Five-0 Redux: Going real Jersey

Sep. 7, 2013 | 36 Comments

BY WENDIE BURBRIDGE / Special to the Star-Advertiser

It wasn’t until I saw Scott Caan portray a Newark police officer on “Hawaii Five-0” did I learn there was more to New Jersey than guidos and mobsters. Having lived in Hawaiʻi nearly all my life, everything I previously knew about New Jersey came from “Saturday Night Live.”

Don’t laugh — my knowledge of New Jersey was about as vast as some of the information folks knew about Hawaiʻi before “Five-0” aired on television. Some people still ask me if I “like being stateside” when I’m in the continental US. As Hawaiʻi has been a state since 1959, it’s an easy question to answer. And if you watch “Five-0,” you know Hawai’i folk all wear shoes, have indoor plumbing and the internet (not kidding — these are all questions I’ve been asked in the last year).

Det. Danny "Danno" Williams in his Newark Police Department dress uniform. (Courtesy CBS)

Det. Danny “Danno” Williams in his Newark Police Department dress uniform. (Courtesy CBS)

When I recently chatted with New Jersey native Mari Ippolito, I learned that, like me, she also wanted to break down a few stereotypes about her home state. She was happy to see “Hawaii Five-0” worked hard to make their characters seem like real people and real police officers, not simply caricatures.

“We love Danno here, maybe because we ʻget’ him,” she said. “He’s like every nice guy we know.”

Ippolito, an art director who grew up near Newark and now lives 12 miles west of the city, connected me with Fred, a veteran sergeant from the New Jersey Police Department. He’s been on duty for 25 years, 17 as a patrol sergeant working “in the field.” They were both integral in providing me with a very clear picture of what a “real New Jersey” police officer is like, and both agree Det. Danny “Danno” Williams hits the mark.

“New Jerseyans are so often misrepresented on TV and in films,” said Ippolito. “We’re portrayed as badly accented, ‘My Cousin Vinny’ wannabes with bad hair and tempers. No one here says ‘Joisey’ and we’re not all criminals.

“Most of us are second and third generation Americans who work hard and are formally educated, often because our parents or grandparents didn’t have the chance to go to college. Yet, we love Springsteen and/or Bon Jovi and have earned our reputation for toughness.”

Danny "Danno" Williams is definitely a fish out of water in his long sleeves and tie on the beach in Hawaii. (Courtesy CBS)

Danny “Danno” Williams is definitely a fish out of water in his long sleeves and tie on the beach in Hawaii. (Courtesy CBS)

Much like the character Caan portrays, Danno loves his pizza “mootz, sauce, and dough” and has been known to proclaim his love for Springsteen. I asked Ippolito if she looked forward to seeing Danno as a Newark police detective.

“I was intrigued,” she said. “I thought, ʻplease don’t let him be a stereotype.’ We’ve been embarrassed enough by poorly written characters and reality shows that make us collectively cringe.”

As she watched the pilot episode, she got a call from her cousin, a NJPD Police Lieutenant.

“As we watched, we saw Scott Caan’s portrayal of Danno and we were thrilled! He didn’t have greasy black hair; he didn’t have an accent (we are often portrayed with bastardized Staten Island accents); he was smart, sarcastic, and funny; he talked fast; and he was a good, honest cop,” Ippolito said.

“Five-0” fans love the fact that Danno is a good cop. Much has been said about how he wants to play by the book and that if he has a pet peeve about his intrepid partner McGarrett, it’s that sometimes McG doesn’t like to do things “like a cop.” Not that McGarrett wants to break laws or go rogue, but he definitely has a different idea of standard operating procedure.

When I asked Sgt. Fred about working with a partner and fellow officers, he was very candid about his experience.

“You spend more time with your partner and police family than you do with your spouse, so you form a certain bond that you don’t have with anyone else,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché, but your life and well-being literally depend on your partner and the guys you work with.”

When he said this, I immediately thought of Danno’s relationship with McGarrett. They depend on each other and it’s definitely part of the reason why we enjoy watching the show.

"Det. Danny "Danno" Williams (Scott Caan) works a case in Newark in a flashback from “I ka wā mamua."(Courtesy CBS).

Det. Williams (Scott Caan) works a case in Newark in a flashback from “I ka wā mamua.” (Courtesy CBS)

It was great to also hear Caan’s portrayal of Danno rang true on several fronts.

“As a New Jersey native, I was thrilled at the research that must have gone into the character on the part of Peter Lenkov, who wrote the pilot,” said Ippolito. “Danno had all the mannerisms, rants, and flailings of a real Jerseyan, the dedication and honesty of the cops I’ve always known, and the fierce love for his daughter that made him so likable.

“The references the character makes: ‘I’ll go real Jersey up in this thing’ during a cargument with McG, as well as the pronunciation and use of colloquiums, like ‘Mootz’ for Mozzarella cheese, are spot on. Before the third episode aired, I’d discussed the show with several cousins and friends who are all active or retired Newark cops and detectives. They love Danno. I love him, too. He represents.”

While Ippolito was definite about Danno’s accuracy as a New Jerseyan, Sgt. Fred helped me to understand the day-to-day life of a New Jersey police officer. It was very interesting to hear his take on police work and how evidence was handled. Although he was not a detective during his years on the force, he did have extensive experience with crime scenes.

“In most departments, the Patrol Division handles the initial call, the securing of the crime scene, the initial report, and any tagging of evidence,” he said. “Once the detectives show up, they take over.

“Some cases, such as homicides, could take months or even years to come to an end. I’ve worked some homicides that were pretty gruesome, but again, even when I had to go to court to testify, it would only be about my initial involvement, not the entire case.”

I asked him how the NJPD would set up a task force like the one we see on the show.

"Scott Caan's athleticism and experience helps him with his stunt work as well as his acting." (Courtesy CBS)

Scott Caan’s athleticism and experience helps with his stunt work as well as acting. (Courtesy CBS)

“A task force is basically a group of handpicked individuals assigned to address a specific problem,” he said. “As a sergeant, I would relay information concerning a specific issue to my captain. If it could be done on the patrol level, I would pick a few individuals I thought could get the job done, let them work plain-clothes for a while, and then, after a set amount of time, re-evaluate the situation.

“If it was something that required a long term response, such as a drug or gang problem, it would be sent to the appropriate division and handled there.”

His answers reminded me a lot of what McG was tasked with doing by Gov. Jameson in the pilot. When asked about the most rewarding part about being a cop, his answer sounded pretty familiar.

“The look of satisfaction on the faces of people and the thanks you get when you know you’ve done the right thing for them,” he said. “Most of the time, patrol work is boring and uneventful. There are times when you have to be a psychologist and marriage counselor all rolled up into one. And being a detective is more paperwork and hard work than anything else.”

Sgt. Fred also shared his opinion on how police officers are portrayed in the media.

“We have all heard of the ‘Blue Wall of Silence,’ … but it’s not so much a wall of silence as it is a wall of not understanding what we go through. There is a thin, thin line between what we do in a split second and what the general public views as criminal.

“Unless you’ve walked in a cop’s shoes, you will never understand what it’s like. It’s not an easy job, and it’s not easy to become a police officer. If it was, everyone would be doing it. So, yes, we have an affinity for each other and we tend to hang out together as individuals and as families. (And) we don’t tolerate crooked cops, thank you very much!”

So Danno turning his ex-partner in for being dirty, how the Five-0 team has formed a close-knit ʻohana, that they only seem to trust each other — all are true of cops in real life, too.

“Danny Williams is a character we are proud to ‘claim’ as a New Jerseyan,” said Ippolito. “He’s what the cops I’ve grown up with are really like; dedicated, hard working and very loyal to their families, their jobs and their partners. They miss a lot of family events because they’re busy keeping us safe. They struggle with missing family time, just like Danny does, but they’re there when they’re needed.

“All that said; bravo ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and thank you, Scott Caan, for giving us a character we are proud to call one of our own.”

I appreciate “Hawaii Five-0” seems to get more than just police procedure right — they get the characters right too, and this is why fans tune in every week.

Redux Side Note:

The TNT episodes on Thursday, Sept. 12, are more from season one — “Palekaiko” (“Paradise”) and “Hana ʻaʻa Makehewa” (“Desperate Measures”).

“He welo ‘oihana” (“Family Business”) will air on Friday, Sept. 13, on CBS.
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Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

  • Wendy Hansen

    Everything in this article are just a FEW of the reasons why I love Scott Caan’s portrayal of Danno. Scotty is such an amazing actor – and I’m so thankful that everyone is seeing his talent and abilities on H50! This show is really allowing him to showcase all sides of his repertoire, and not just his comedic timing like the majority of his bigger commercial movie titles. If people haven’t seen any of the movies that he’s penned himself, they really should. He’s just as talented with the pen as he is in front of the camera.

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Wendy- Scott Caan is an amazing actor and I’m glad that I have had a chance to write a few blogs this summer about his talents:) Thanks for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Angela Gerstner

    Hopefully, someone will tell Scotty to read your blog and those fantastic compliments he got for his realistic portrayal of a NJ cop – after all, these compliments and praise come from REAL New Jersey cops who are proud of him. I think that’s the best compliment an actor can get and I’m sure it would make him very happy to read this.
    Mahalo, Wendie for another great and very insightful blog!

    • Wendie Joy

      HI Angie- I just hope Scott Caan sees all the wonderful comments from fans like you. And I hope he knows how much the real NJPD think he’s doing a great job. Such a great testament to Scott’s talent and ability. Thanks so much for reading and commenting:) Aloha, Wendie

  • Mari Ippolito

    Thanks, Wendie!! Hugs from me and the cousins. so happy to see it in “print”. Thx for my five o minutes of fame Mari Ippolito (@Mari21763) Xo

    • Wendie Joy

      Mari! Thank you so much! SO glad that you and Fred and the cousins “approve” of this post! Mahalo for your mana’o and for connecting me with Fred. Big hugs lady! Aloha, Wendie

  • LindaStein

    Oops…was my comment too long again. I’ve gone to moderation hell again. Hope it shows up eventually.

    • Wendie Joy

      Linda- tried to post your comment- but I was moderated as well! Wow- well, thank you for your great comment and for supporting your NJ neighbors:) Aloha, Wendie

  • Dina

    Again another great “insight” to the “reality” of the show ;=) too many “fans” complain about how unrealistic the show is – yet it is a HOUR drama- fiction…so of course there is dramatization yet here you were able to show to those fans how much realism is incorporated into the characters ;=) Wendie your work always put a smile on my face-

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks Dina:) Glad that you have a smile on your face after reading:) It’s a healthy thing to remember that this is fiction, and it’s a great thing to know that those real people that our fave actors portray on TV, feel like they ARE being represented in a positive light. You are so right! Thanks for always commenting and supporting Dina:) Aloha, Wendie

  • alavenia

    Thanks Wendie for the insight in the cops life, a lot I didn’t know and makes the show more fun to watch after I read your blogs!

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks Anita for reading and commenting! Glad the Redux makes the show more fun! What an awesome compliment:) Mahalo! Aloha, Wendie

  • Terry FiveOs

    Wendie!! This is such a wonderful article, I don’t even have words right now!! Bravo!

    • Wendie Joy

      Terry! Thank you so much! Glad you liked it so much:) Hugs lady! Thanks for the RT’s and posts and support:) Aloha, Wendie

  • jlopie1

    Wow! I’m kind of speechless myself right now! What a great article Wendy! Special thanks, also, to Mari Ippolito and Sgt. Fred for their insights into New Jersey and law enforcement.

    We know a lot of research was done by Alex O’Loughlin as he prepared for the role of a seasoned SEAL, but it’s great to realize just as much research went into creating a Danny Williams that could represent the New Jersey life styles and police family in such a way as to make New Jersey natives satisfied and proud! Kudos to Peter Lenkov and Scott Caan for their dedication to the craft — they could so easily have taken the easy way out and created a cartoonish Jersey cop and the rest of the viewers probably would not have known the difference.

    I agree with Dina! Viewers like to complain that H50 is too unrealistic in their stories, and perhaps some plots are a little far-fetched, but the realism in this show is in the portrayals of the characters and the representation of what the characters stand for. People just need to look deeper than the “giant claw!”

    • Wendie Joy

      Lynnette- Thank you so much for reading and supporting! Mari and Fred were great to lend me their words:) I think the fact that Sgt. Fred and Mari and her NJPD cousins all feel like they have a good representative on TV that is positive and realistic is like you said- a testament to Scott and Peter for their preparation and work on the scripts and the show. LOL That claw drove me nuts, but I got over it:) Thanks so much for your great comment. Aloha, Wendie

  • Alex O’s Place

    First of all Wendie, thank you for showing NJ in a positive way. I was raised in NJ and still live here. I hate the way we are depicted on television, especially on reality TV, which most of them aren’t even originally from NJ. Sgt. Fred is right, we are not all loud mouths and criminals. Besides that NJ is not all cities and factories. We actually have more farmland and beaches then we do cities. Most of NJ is open land, and is very pretty, and most people live in suburbs . TV usually shows the industrial side of NJ, which is only a very small part. I am glad you had the opportunity to speak with Sgt. Fred, thanks to my friend Mari, and let the world know that we all don’t fit into that stereotype.

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks so much for reading AOP:) Thanks for even more information about the beauty of The Garden State:) It’s always too bad when all we have to go on about a place is based on negative stereotypes– glad that NJ has a positive role model to help break up those images. I for one would love to see your lovely home state sometime soon! Thanks for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Madaline Rico

    It’s so nice to see that Danno gets a thumbs up from one of our own police officers. I have to say, I love when Danno goes “Jersey” on McGarrett myself. :) Thanks for giving us insight into the Jersey side of Hawaii Five-0 Wendie. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Much love from a Jersey Girl!!!!!!!

    • Wendie Joy

      Maddy! As I was posting, I thought- dang! Should have checked with Mads too! Sorry hon, with my deadline, and the fact that Mari and Fred had sent me a lot to work with – I missed my check with you. But glad that you liked it and agreed:) Always want to represent my friends well! Mahalo for reading and commenting:) Aloha, Wendie

  • Tula Birmpa

    Great article Wendy! Really enlightening for us European fans of the show who are not ‘connected’ either to the Hawaiian or the NJ culture and way of thinking!

    • Wendie Joy

      Thank you Tula:) Glad that the Redux has reached out across oceans and time zones to bring us all together:) Mahalo for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Caroline White

    Great article Wendie, love it! I’m so happy that there are others that can see just how remarkable the writing and performances are on this show. It is really great and heart-warming to hear how much Danno’s character is loved by those in NJ. I love how you seem to bring out how we all feel about Scott’s performance and Danno as a character into a really well written piece. Everytime I read your articles it’s like a you are inside my head writing how I feel. :)

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Caroline:) I’m glad that I echo your thoughts and sentiments about Hawaii Five-0:) It’s always nice when I’m not far off from what the fans and viewers like/love about the show. While I don’t always cover what folks want me to in my Redux posts, I do hope that when I’m not rushing to write a review–I can cover some bases that I may have missed during the season. These summer blogs have given me a chance to write a bit more deeply about topics and characters that I love. I’m glad that you have enjoyed this post, and others:) Mahalo for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Kate J

    Another great blog, Wendie! It’s nice to get perspective from someone who would be Danno’s ‘peer’ and to have him say the character is authentic. Kudos to Scott Caan and Peter Lenkov for paying attention to those details to make it real. The littlest things really do make a huge difference in quality, and I think they’ve nailed it.

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks Kate! I agree with your kudos to Scott Caan and Peter Lenkov- I think the details written for Scott, and his portrayal of Danno, truly add a dimension to Hawaii Five-0 that keep us watching and loving the show. Mahalo for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • ileimohala

    As always, another excellent blog, WJ!! I enjoyed hearing about how right Hawaii Five-0 and Peter Lenkov got Danno & the “Jerseyness” of him, but I also enjoyed Sgt. Fred’s explanation of what life is like for police officers and why they do what they do…I am the wife & sister of police officers & the thing that I hate the most is how quickly people like to judge when an officer has done something they deem to be wrong. I hope this will help people understand the sacrifice officers and their families make to serve & protect our community.

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks Jen:) Glad that you brought up the point about H50 honoring not only NJ folks- but police officers as well! I think that we are lucky to have police officers and folks that want to serve the community in our midst. Thank you for your sacrifice as an officer’s wife- you too have a hard job standing by and supporting your husband and family as he does his job protecting and serving. Love you lady:) Thanks for your undying and never ending support! XO Wendie

  • KAD1228

    Nice article! Living next door to NJ my entire life, many people associate the NY/NJ area with Saturday Night Fever and the Jersey Shore. Because stereotypes die hard, I’m very happy that Scott’s portrayal of Danno is close to the real deal! The world would be a much poorer place if it wasn’t for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springstein, Bon Jovi and Billy Joel! Kudos to PL and Alex and Scott for caring so much!!

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Karen-
      Wow- amazing talent coming out of NJ! So very cool:) I think that it was smart having Danno come from the East Coast rather than having him be from perhaps Scott Caan’s real hometown– it helped create more conflict for Danno and make him a much richer character. And I’m so glad he doesn’t have an accent because then they really could have turned Danno into a caricature instead of a flesh and blood character. Completely agree with your kudos! Thanks for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

      • KAD1228

        Wendie, just to clarify something, Barbra Streisand was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and Billy Joel is from Long Island, NY. Lots of fantastic talent from the NY/NJ area (and there’s many more I didn’t mention!)

        • Wendie Joy

          Thanks for the clarification Karen:) East Coast represents! :D~WB

  • Amy Denton

    Wendi, there are a bunch of stereotypes for a bunch of states out there. And, yeah, they can be REAL annoying. Growing up in Texas, I was asked if I rode a horse to school or had an oil well in the backyard.
    Very, very nice article.
    I had an aunt who was from New Jersey, lived in Southern New Jersey, Wildwood. Wonderful, wonderful woman, loved her to death but, boy, did she have an accent. I didn’t realize that the word ‘smart’ didn’t have an ‘h’ in it until I was 11 or 12 because I always heard her say ‘smaht’.

    • Wendie Joy

      Thanks Amy! Love your story about your Aunt:) I think accents are so great, because they really help tell a story about a place and about people. Thanks for sharing your experiences and for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Diane

    Hi Wendie. Thanks for the great article. I enjoy the real life police officers giving their respective opinions about a detective show. Also one from New Jersey. I’m glad they feel the character of Danny is realistic, and that H50 put forth the effort to check it out. You can pretty much have a stereotype for anyone in any of the 50 states in the U.S. We are all similar in some respects, and different in others. I hope someday, people will see people as people, as well as cops as people, rather than give everyone a label. Unfortunately, probably not in my lifetime.

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Diane- great comment, so very true. I’m just glad I had a chance to talk to a cop who has been there and who could give a glimpse into the real world of police work. Let’s start breaking those stereotypes! :) Thanks for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie