Series / Magnum, P.I.

Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson and airing on CBS from 1980 to 1988, Magnum, P.I. seemed at first glance to be yet another Action Series show, using the old Hawaii Five-O production facilities in Hawaii, with a handsome lead actor talented in comedic schtick and the usual buddies helping him solve his case-of-the-week. But it soon revealed its more dramatic plot threads by alternating the comically-toned episodes with those concentrating on The Vietnam War background of Thomas Magnum and his friends. The concluding scene in the season three two-part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise?" was the key moment that illustrated Magnum's darker side. It remained the most unexpected and controversial scene of the series' entire run.

These deeper character-developing episodes became fan favorites, and helped to spur the series to a five-year stay in the top-20 rated shows on television between 1981 and 1985. Also, both Tom Selleck (Magnum) and John Hillerman (Higgins) won multiple awards for their work.

Magnum was assisted ably by his friends T.C. and Rick, and alternately helped and hindered by Higgins, the manager of Robin Masters' estate where Magnum lived. Masters was only occasionally heard as The Voice of Orson Welles via telephone.

Donald P. Bellisario (who unlike Larson had a lot to do with the series after the pilot) became known for his darker, almost fantastical overtones (see Quantum Leap), and they were introduced slowly into Magnum, P.I.'s storylines by way of prophetic dreams, psychic connections, and ghosts.

A feature film adaptation is planned in the future. George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey, and even Selleck himself have been floated as possible big-screen Magnums.

Magnum, P.I. contains examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Well, look at the production dates, but pretty much every female has big, BIG hair. Not to mention Magnum's perm.
  • Abnormal Ammo: Magnum uses lemons in "The Love-For-Sale Boat". It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Accidental Aiming Skills: Garwood Huddle manages to shoot the baseball bat Walt Brewster is brandishing into pieces. Turns out Garwood had been aiming for his chest.
    • Susan in "A Girl Named Sue" ends up shooting a Pretty Little Headshot into the Wainwright family portrait when demonstrating her skill to Melissa.
    Magnum: And that was about the most amazing shot I've ever seen.
    Susan: (shyly) Well actually, I-I was aiming for the lamp.
  • Acoustic License: Susan's radio in "Rembrandt's Girl" is able to pick up a signal and play music. From inside of a bank vault.
  • Action Series
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Magnum finds himself giggling at Luther's "onions" joke directed at Lloyd DeWitt in "The Return of Luther Gillis".
    • When Magnum accuses him of really being Robin Masters, Higgins has an epic belly laugh.
  • Adult Fear: This series has more than its share of stalkers, kidnappings, hostage situations, children in danger, etc.
  • All Just a Dream: "Flashback." Subverted in that the dream Magnum has for most of the episode does give him the info he needs to clear the name of his client's grandfather.
  • All Part of the Show: In "Italian Ice", when Magnum manages to disarm Katrina and rescue Margo, the students in Margo's acting class applaud enthusiastically, thinking this was simply one of Margo's acting exercises.
  • Always Know A Pilot: Thomas Magnum, P.I. frequently seeks help from T.C., a helicopter pilot that conducts aerial tours of Hawaii. Though it's often an imposition, T.C. routinely comes through for The Hero.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Zeus and Apollo, Higgins's "lads". Although they're perfectly friendly to everybody but Magnum.
  • Aside Glance
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Thomas Magnum.
  • Automobile Opening: More like Chopper Opening, though the Ferrari does appear.
  • Badass Baritone: Col. Buck Greene.
  • Badass Longcoat: Averted by Susan's red vinyl trenchcoat in "A Girl Named Sue", something Magnum is far too happy to point out.
    Magnum: Nice looking coat! What is it? Unborn linoleum?
  • Badass Moustache: Magnum, obviously, as he's played by Tom Selleck, a man who so defined the moustache in The '80s that on the brief periods he shaved it off, he looked wrong. Higgins and T.C. had these to a lesser extent as well.
  • Band of Brothers: Magnum, Rick, and T.C. (not to mention poor, blown-up Mac) all served together in Vietnam—Magnum was a SEAL, while Rick and T.C were Marines with VMO-2. What they went through over there is precisely why Magnum would die for either of his friends, and they for him.
  • Baseball Episode: There's a softball episode in season 4 ("Squeeze Play"). Noteworthy in that Robin Masters bets a year's use of his estate on the game and Magnum's team loses. The bet is rendered invalid in the end, though.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Magnum grows an unkempt one after his client and love-interest kills herself in front of him at the beginning of season five.
  • Berserk Button: "The Arrow That is Not Aimed": Higgins really loses it when Magnum's found to have dog repellent in his possession yet again, leading to the Draw Sword, Draw Blood below.
  • Big Fancy House: "Robin's Nest" is a 200-acre beach front estate.
  • Big "NO!": In the two-part episode that started off season five, "Echoes of the Mind", Thomas lets out one of these after one of the Dupre Sisters (played by Sharon Stone), with whom he is in love, kills herself offscreen just before the freeze frame.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Magnum to Higgins in "J. 'Digger' Doyle" in The Munchausen below.
    • Everyone to Princess Wanda Martine in "The Big Blow".
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Marchese's dinner dialogue at the start of "Italian Ice" regarding Katrina: "Dearest friends, sometimes she's a real Madonna and then suddenly turns into a witch. It's a very interesting combination. Should we see who it is is at the moment?"
  • Black Best Friend: T.C.—who is the most normal and likable of the group. He is also badass enough to pull a Scary Black Man on occasion.
    • T.C. is so likeable that even Higgins doesn't seem to mind him always referring to him as "Higgy-Baby".
      • He even has it on the sign he creates for Higgins' birthday and attaches to his helicopter.
  • Bland-Name Product: Magnum is seen drinking "Coops" beer in several episodes.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: T.C., during part of "Did You See the Sunrise?". Brainwashed by a brutal, Soviet officer during the Vietnam War to later become a sleeper killer.
  • British Stuffiness: Higgins
  • Broken Pedestal: Olivia Ross at the end of "Double Jeopardy".
    • "Death of the Flowers" subverts this big time. Carol's mentor Judge Kearns had been taking bribes to dismiss cases, Magnum's investigation of said bribes implicates Icepick, affecting Rick and his relationship with him, while Icepick realizes the person who bribed Judge Kearns and then had him murdered is the woman he was in love with decades earlier. In the end, Icepick accompanies the woman to turn herself in, while salvaging his relationship with Rick.
  • Broken Record: "Work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs, work the lock, don't look at the dogs"... Looks up at Zeus and Apollo getting nearer... "Damn it you looked at the dogs."
  • Call Back: Generally, when a recurring character like Luther Gillis appears, expect references to their prior episodes, such the presence of holding cellmate Scrungo whenever Magnum and Luther get arrested.
  • The Cameo: Bruce Forsyth once appeared, appropriately enough playing a game show host (ironically, the same year his only American game, Hot Streak, both went on the air and got cancelled, lasting 4 months).
  • Career-Ending Injury: Dorsey Bramlett in "One More Summer", as Magnum tells him that the episode's bad guys have not been healing his shoulder injury, but just numbing it the whole time, and that playing just once more will ruin his shoulder for good. Dorsey, after careful thought, chooses to go out onto the field anyway.
  • Catch Phrase: Magnum narrating to the audience: "I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong/right."
  • The Charmer: Rick, who usually has some bikini-clad girl in tow.
    • Would make that argument for Magnum and T.C. as well.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The person responsible for stealing the English relic from Northern Ireland in "Faith and Begorrah" is not Father Paddy McGuinness or Brigadier Ffolkes, but the female tour guide who had only previously appeared at the beginning of the episode. It's also implied that she took the relic for the sole reason of keeping Father Paddy away from her tour group.
    • A subversion: The old man seen at the beginning of "Rembrandt's Girl" is important to the episode's plot, but it turns out he's not Herb "Rembrandt" Norton, Susan's father, but Lefty Schultz, his rival and partner-in-crime to the episode's bad guy.
  • The Chew Toy: Magnum in "Of Sound Mind", once he's inherited the bulk of Wilson MacLeish's fortune.
  • Christmas Episode: Season one's "Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too" and season four's "Operation: Silent Night".
  • Clear My Name
    • Magnum spends most of "Foiled Again" trying to clear Higgins of the murder of an abusive bully who'd married the woman Higgins loved.
    • In "Thicker Than Blood", Magnum and Rick do the same for T.C., who's Taking the Heat for another fellow soldier.
    • As do Magnum and T.C. for Rick in "The People vs. Orville Wright".
  • Cliffhanger
    • The memorable seventh season finale "Limbo", in which Magnum apparently dies from a gunshot wound; originally intended as the series finale.
    • The actual series finale did end on a cliffhanger, albeit a much lighter-hearted one. Rick is getting married, but hesitates when it comes time for him to give his vow. Magnum, T.C., and Higgins all prompt him, "I do," and finally he opens his mouth and says, "I..." and the credits start rolling.
  • Cool Car: The Ferrari 308 (and the '29 Bugatti replica in "Flashback").
    • Fans sometimes say the Ferrari was the real star of the show.
  • Crash Course Landing
  • Crossover: With Murder, She Wrote and Simon & Simon.
    • A proposed Quantum Leap script had Sam Beckett leaping into Thomas Magnum, but never reached the filming stage.
  • Crusading Widower: Jean Claude Fornier in "The Man From Marseilles".
    • Michael Doheny (Frank Sinatra) in "Laura", though it's his murdered granddaughter he's out to avenge.
  • Cultured Badass: Higgins
  • Cultured Warrior: Higgins
  • Darker and Edgier: Magnum always had a mix of action and humor, but episodes seemed to go into darker and darker territory as the series went on.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The eponymous Hall of Records clerk in "Ms. Jones", who hires Magnum to find her missing husband.
  • Delivery Not Desired: Magnum writes a letter to the daughter he thinks is dead, in a plot about why he doesn't kill her murderer.
  • Disappeared Dad: Magnum's father died in Korea when Magnum was ten.
  • The Don: Icepick is an interesting example, as while he has no problem threatening people he feels wronged him with terrible things, he feels sick at the thought of innocent people getting hurt.
  • Draw Sword, Draw Blood: "The Arrow That is Not Aimed": When he's in trouble with Higgins yet again, Magnum mentions this trope in reference to Higgins unsheathing a katana. Then Higgins gets this crazy gleam in his eye and says "I know."
  • Drop-In Character: Jim "Mac" Bonnick and Luther Gillis are the first that come to mind.
    • It's clear that Higgins sees Magnum himself as this despite Magnum actually living on the property.
  • Dropped After the Pilot: Rick's Cafe Americain, a disco club, is never seen after the pilot, replaced by the King Kamehameha Club. It's later explained in "The Curse of the King Kamehameha Club" that the Cafe Americain had gone under, leading Rick to buy the KKC.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Aside from the original Theme Tune by Ian Freebairn-Smith, many of the show's recurring characters don't appear until after seasons two or three. And Magnum introduces himself several times as "Tom" Magnum, rather than the more familiar "Thomas".
    • The "trades" between Magnum and Higgins for use of the tennis court / wine cellar / photo lab etc. were mentioned a lot less as the series went on.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Orville Wright. He much prefers to go by his nickname, Rick.
  • Expansion Pack Past: Higgins
    Magnum: Higgins, what did you do with your life? Is there anything you haven't done, anywhere you haven't been?
  • The Faceless
    • Robin Masters, only seen onscreen once, and most definitely not from the front.
    • Icepick was only mentioned and never actually seen for the first few seasons.
  • Faking Engine Trouble: In "Home From the Sea", Rick takes one of his girlfriends out on a boat for the 4th of July. Later, he tells her one of the engines is out so they can't make it home through the reef in the dark and will have to wait until morning, and he intends to make the most of it...until he starts to get the feeling that Magnum's in trouble and starts up both engines without a problem. She just rolls her eyes at that.
  • Fanservice: Not just the unending stream of women who want Magnum, and not just the endless parade of near-naked beach babes in the background. This was Tom Selleck as a Mr. Fanservice, often wearing a loose shirt and tiny shorts that showed off plenty.
  • Film Noir: Other than the bright sunshine in Hawaii, the emphasis on lightheartedness (at first...), and the fact it's in color, the series follows the rest of this trope pretty straight.
  • First Name Ultimatum: Higgins does this to Magnum a lot.
  • Food as Bribe
    • To Lt. Tanaka, when he's on a diet. Other times, Magnum just has to pay him money.
    • Also used shamelessly with Mac whenever Magnum needed a peek at classified military documents.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Magnum (the Optimist), Higgins (the Cynic), T.C. (the Apathetic), and Rick (the Realist).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four main characters fit these roles pretty well. Magnum (choleric), Higgins (melancholic), T.C. (sanguine), and Rick (phlegmatic).
  • Freudian Slip: On occasion, Higgins refers to Robin Masters's possessions as his own. Towards the end of the series, Magnum uses this as justification for his suspicion that Higgins really is Robin.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Averted in "Smaller Than Life" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy", which have lasers invisible to the eye and characters taking great pains to avoid them.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Rick
  • Friendly Enemy: Magnum and Higgins are constantly at odds, but gradually develop a genuine fondness for each other.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Magnum and Susan in "A Girl Named Sue", right down to Susan's matching red Ferrari.
    • Just about all the characters (regular and recurring) in "The Treasure of Kalaniopu'u".
  • Friend on the Force: Lieutenant Tanaka. After Tanaka is killed, Lt. Nolan Page takes his place.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Higgins is this except when he is quarrelling with Magnum. Which is a good deal of the time.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Higgins, very, very much.
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Higgins again. He's the Baron of Perth, but joined the British Army as a common soldier after being sent down from Eton. He made Sergeant Major before his retirement.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the guest house, Thomas has a Gauguin painting—actually it's a combination of two Gauguin paintings, created especially for the show. Prominently featuring a beautiful topless woman. On national television.
    • The phone number on Cleo's business card in "Straight and Narrow" is (808)-555-6969.
    • "Resolutions, Part 2" has the guys get into a fight at a strip club, where the naked breasts of one of the dancers are accidentally seen briefly in two separate shots.
  • Good-Guy Bar: The King Kamehameha Club.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Magnum often only needs a pick for a lock, though occasionally he's accurately depicted using a torsion wrench as well.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Each of the guys had at least one of these:
    • Magnum after the deaths of Mac and Michelle.
    • Rick after the death of his sister.
    • T.C. when his friend gets killed getting him a soda.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Masters—to the point where, in "J. 'Digger' Doyle", great pains are taken to ensure that we never see his face (though we see a lot of his hand, and a few instances of his back to the camera, in that episode).
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Jennifer Chapman in "Tropical Madness" for Higgins and Jeannie in "A Little Bit of Luck, A Little Bit of Grief" for Rick.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Episodes like "Never Again... Never Again" and "The Sixth Position" use this in nighttime scenes on Robin's Nest. Other episodes avert this for similar scenes.
  • How We Got Here: "The Treasure of Kalaniopu'u" opens this way.
  • How's Your Texan Accent?: John Hillerman uses his natural Texan accent playing Elmo Ziller (actually Higgins in disguise) in "The Elmo Ziller Story" and Sam Caldwell in "Murder by Night".
  • I Just Knew: Magnum spends most of "Home From the Sea" trying to stay afloat in the ocean; T.C., Rick, and Higgins all have a bad feeling about him despite having no reason to think anything is wrong. When they acknowledge it and start looking, T.C. tells Rick—who turns out to be only a few hundred feet away from where Magnum is treading water—to stay right where he is until dawn, but can't explain why he does so.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How Magnum figures out the "inside man" of the King Kamehameha Club robbery in "I, Witness", as the robbers refer to Keoki by name, despite never being told it prior.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted at least twice in the series. Magnum is led to believe for some time that this also happens to his daughter Lily.
  • Insistent Terminology: As Magnum will surely attest, it's "private investigator", not "detective".
  • The Jeeves: Higgins.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Wilson MacLeish, despite being an all-around Jerk Ass ungrateful to everyone around him (leaving paltry sums to those who genuinely worked hard for him), has a point in not leaving the bulk of his fortune to his cousins Tony and Marina. Tony is perpetually broke with possible mob connections, while Marina is clearly an alcoholic, and there's no reason to believe they wouldn't squander his fortune somehow.
  • Karaoke Box: Used to hilarious effect in "The Man From Marseilles", when Magnum has to sing "Misty" at the Sing Sing Palace.
  • Killed Off for Real: Lt. Tanaka in "Tigers Fan."
    • Michelle in "Unfinished Business".
    • "Mac" MacReynolds in "Did You See the Sunrise?".
  • Knowledge Broker: Icepick, by way of Rick, is Magnum's go-to guy for information that can't be acquired through legal channel.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Come on, you didn't think Jim Bonnick coming to rope Magnum into his schemes was karma for Magnum's treatment of Mac the first two seasons?
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Magnum's aforementioned Aside Glance to the audience whenever something ridiculous was going on.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The main reason why Wendy Wright in "Distant Relative" was murdered, as she had witnessed a crime being committed, whether knowingly or not. Even worse, Magnum was with her before she was killed.
  • Lightning Reveal: How Magnum discovers Captain Cooly's body in "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii".
  • Like Brother and Sister: Magnum and Carol Baldwin. She logged more time with Magnum throughout the series than any of his numerous love interests. Could possibly be seen as Will They or Won't They?, but if the show hinted at this at all, it was extremely subtle.
  • Long-Lost Relative
    • Over the course of the series, we come to learn that (a) Magnum met and married a woman in Vietnam, (b) she's still alive, and (c) she has a daughter.
    • Higgins's series of half-brothers.
  • Man Child: Thomas can sometimes appear to be this. Higgins often assumes a parental role with him. Throughout the series it's established that Thomas' father died when he was very young, and that his military service caused him to feel he had never had a chance to be a young man.
  • Meaningful Name: Discussed by Carol In-Universe regarding her mentor Judge Hannibal Kearns in "Death of the Flowers":
    Carol: Thomas, you know Hannibal, the other Hannibal, he committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman army.
    • Subverted later when Magnum determines that Judge Kearns' murder was made to look like a suicide.
    • Amy Crane in "Don't Say Goodbye", revealed to actually be her friend Carol Foster, having taken over Amy's identity and the care of her grandmother Agatha.
  • Mixed Archetypes
  • The Munchausen: Higgins is always telling stories about all his adventures. They annoy his companions despite the fact that some of them are quite interesting. They are also all quite true.
    • It was already being lampshaded in season one's "J. 'Digger' Doyle" where, under a truth serum, Higgins tells such a story virtually nonstop before and during his rescue, to the point of Magnum having to yell a massive "SHUT UP!!".
  • Near Death Clairvoyance: Magnum in "Limbo", as he lies dying in the hospital.
  • Nephewism: Buzz Benoit's (intentionally) Cousin Oliver nephew Mickey in "Squeeze Play".
  • Nice Hat: Magnum's trademark baseball caps, including a Detroit Tigers cap and a VMO-2 cap from his Vietnam days.
    • Luther Gillis' Panama hat, in keeping with his hardboiled Film Noir persona.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Buzz Benoit (Dick Shawn) in "Squeeze Play", for Playboy magazine's Hugh Hefner, Penthouse magazine's Bob Guccione, and Hustler magazine's Larry Flynt.
  • Noodle Incident: The Hungarian acrobats.
  • Not So Different: Magnum and Luther Gillis, as much as Magnum would like to believe otherwise.
  • Nun Too Holy: David Bannister in "The Jororo Kill" employs a habit as a disguise.
  • Odd Friendship: Higgins and T.C.
  • Only Known by Initials: T.C. (His real name is Theodore Calvin.)
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Orville "Rick" Wright, Jim "Mac" Bonnick, and Francis "Icepick" Hofstetler.
  • Papa Wolf: Magnum with Lily, naturally.
  • Paranormal Episode: The episode "Rapture". Magnum sees the ghost of a young boy, leading him to investigate the boy's death.
    • Another had Thomas in an extended Near-Death Experience after he got shot and seriously wounded. This almost was the Series Finale until the series got renewed at the last minute.
  • The Patriarch: Rick considers Icepick to be like a father to him.
  • Perfumigation: "Patchismo" cologne for Magnum, unfortunately, in "The Legacy of Garwood Huddle".
  • Perpetual Poverty: Magnum does live on a lush Hawaiian estate free of charge, but his personal finances are another story...
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: Model/actress Erin Gray appeared on first season episode "J. 'Digger' Doyle" as a security expert hired by Robin Masters to evaluate Magnum. It was supposed to lead to a spinoff series for Gray, but the series never came to pass.
    • Season four's "The Return of Luther Gillis," dealing with an old-time St. Louis PI tangling with Magnum, was another show planned as a spinoff. Unlike "J. 'Digger' Doyle" above, however, Gillis did make several appearances as a Drop-In Character—the PDP was a sequel to the same season's "Luther Gillis: File #521," the first of five episodes featuring him.
    • In season three, "Two Birds of a Feather" featured a fellow Vietnam War aviator who crashes into Robin Masters' tidal pool. According to the Magnum Mania website, "it was a 'backdoor pilot' for a potential TV series about treasure hunter and ace combat pilot Sam Hunter and his family. The Mike Post and Pete Carpenter score that is heard when Sam comes home (and in the closing credits) was to be used as the theme song. The pilot went unsold. After the pilot failed to attract any interest, Donald P. Bellisario took the bare bones of the concept and eventually developed it into Airwolf (1984-1986).
  • Porn Stache: Magnum himself of course, but Higgins and T.C. too. A very high facial-hair quotient.
  • Prison Episode: Magnum goes undercover in one in "A Pretty Good Dancing Chicken".
  • Private Detective
  • Private Eye Monologue: Magnum in every episode.
    • Played with whenever Luther Gillis shows up and narrates his own adventures.
    • And with Susan Johnson in "A Girl Named Sue".
  • Psychic Powers: It's very low-key, but Magnum has moderate clairvoyant abilities. Sometimes it's just an intuitive "little voice," other times he has actual visions and precognitive dreams.
    • Laura Bennett in "Fragments" is a Not-So-Phony Psychic who hires Magnum, having apparently seen her own murder. She later realizes she was only half-right: The killer is actually trying to kill Magnum.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Torah, Torah, Torah", "Holmes Is Where the Heart Is", "Novel Connection", "Legend of the Lost Art", etc.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Higgins's prayerful response to most of Magnum's activities: "Oh. My. GOD!!!"
  • Pygmalion Plot: "Professor Jonathan Higgins". Magnum even lampshades it, referring to My Fair Lady. Higgins, purist that he is, prefers that he compare it to Pygmalion itself.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Higgins.
  • Raiders of the Lost Parody: "Kiss of the Sabre" features a guest star who is an author working on an adventure novel somewhere between Raiders and James Bond, using Magnum and friends as her inspiration. Doubles as Actor Allusion, since Tom Selleck was considered for the role of Indiana Jones but had to turn it down because he was already under contract for Magnum.
    • This actually happens twice. In "Legend of the Lost Art", a notorious villain is a huge fan of the old movies that Raiders was derived from, and plans all his crimes using elements of said films. Magnum, again cast as the Indiana type character, plans his countermoves by drawing on his own memories of said films.
  • Rancher: In one episode there is a teenage rancher who needs our heroes' help.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: "I, Witness"
  • Rated M for Manly: All four leads are different styles of Manly Men. Magnum, Higgins, T.C., and Rick.
  • Real Person Cameo: Carol Channing at the new wave club in "Distant Relative". Magnum even includes it in his story to Rick and T.C. later.
    • Magnum briefly meets Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers at a bar near Tigers Stadium in "A Sense of Debt".
  • Recurring Character: A veritable arsenal of them. Carol Baldwin deserves special mention, being the closest thing the series ever had to a regular female character.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Magnum is red, Higgins is blue.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: In "A Girl Named Sue", Magnum says he "bent the firing pin" of his gun hammering his way out of the locked storeroom. If one considered it to be a Colt MKIV/Series 70 9 millimeter (the model in real life, as opposed to the .45 it was called on the show), this would be absolutely impossible to do.
  • Remember the New Guy: Ron Pennington in "Round and Around" is said to be a close friend of T.C.'s, even though he only appears and is mentioned in this one episode.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii" (the pilot movie) had a light jazz piece by Ian Freebairn-Smith that was used for the first nine post-pilot episodes; the show didn't have the Mike Post and Pete Carpenter theme we all know and love until "Thicker Than Water".
    • The original theme had a Mannix-like "early '70s action hero" feel, while the Post-Carpenter theme features an early '80s style persistent rock obbligato like (the four-years-later) Miami Vice.
      • Purists be warned—Universal subsequently took the trope to its logical conclusion by dubbing the Post-Carpenter theme onto syndicated prints of the pilot and the first nine regular episodes! Uniformity is one thing, but still...
  • Retired Badass: Higgins. Occasionally we get evidence that not everything about his stories is exaggerated.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Mac, Magnum's friend and fellow Vietnam veteran. He'd normally show up only when Thomas needed access to military information, but you got the idea that he was one of Magnum's closest friends and that while the two hung out together, it was always off-camera. And then came "Did You See the Sunrise?".
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Magnum wasn't above simply running away from the bad guys if he got what he wanted or things got too hairy.
  • Series Fauxnale: "Limbo"
  • Shared Universe: With Simon & Simon (which followed the show on CBS's lineup and by extension a One Season Wonder show called Whiz Kids that crossed over with S&S), Hawaii Five-O (which Magnum replaced in CBS's lineup and is continually referenced throughout the show's run—see What Could Have Been), and Murder, She Wrote.
  • Shout-Out: One of Garwood Huddle's old robber buddies uses the name William Daniels.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Magnum versus Higgins, though usually rather lighthearted.
  • Snap Back: In the episode "Did You See the Sunrise?", some pretty dramatic things happen. the Ferrari is blown up, T.C. is brainwashed and Magnum freaking kills someone. The next episode there is no mention of this, Magnum and T.C. are fine and the Ferrari is inexplicably back again.
  • Split Personality: The Dupre Sisters, played by Sharon Stone in the episode "Echoes of the Mind".
  • Sports Hero Backstory: Magnum is noted to have played on his high school football team—which won the Virginia State championship—and then been quarterback of the U.S. Naval Academy football team.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: Whenever Magnum contacted Mac (an active duty Naval officer) about some bit of classified information he needed for the current case, this was almost always how Mac gave Magnum the information. "Well, I'm gonna go get a soda. Whatever you do, do not read the file on my desk while I'm gone, okay? Because its classified, Thomas. I mean it. Do not read it, no matter what you do."
    • Subverted with Carol in "One Picture is Worth", as she simply "drops" her case file onto the ground for Magnum to pick up and read.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Poor Jean Claude Fornier in "A.A.P.I".
  • Sunshine Noir
  • Taps: One episode had him thinking back to his father's funeral, after he'd been killed in Korea, and Taps is played following a 21 Gun Salute by his fellow Marines.
  • The Alleged Car: In Season 5 episode "Blind Justice", when Higgins cuts Magnum off from using the Ferrari, Rick's friend Willie hooks him up with a red Jaguar E-Type convertible. Whilst the E-Type is one of the most iconic classic sports cars, as Sports Car International magazine named it the best sports car of the 1960s, Magnum's car, on the other hand, is a real lemon.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Crossing with Real-Life Relative, in "Lest We Forget", June Lockhart's younger self is played by her daughter Anne Lockhart, and Jose Ferrer's younger self is played by his son Miguel Ferrer.
    • The opening scenes of "Let Me Hear the Music" has Dennis Weaver's younger self played by his son Rusty Weaver, his other son Robby Weaver as George Lee Jessup, and his other other son is longtime Magnum producer Rick Weaver.
    • Higgins' father gets one in "Who is Don Luis Higgins...". Courtesy of Anthony LaPaglia, no less!
  • Title Drop: Many episodes are named after either an important or seemingly-random line from said episode.
  • Title Sequence Replacement: If you're watching an episode in syndication, chances are you'll see the opening from season seven (with the standard Magnum theme and title font), even for earlier seasons.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Susan Johnson (Carol Burnett) in "A Girl Named Sue".
    • While Higgins is always seen to be capable in combat, the Murder, She Wrote episode "Magnum on Ice" is the only time where his infamous karate chop actually works.
  • The Troubles: A major plot point in "No Need to Know". Brigadier Ffolkes even gives a short exposition early in the episode.
  • 21-Gun Salute: At Magnum's father's funeral.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: The scenes in "Home From the Sea" are constantly cutting to these; for example, T.C. saying that he doesn't want to be out here all night cuts to Magnum, who's been out in the sea all night, which cuts to Rick saying he and his date will have to stay all night on his boat.
  • Tragic One-Shot Character: Many, sadly, with several of them being friends of the main characters.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Higgins has three illegitimate brothers, all played by Hillerman.
    • The one time we see Higgins' dad, he's also played by Hillerman.
  • The Unreveal: In the final seasons, Magnum suspects that Higgins was the real Robin Masters all along. This is never proven or disproven.
  • Video Wills: Wilson MacLeish in "Of Sound Mind", complete with The Tape Knew You Would Say That.
  • The Vietnam War: Forms a critical part of many characters' backstories. Magnum, T.C. and Rick all fought together in 'Nam, which is why their bond is so strong. The show itself was one of the earliest shows to portray Vietnam veterans as human beings instead of stone cold killers.
  • Vigilante Execution: Magnum, at the conclusion of season three's two-part premiere "Did You See the Sunrise?". One of the most memorable moments of the series.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Higgins and Magnum.
  • The Voice: Orson Welles as Robin Masters.
  • The Watson: Rick, a former Trope Namer.
  • Wham Episode: "Did You See the Sunrise?"
  • Wham Line: "Nuns don't work on Sunday."
  • Wham Shot: The ending of "Faith and Begorrah" has Rick and T.C. spying on the adulterous couple they and Magnum have been tailing for the whole episode at a lighthouse. Through the camera, Rick sees them arguing at first, but seconds later he watches as the woman is suddenly thrown off the lighthouse to her death. Cue credits.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The beginning of "Laura" is the only time we see the title character's babysitter in the episode, talking on the phone (and paying little attention) and telling Laura to go out of the apartment. Considering that Laura eventually ends up murdered, you would think said babysitter would at least be mentioned again.
  • Who's on First?: Magnum and T.C. in "Missing in Action", after T.C. fixes the Ferrari:
    T.C.: That'll be fifty bucks.
    Magnum: Fifty bucks? What for?
    T.C.: Well, there's something known as parts man.
    Magnum: Fifty bucks for spark plugs?! C'mon!
    T.C.: That's right.
    Magnum: Look, I gotta run. I'll see you this afternoon.
    T.C.: Hey man, it's Friday, Thomas. I need the fifty bucks to buy a fuel pump for my chopper.
    Magnum: Well all I got's a twenty.
    T.C.: Alright man, that will do for right now.
    Magnum: T.C.! You mean you'd let me drive outta here broke?
    T.C.: Well that's the way you always drive in! The money, Thomas?
    Magnum: Okay, I tell you what I'll do. I'll loan you ten till this evening.
    T.C.: You'll loan me ten? You owe me fifty!
    Magnum: That's right, which I don't have, so I'll loan you ten to keep you afloat. You can pay me back, when I pay you the fifty.
    T.C.: Whoa-oa, what's with this Abbott and Costello routine? - You owe me fifty, you loan me ten? Forget it!
    Magnum: Oh, ok. Thanks, I owe you one. (drives off)
    T.C.: You owe me one? You owe me fifty!!
  • Whole Plot Reference: "The Treasure of Kalaniopu'u" is this show's version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
    • "Innocence... A Broad" shares many similarities to Born Yesterday.
    • "Legend of the Lost Art", for obvious reasons.
    • "Kapu" has Magnum get injured, lose his memory, and live among a tribe of natives, just like Captain Kirk in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Paradise Syndrome". The episode is also similar to Witness, in that Magnum also has to find a young native girl who had witnessed a murder.
  • With Friends Like These...: As strong as their bonds are, Rick and T.C. are frequently irritated with Magnum and for good reason. He constantly owes them money (helicopter expenses, bar tabs, etc.), drags them into his cases to do assorted work, borrows their belongings (sometimes damaging or losing them in the process), and has a habit of not making good on promises or debts.
  • Woman Scorned: Holly Fox in "The Look" sees herself as this, so much so that she hires Magnum to find her missing fiance so she can kill him.
    • Katrina Tremaine in "Italian Ice", when Magnum doesn't reciprocate her affections, goes on her version of a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, not only going off to kill Magnum's girlfriend, but also shooting Higgins. (He gets better.)
    • Susan Johnson in "Rembrandt's Girl" is a milder example, understandably pissed that the coworker she thought was going to propose to her was actually planning to frame her for embezzling from their bank.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Ivan in "Did You See the Sunrise?". He's spectacularly wrong.
    • Walt Brewster in "The Legacy of Garwood Huddle". He's also quite wrong.

Alternative Title(s): Magnum PI