Why ‘Magnum P.I.’ Is the Most Iconic ’80s Detective Show


The Big Picture

  • The 1980s was the golden era of crime shows, where detective protagonists like Magnum P.I. starring Tom Selleck captivated audiences with their investigative skills and captivating personalities.
  • Magnum P.I. is a timeless show filled with rich characters that viewers can relate to, alongside several themes including murder, mystery, and a touch of romance over its eight seasons.
  • Magnum, along with his friends Rick, T.C., and Higgins, forms an unbeatable team with their distinct personalities and contributions, solving crimes and evoking audience admiration and excitement.

The 1980s is the peak era for crime shows. They started not only showing police procedures on every network but a little something from the other side of fighting crime and solving mysteries. The people who sometimes lurk in the shadows, cross the line, or bend the truth to serve justice on a platter. But the ’80s was the time for amateur detectives and private investigators like Jessica Fletcher (Dame Angela Lansbury) of Murder She Wrote, the A-Team, Macgyver (Richard Dean Anderson), and Johnathan and Jennifer Hart from Hart to Hart (Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers). But in all the glory held by those television investigators, none is as iconic of the bunch as Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, played most dashingly by Tom Selleck in the series Magnum P.I. (And not just because of his character’s short shorts — but it doesn’t hurt!)

Magnum P.I. is one of those shows that never gets old and is full of rich, quirky characters the audience can relate to on some level or another. We always root for Magnum, T.C. (Roger E. Mosley), Rick (Larry Manetti), and even Higgins (John Hillerman). It’s a show with eight seasons full of murder, mystery, and a little romance. What could be better?

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Who Is Thomas Magnum?

Image via Crumpe

The show stars Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, mostly known to his peers as Magnum. He’s a retired Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam Special Ops Agent veteran who fought in the Vietnam War with his pals, Orville ‘Rick’ Wright and Theodore ‘T.C’ Calvin. Now Magnum lives in Oahu, Hawaii, at the infamous writer Robin Masters estate AKA Robin’s Nest, in the bungalow. It’s rumored that many of Robin’s novels are based on Magnum’s Adventures. But now, Magnum is technically the security consultant for the estate and often butts heads with Major Domo, Higgins, and his two Dobermans: Zeus and Appollo.

But when he’s not doing that, he works as a private investigator: voice-overs and all. He races around town in the Ferrari, much to Higgin’s disdain, and he’s got many of the Private Investigator tropes we’ve come to expect of a P.I., including being somewhat of a scoundrel, having good instincts, a great mustache, needing a favor or two, and being charismatic. But he also breaks stereotypes by being your average Joe instead of some hot-shot James Bond type, is very loyal to his friends, and his deductive skills could be rivaled by many. If he can’t figure it out, he usually knows someone who can. We can’t help but fall in love with his charm as he gets out of situations you didn’t think possible.

Magnum Gets by With a Little Help From His Friends

Tom Selleck and the Magnum PI cast
Image via Crumpe/Paramount

Now as iconic as Magnum is, he wouldn’t get that far without the help of his friends, Rick, T.C., and Higgins. They each play an integral part and bring their charm to the show. Each character is so vastly different that they fit together perfectly. Magnum’s can-do attitude and chill nature rival Higgins’s strict, no-playing-around attitude. He’s also a good match for Rick, who’s constantly stressed out over work, but he and T.C. are always there to throw a dig or two at Magnum.

Let’s start with Orville ‘Rick’ Wright. He served with Magnum and is now a veteran as well. He’s the manager at the King Kamehameha Club, a pretty fancy dining place with wild parties and a formidable guest list to get on. The great thing about Rick is that he’s got connections everywhere. He often helps Magnum get information or goes to see his buddy Ice Pick, a criminal who has many underworld connections, to get info as well. Although Rick complains about having to help Magnum or having to bail him out of situations plus, all the favors Magnum now owes Rick — not to mention the tab he’s racked up at King Kamehameha, but that’s beside the point — he never hesitates when the cards are on the table.

Magnum’s other good friend, T.C., is a helicopter pilot and retired veteran. He owns his helicopter business, also known as Island Hoppers, flying tourists around on island tours. He gets to be amidst the salt air all day, talking to new people and doing a job he loves. But it does come in handy for Magnum if he needs a ride someone fast or if traffic is jammed. He and T.C. Often take the chopper to chase or catch killers on the run. He dislikes being involved in Magnums cases and shenanigans for the most part, but he somehow always gets convinced to help out.

The Secret Best Friends

Image via Crumpe/Paramount

Higgins is the Major Domo of Robin’s Nest and often the bane of Magnum’s existence. They frequently squabble, and Higgins loves sticking Zeus and Apollo on him for a good run around. He’s ex-British intelligence and has many skills to boot. His skills include excellent military weaponry and tactics knowledge, and he knows many languages that often aid in Magnum’s cases. The man soaks up information like a sponge and is a walking encyclopedia. He and Magnum make perfect rivals, but Higgins is an old softy, and you know they respect each other. Higgins regularly helps out in cases, grumbling most of the time, but you can see that he likes to make use of his old spy skills.

It was also one of the first series to portray veterinarians in a positive light and a more realistic sense. Many shows portrayed them as people prone to breakdowns or mentally tortured. While the guys had moments where they felt haunted by their time in the military, audiences loved to see veterans portrayed as honorable and stable men. Just another quality of the show that makes it exemplary.

Magnum can solve anything, and he usually does so in his Detroit cap, a tropical floral shirt, and a pair of short shorts to complete the look. He uses his charisma to charm everyone around him and always has the audience rooting for him to catch the killer and evade trouble. He constantly has viewers on the edge of their seats as he uses deductive reasoning to assemble the puzzle pieces. If this isn’t the definition of iconic, I don’t know what is.



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