a cousin. Kamekona, a confidential informant because, of course, we needed our own “Huggy Bear”. The beginnings of McDanno! All the character elements were there.
We see the Champ Box for the first time and hear the first few words of the recording John McGarrett left behind. He doesn’t trust the people he works with. Steve finds the key John speaks of in the recording. We also learn, as the episode goes on that there’s a mole in Danny’s HPD precinct. We’ll see these play out as Season One unfolds as well as in episodes in future seasons.
Watching the team coalesce as they work together to find Hesse before he can escape the island as well as watching Steve and Danny begin to lay the framework of what will be a great partnership and an even better friendship made the episode fly by. Re-watching it recently, I was struck again by how quickly the episode moved without ever feeling rushed. There wasn’t a wasted moment in the entire hour.
Steve and Danny in an HPD squad car barreling onto the deck of a Chinese freighter was a fitting climax to such a fantastic episode. It again laid the groundwork for much of what would follow in years to come. Steve will get his man, come hell, high water or disembarking freighters heading for international waters. Danny will bitch and complain and worry but be right there by his side through it all. Steve will take down his man by any means possible, be it gun fire or hand to hand combat. It will be raw, intense and it will be bloody.
And when it’s over, “Book ‘em Danno!” will rule. For the time being anyway!
Was the Hawaii Five-0 Pilot the best episode of the entire series? Some will debate it was and others will point out many other memorable episodes in the years that followed. But for the sheer joy of first love, for the excitement of something new, for the “lightning in a bottle” of the “core 4” as well as the rest of cast and for the story that began and sustained the series off and on for ten years…. yeah… I think the pilot is indeed the best episode of the entire series.
****** Stay tuned for scenes from our next ….. post ******
Season ONE – The Rest
As I said in the introduction to this series, I don’t intend to do full reviews of all the episodes. Perhaps, like the Pilot above, I might be a bit more talkative about the episodes I feel were extra special but for the most part I’m going to try to do what I said in the introduction. Single out the things about each Season that I loved (or perhaps didn’t love) so much. Season One was a magical season and was filled with so many, many wonderful memories, I feel it needs its own post. So stay tuned …..
Aloha. Malama Pono
Note regarding photos: Some of the photos are screen caps I grabbed myself, but many pictures are not mine. Back in the early years, when I was very new to the concept of a “fandom” I simply saved pictures I loved and never thought about who may have taken them or who may have created an edit. So, I’m not posting photo credits on these posts unless I know for sure who to credit. I have never removed water marks but many photos didn’t have them. If someone notices a picture or edit that belongs to them, please let me know and I’ll add the credit.