[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Sunday's two-part season premiere of Magnum P.I. Read at your own risk!]
Welcome back, ohana! Following a passionate plea to reverse a cancellation at CBS last summer, the fifth season of Magnum P.I. has finally arrived on NBC, giving fans their first glimpse of Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez) and Juliette Higgins (Perdita Weeks) as a romantic couple.
In between clashing with the HPD detective who has replaced Katsumoto (Tim Kang) and investigating the suspicious deaths of a dentist and then a lifeguard, the two-hour season premiere found Magnum and Higgins weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a relationship after confessing their feelings and sharing a long-awaited kiss at the end of last season. Considering that their friends have a vested interest in them becoming a couple (let us remind you that they even have a group chat dedicated to this noble cause), Magnum and Higgins decide to keep the change in their relationship a secret. But, as viewers came to realize, that doesn't mean they can't have some fun behind closed doors.
Last month, at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, TV Guide sat down with executive producer and showrunner Eric Guggenheim to break down the decision to cross the line from platonic to romantic with Magnum and Higgins, Katsumoto's fight for his badge, an upcoming emotional episode involving T.C.'s (Stephen Hill) relatives, and the new mystery that will hark back to Magnum, Rick (Zachary Knighton) and T.C.'s days in the U.S. military.
Tell me about the decision to have Magnum and Higgins become a couple after four seasons. What changed for you guys in the writers' room?
Eric Guggenheim: It's funny—the will-they-or-won't-they question hangs over a lot of shows, and you know the answer to that question [on Magnum P.I.]. Inevitably, they will, so it's just a question of "when?" and just the journey to get there. And I think if you had asked us in Season 1, "What is the earliest they would have gotten together?" I would have said maybe the end of Season 5, but what happened was the chemistry between Jay and Perdi is just so off the charts, and it was becoming harder and harder to keep them apart, and what I discovered was—and I would talk to Jay about this—we were getting to a point where we were starting to repeat ourselves, where we were doing scenes that were just familiar, and it got to the point where I felt like we were treading water.
And even when you're working on the show, like in editing, and you're seeing things that you don't see on the page, you're seeing looks between the characters and just how powerful it is, it was just getting harder and harder to keep them apart. That said, before we actually made that decision, it was like, What does this look like? Because we didn't want to start down a road and not know where we were headed, we talked about the pros and cons about getting together versus keeping them apart a little bit longer, and the more we talked about putting them together and what that would look like, the more excited we got. It took us to some new places; it deepened the relationship between the two of them. We suddenly had so many more ideas than we did, and so it just seemed like the right time.
The existence of the so-called Moonlighting curse might not even exist, but it's always a conversation that I find writers having when deciding whether to make their two lead characters a couple. How are you trying to depict these early stages of Magnum and Higgins' relationship in a way that would maintain a lot of the same dynamics of the first four seasons but still feel completely different at the same time? How are you trying to keep that tension between the characters?
Guggenheim: It's funny you mentioned the Moonlighting curse. [Laughs.] And that show ended for a lot of reasons. It wasn't so much that they got David [Bruce Willis] and Maddie [Cybill Shepherd] together. [Creator] Glenn Gordon Caron had left the show. He had a star whose feature film career had taken off. There were many reasons why that show ended. I don't think it ended because they got David and Maddie together.
But that said, one of the key elements of our show is that bickering and that banter. And that doesn't go away just because they're together because fundamentally, their personalities are still very different, and their points of view are still very different. Married couples will bicker all the time. In fact, couples that are together tend to bicker more than ones that are just flirting with each other, so it's all done in the scene work, and the stories just offer opportunities for different points of view. They have different outlooks, so they'll continue to clash.
In the first episode of Season 5, Higgins notes that she and Magnum haven't exactly had a conventional courtship, because they're practically living together before even going on an official first date, but there is the dinner scene in the wine cellar that marks the unofficial start of their courtship. How much of the early stages of their relationship will we see this season?
Guggenheim: They're certainly going through a growing period. It is a very non-traditional relationship, and we ended up leaning into that and acknowledging that this is not how normal relationships progress, and when we put them together, there's still inherent risk in them being together. They each acknowledged it at the end of last season, and they discussed it again here. This season, it's very complicated. Not only are they friends, but they're also business partners, so the whole situation is fraught. But for us as writers, that's been a good thing.
Katsumoto is currently dealing with the fallout of his actions at the end of last season, when he helped a convict escape prison to save his ex-wife, who was kidnapped. Why doesn't he immediately want to fight to get his badge back, and why does he insist on punishing himself and starting over?
Guggenheim: To some extent, he doesn't feel like he deserves to have his badge back. It's kind of a self-imposed punishment that he's undergoing, and I do have to say that that storyline has been a lot of fun, because Katsumoto is in a very difficult situation. He's 40-something, he's got a mortgage, he's got alimony payments, he's got a kid going off to college, and he has no job. And for a character who's usually so in control, to put him into that situation, it's been horrible for Katsumoto, but for us it's been great. [Laughs.] I have to say that Tim has also really enjoyed that story.
What prompts Katsumoto to have a change of heart, and how long will we have to see him fight to get back to where he was?
Guggenheim: To answer the second question first, it doesn't happen immediately, and he gets some advice from some of the ohana, and they encourage him to fight, in the same way that when these characters are at their lowest point, the other characters lift them up in some way. We've seen that a lot with Magnum and Higgins and the way they've been there for each other, and the way Magnum, Rick and T.C. have all been there for each other. Katsumoto was not like an original part of the ohana, but he is now very much a part of the ohana, so when they see him making a mistake or on a path that he shouldn't be on, someone's gonna speak up.
Rick is the one who speaks up in this case, but he also has a lot on his plate. What new challenges will he face this season as a new father and also as the owner of La Mariana?
Guggenheim: Well, as anyone who's been a new parent can tell you, that first year is tough. [Laughs.] So for Rick, he's gotta balance the responsibilities of being a parent with the responsibilities of running a business. He's a parent, but he's also not living with the mother of his daughter, so that's a little bit complicated and he still has feelings for her, so he has to figure out a way to find some balance. He does end up getting a lot of help from Kumu [Amy Hill] and then also from Magnum but predominantly from Kumu, because we just love Zach and Amy together, and these scenes are a lot of fun.
We should also talk about Katsumoto's replacement, Detective Chris Childs, played by Michael Rady. How much of this season will be Magnum and Higgins outsmarting him on their cases? Will there be an opportunity for them to work together instead of acting more antagonistically on the job?
Guggenheim: Yeah, they do go up against each other. He is serving as somewhat of a foil for Magnum in the same way that Katsumoto served that function in the early years, but he's a very different character than Katsumoto. He's cockier. He's more willing to break the rules. And there will certainly be stories where they're working together, and there are stories where they're just going to be in conflict with each other. But also, Michael Rady—who, by the way, is phenomenal—has some stories with Katsumoto as well. Michael has just brought something really special to the show, and he's around for a good chunk of the season.
Captain Buck Greene (James Remar), after being kidnapped before the events of the first episode, turns up dead in the second. What can you tease about the new big bad this season, and how will the loss of Captain Buck Greene affect Magnum, Rick and T.C.?
Guggenheim: I'm kind of under lock and key on some of that stuff, but what I can tell you is that there's a major storyline that gets launched in the premiere, and it's something that connects back to Magnum, Rick and T.C.'s days in the military and something that's going to come back and haunt them in a big way.
When NBC saved the show, it ordered 20 episodes that would be divided into two parts. How much of the fifth season have you shot?
Guggenheim: We're shooting episodes 11 and 12 right now, and we're breaking 17 [in the writers' room], so we're almost at the end. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted in mid-January.]
How have you chosen to structure the first half of this season? Will the mystery surrounding Captain Greene's death extend through episode 10, or are you stretching it to become a season-long story?
Guggenheim: Because the season is being broken up into two parts and we're not sure when part 2 will air, I felt we had to tell a story that had an endpoint in episode 10. The idea of doing a cliffhanger can be enticing, but at the same time, I do find that it can be frustrating for viewers. So by the time we got up to 10, there's gonna be some storylines that won't be resolved that will carry forward into part two. But as far as the mystery that we're launching in the premiere, there will be an end to that story.
What else can you tease about the arcs of the characters this season?
Guggenheim: For Rick and T.C., we're actually going to meet some family members, some relatives of theirs. T.C. is still seeing Mahina [Emily Alabi]. He's still fostering Cade, played by Martin Martinez, so he's going to be back. Like I said, we're going to be meeting T.C.'s relatives, and actually, it's an incredibly powerful episode. And if you're not crying at Stephen Hill's performance, I don't think anything will make you cry. It's pretty powerful stuff. Then in the case of Amy, we had a lot of fun last year, and we sent Amy's character on a case with Higgins, so we actually have them teaming up again on a case, and that's a lot of fun. And we also have Amy teaming up with Shammy, so Chris Thornton will be back.
Speaking of relatives, will we meet more of Higgins' family this season?
Guggenheim: We will unpack more of Higgins' backstory. We're gonna learn more about what her life was like before she got to the island, and we're gonna learn a little bit more about her mom.
Magnum P.I. airs Sundays at 9/8c on NBC. Episodes stream the next day on Peacock.