By Ken Tucker
September 22, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Sonja Flemming/CBS
  • TV Show

The new fall season’s most unexpected pleasure has got to be Hawaii Five-0, one of the rare reinventions of an old show that doesn’t just work, but may even prove superior to the original. If you think that’s sacrilegious to say, let me remind you that the original Five-0, which aired from 1968 to 1980, was no TV classic. You’d be hard-pressed to find any enduring moments of high drama in the Jack Lord version — that’s one reason most people remember only three things about it: the theme music, Lord’s triumphant catchphrase ”Book ’em, Danno!” and Lord’s haircut, which waved like the surrounding palm trees.

The new Five-0 follows the tradition of casting a plank of driftwood as its lead — in this case, Alex O’Loughlin, the stiff but apparently unsinkable star of duds such as Moonlight and Three Rivers. O’Loughlin’s Steve McGarrett comes with a backstory introduced in the pilot: His dad is killed by thugs; he agrees to head up a task force formed by the governor of Hawaii (a grim Jean Smart) to bring in the biggest criminals?including, in McGarrett’s mind, his father’s killer (it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s James Marsters).

He gathers a team: Scott Caan, terrific as the moody but excellent Det. Danny ”Danno” Williams, who considers Hawaii a ”pineappleinfested hellhole”; Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly, a busted cop wrongly accused of corruption whom McGarrett reinstates; and Battlestar Galactica‘s Grace Park as Kono Kalakaua, Chin Ho’s surfer cousin who’s fresh out of the police academy. They all quarrel and tease, but you know they’re going to get along. It’s at once predictable and fun.

Underpinning the series is the theme of family. Marsters’ Victor Hesse kills McGarrett’s dad because McGarrett killed Hesse’s brother; what humanizes angry single dad Danno is his love for his daughter; and Chin Ho is needlessly but sweetly protective of Kono.

So far, O’Loughlin has come most alive when he’s engaged in the premiere’s close-quarters, elbow-chopping fight scenes. But it’s clear that, like other CBS shows from NCIS to CSI, the team byplay is going to be the heart of Hawaii Five-0. Thank goodness Caan is here to provide gruff humor, and Kim and Park play off each other nicely. Going up against ABC’s Castle at 10 p.m., Five-0 will have to compete in the chemistry department of crime solving. It has the elements to succeed. B+

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