1980s Television

Tomytronics Pac-Man appears on the TV Show, “Magnum P.I.”

For those who grew up in the Eighties, you probably have some memory of the yellow domed Tomytronic version of Pac-Man. While not a completely faithful port of the original game, this beautiful handheld was a reasonable facsimile, and more importantly, it was very popular for a public hungry for a portable Pac-Man experience. It was popular enough that it seeped into pop culture, appearing in TV shows like “Newhart” and in two episodes of “Magnum P.I.“.

On “Magnum P.I.” it appears in the episodes, “Birdman of Budapest” and “Black on White”. It is the former where it is not just a clever nod to pop culture, but has deeper meaning. It symbolizes how the characters in the show, all ex-soldiers, have not been able to get over their pasts and continue to “chase ghosts”, just like Pac-Man. This being an episode featuring the majordomo “Higgins”, we get a rare early glimpse into his life before the show and through the Pac-Man game, some symbolic insight into his mind.

Magnum with his service in Vietnam is constantly wrestling with his past, but Higgins with his “stiff upper lip” attitude often seemed immune to the trials and tribulations of a life spent at war, but if we see the game as a metaphor for their internal struggles, the final scene where we see Higgin’s incredible accomplishment at “chasing ghosts” takes on a deeper meaning.

Higgins: I say, Magnum, this is most difficult.
Magnum: Not really, kid. Of course, it does take excellent peripheral vision, intense concentration and quick reflexes to score really well.
Higgins: I’m sure I’ll do better with a little practice. So far I’ve only reached 24,000. How many points have you scored?

Higgins always radiated buried emotions, but here the writers of the show are teasing us with just how profound those emotions might be. Because of this, the ending of “Black on White” is one of my favorite scenes of Magnum P.I. and a great capper to a wonderful episode (It has Ian McShane in it!).

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