Burn Notice Vs. Magnum, P.I.

04 Jun

I don’t mean which one is a better show. I don’t see how you could answer a question like that. I mean, which one would win a fight, if Michael Weston and Thomas Magnum got into it? In their prime, of course.

A lot of people might not even remember Magnum, P.I., but I do, Thursday nights, right before Simon and Simon. I actually think that in terms of theme music and introduction montages, Magnum’s got Burn Notice hands down.

Sometimes I catch Magnum on A&E, and that intro takes me back to my black and white television, right by my bed in my room. There was evil in the world, the television told me, but don’t worry. There’s also a cure for it.

In case you don’t remember, Thomas Magnum was a private detective with Special Forces training, who lived in a mansion and drove a Ferrari. He was laid back, physically scultped, perfected the eighties moustache, and was unbelievably, shockingly moral.

If you were a barely dressed woman floating on a raft in front of him, with your butt cheeks in his face, he thought that was embarrassing, and he looked away.

The mansion wasn’t his and neither was the Ferrari, and it was a good thing, because he frequently took on cases for no charge at all. If you were a hot widow who thought your husband had been murdered and not killed in a water skiing accident as the cops insisted, and some guys had been coming around asking about your son’s gambling debts, Magnum would straighten that out for you, with Higgins bitching about something the whole time.

And he also wouldn’t sleep with you, even if you were a super-duper hot widow, because of your vulnerable state, even if you threw yourself at him.

It kind of irritated Magnum, most of the time, when women threw themselves at him.

There are a lot of parallels between Magnum and Michael Weston. Michael doesn’t live in a mansion, but he drives a cool car. It’s a different kind of cool car, but it’s cool. It’s rough and tumble – he rides it pretty hard, and has to replace the windshield a lot, and I don’t know what he does about the bullet holes, but he does something.

Both of them talk to us in voiceovers, using generalizations like, “When you’re a spy…” or “When you’re a detective…” And they give us tips, too, like they’re teaching a class.

You don’t want to go screwing around with either of them. Both of them used to kill for the government. Neither of them likes to, but it’s practically second nature. If they get in a fight with you, they’re not trying to win – they know they’re going to win. What they’re trying to do is refrain from killing you, out of compassion and mercy.

They’ve both got their entourages, too. Sam Axe is Michael Weston’s Rick – a couple of sidekicks who have buddies on the police force, buddies at the Coast Guard, buddies at the electric company, whatever the plot requires. Let’s get this story moving.

Both Sam and Rick like to drink, they like the ladies, and if you want them to dress up as telephone repairmen and help you break into an office, they’ll do that, too, with no discussion about fees or inconvenience or even expenses. They’ve just got an extra telephone repairman suit, in the trunk.

I guess that makes Fiona the TC of Burn Notice; that’s a little weird. But the truth is, Michael Weston is considerably more vicious and brutal than Thomas Magnum. Sure, Magnum will kill you if he has to, but Michael Weston has Fiona blow something up every week.

Magnum is much more likely to need a helicopter ride, than a bomb.

And if Magnum kills you, he has to walk pensively down the beach afterward, get his mind around what the murder does to his soul. Come to terms with the burden that is his own badassery, before he gets in the Ferrari he doesn’t have to pay for, and heads back to the mansion he lives in for free.

Michael Weston – not so much. We don’t usually see him kill anyone on the show. But the implication is, he’s very recently killed lots of people. It’s not his past haunting his dreams, it’s his present. Murder is a feature of his current self that he’s learning to control, right in front of us, but if he were to kill someone, he’d be pretty icy about it. He wouldn’t need a walk on the beach, or a piano solo.

When I was a kid, I thought that Thomas Magnum was a perfectly reasonable expectation for male adulthood. I figured that I would probably have a gun and crazy combat training, and that I’d spend most of the time straightening things out for people.

How does that happen, I wonder, the first time? I mean, I understand if it’s been four years, and every week or so you solve a mystery, that people are going to pretty soon hear about it, and then when someone steals a jewel right off an heiress’s neck during a cocktail party, and you’re standing right there. Someone’s just going to come out and say it, dude, think you can find this lady’s jewel for us, while you’re here?

The first time though. Like picking someone out of the party at random.

That reminds me, I was starting to think Michael Weston doesn’t have a Higgins, but he does – it’s his mom. See, he’s got to take some crap from her, since she’s his mom, just like Magnum had to take some crap from Higgins, since he was in charge of the mansion and the Ferrari. Both Higgins and Michael’s mom feel pretty free to hand out problem-solving services, because of that minor psychological advantage.

I love watching both of these shows because the characters are so archetypically ideal. Like iconic western figures, they always stay cool, always know what to do, and there’s nothing experimental going on with the storytelling – they’re going to tell you what the hell happened at the end of every show.

So the first answer to the question, who would win a fight between them, is that a fight would be all but impossible.

These two guys have nearly identical morals. It’s a philosophical stretch, imagining them disagreeing about anything at all.

Even if they were hired by opposing people, well, whichever one was hired by the guy who was immoral, he’d figure it out before having to fight the other one. They’d work together by the end of the episode.

Magnum’s at a bit of a disadvantage, there. Full season story arcs were not common back in his day.

The best you could hope for was a popular character from a popular episode, coming back to engage the milker the next year. Or you could dig the crossover-two-parter, like when Rick and A.J. Simon showed up, giving Magnum trouble until they figured out they were on the same side, and then they all developed mutual respect, agreed to plug each other’s shows.

Magnum even crossed over with Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. Turns out, he can solve whodunits, too. But Jessica can’t kill people. She’s an old lady. She types and drinks and explains stuff, gets knives thrown at her through windows once in a while. She’s lucky Magnum showed up that time, in fact.

No, the only way Michael Weston and Thomas Magnum would get in a fight is in the sci-fi realm, some weird parallel reality. Jim, if we do not fight to the death, they will kill us both.

Have you lost your mind, Spock, you green-blooded hobgoblin!

Anyway, in that situation, I think Michael Weston’s got Magnum, and it’s only because Michael is more vicious, and mean. He got that from his dad, and then he got lucky, picked up morality and wits from his awesome, chain-smoking mom.

Magnum’s violent, dark side is a demon from his past that he wishes he could leave behind. Michael’s is right there riding shotgun, wearing shades and eating yogurt.

Michael would very quickly and decisively do what had to be done, when he figured out the score. When he figured out that it was either him or Magnum.

I think Michael would probably take him, but I’ll tell you, he would leave town right after that. He’d have his ear to the ground, and he’d know Rick was going to call Icepick, and then it would be on.

I’ll tell you what I would love to see, is a crossover of Magnum, P.I. and Burn Notice. Send Michael to Hawaii, have him run afoul of retired Thomas Magnum. It’s not like we’re totally grounded in reality here, so why not? Daniel Jackson was just running around over there, all buff and muscular.

I’ll throw the debate out there to you guys. Fair fight, no guns – Michael Weston or Thomas Magnum?


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15 responses to “Burn Notice Vs. Magnum, P.I.

  1. shawn

    June 4, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Too easy…it’s Magnum. Hands down. Don’t get me wrong-not saying Burn Notice is an inferior show. In fact, it probably is a better show. And Bruce Campbell? Well, the case is practically closed right there. Man, oh man! If only Sam Axe was chillin’ in Hawaii in the ’80’s!! Now that’s a parallel universe/timeline i could dig!
    Here it is. Michael Westen seems to be the more serious hard-ass. Hand-to-hand, he should probably wipe the floor with Magnum every time…even though Magnum looks to have a physical edge (we talking “in their primes” here). The way i hear it, Westen’s a karate mofo. Don’t ever remember seeing Magnum throw anything resembling a “judi” chop (judo, that is) or even a “ninji” chop (ninja), and i am pretty sure Magnum could not possibly have launched a kick above his own waistline, not because he would’ve been unable to learn such a maneuver…and y’all know what i mean here…yep, nut-huggin, short-shorts. So, even with his Navy SEAL training and military intelligence gig, Magnum just seems to be a good duker and, at times, not even the best in his own self-titled show. Am pretty sure have seen Magnum have his ass practically handed to him a number of times.
    So you must be wondering why i say Magnum takes the throwdown for all the marbles. Don’t seem to be building a case for it, do i? It’s simple really.
    The lovable guy with the funny laugh and demons in his past always wins. It’s as certain as the chain of command in the holy cartoon trinity of violence goes mouse-cat-dog.
    Westen probably slaps Magnum around for a great deal of the fight, with Magnum occasionally throwing in some nasty shots. I see Magnum on the ground a lot, groaning a lot and spittin a lot of blood, but that’s just where i’d want Magnum. (Think Mal vs the Operative in ‘Serenity.’) Conversely, Magnum would totally get killed if he was beatin the crap out of Westen. He couldn’t kill the battered Westen (the only exception being if it turned out Magnum found out Westen had killed his wife…remember that torch Magnum was carrying, don’t ya?). Similarly, Westen, being a good guy, and even knowing the “it’s me or him” score, would pause…just a hair…with his coup de grace, and that’d be it. Don’t know exactly how, but it’d happen. Beaten Magnum, knowing that Westen would kill him, would end it, maybe with a snapped neck or a suffocating rear choke hold, and as Westen clawed wildly in desparation until finally going slack, Magnum would slowly close his eyes. Game over. Cue Magnum walking, with a slight limp, down the beach, holding his the side with the broken ribs, too morally beat down to wipe his own blood off in the surf.
    Plus, the moustache.

  2. Rob

    June 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Don’t count out Jessica. She might not have the killing skills, but someone dies whenever she visits. She has no control over it, though. She could get Michael or Magnum just as easily as the guy selling ice cream.

  3. Rebecah

    June 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Quoting: “Michael Weston is considerably more viscous and brutal than Thomas Magnum.” and later…
    “Michael is more viscous, and mean.”

    Well, there you have it right there. If Michael is more viscous [having viscosity; the resistance of a liquid to flow freely] then Magnum would definitely win, because he could just scoop up the viscous Michael into a cup, because no matter how mean the jello is, you can always clean it up just fine.

    HOWEVER, if Michael is more VICIOUS [characterized by vice; evil or depraved], then he probably has it on Magnum.

    • thomaschalfant

      June 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

      Rebecah you are the Michael Weston of spell checking. I think that makes me Thomas Magnum, so don’t kill me.

  4. Bill V

    June 4, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I started to post earlier but have never seen burn notice. I still vote for Magnum because I dig the old school vibe of the guy.

  5. Bobo

    June 5, 2010 at 12:06 am

    How are “Dukes of Hazzard” and “BJ and the Bear” not included in these TV arguments?

  6. Bobo

    June 5, 2010 at 12:08 am

    had a good one written out for you Shawn then realized it wasn’t my sub-page! very constructive though…i had resorted to pot shots!

  7. Gregory Wilcox

    June 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    i think it’s more likely that Magnum would be an unfortunate casualty when someone else comes after Weston. then we’d all be sad, especially Monica.

  8. Burn Notice Fanatic

    September 6, 2010 at 5:11 am

    They both are two good shows. Burn Notice is just more contemporary

    • Charles

      December 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      What a great article! Though I agree with your assessment of Madeline Weston as Michael’s “Higgins” I think she’s also his “Robin Masters”

      In other words, I think we’re going to find out that she is ultimately responsible for burning him.

      • Tom Chalfant

        December 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

        That’s a really great call – I’ll bet you’re right. Even recently, Jesse mentioned they’d be getting back in with the government and she reacted funny to it. It’s been a while since I wrote this one, so thanks for commenting – gave me a reason to read it again!

  9. Frederick J. van Rijn

    January 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Selleck claims in a recent interview that he fought to make and keep Thomas Magnum a believable, vulnerable, flawed character. The original character, according to Selleck was the old stewardess-on-each-arm hair-perfect-after-escaping-explosion private eye, which he did not want to do.

  10. paul

    September 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    that artical is the funniest thing i’ve ever read on the net. it was genius. i am so impressed & am a fan of magnum & BN


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