When it debuted in 1985, MacGyver had the virtue of being a (somewhat) unique thing in the adventure TV game. Smack in the middle of the guns and quips big action ’80s, here was a hero who used his wits and eschewed guns for thrown-together tools of his own design. He was the American version of Doctor Who‘s The Doctor, really, only minus the sci-fi elements. The 2016 version of MacGyver, though, doesn’t have the same virtue. Oh, sure, Mac is still all about throwing things together but the rise in procedurals (and, point of fact, Doctor Who‘s Stateside popularity) has rendered weaponless bad guy thwarting somewhat common.
On Scorpion, computer nerds save the world on the regular. When CSI was still a thing, scientists used evidence to bring down bad guys. All of this seemingly mundane office work is and was wrapped with thrilling music and closeups of key-strokes and blood spatter analysis to elevate these actions in an effort to make good television, or at least, popular television. And while the batting average with the former is subjective, the popularity can’t be denied. Nor can the presence of the spinoffs and pretenders. A list that, sadly, includes nü-MacGyver.
Whereas the original allowed for some mystery and magic to surround MacGyver’s on-the-fly fixes, here, we get voiceover narration explaining the technical detail involved as we focus on the components — which are spelled out for us on the screen. Everything also feels remarkably quick. This isn’t your Daddy’s remake, of course, but a more patient approach might help to elevate the drama even though we know, of course, that MacGyver is going to MacGyver the hell out of danger. All of this feels very contemporary, but it also takes you out of the moment. Which is a shame because the old MacGyver’s improvised escapes used to captivate.
The bones of the show will be familiar to fans of the original. Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) works for The Department Of External Services (DXS) which later morphs into the Phoenix Foundation. He hates heights and always has his trusty Swiss Army knife. He has a friend named Jack Dalton (George Eads), a boss named Thornton (in this case, a woman played by Sandrine Holt), and a friend named Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires). The pilot introduces us to a pair of young hackers (Tristin Mays and Tracy Spiridakos) whose backstories hint at the possibility of greater depth and development and a typical menacing villain (typical menacing Vinnie Jones).
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because there’s a twist at the mid-point that throws Mac through a loop but there are explosions and a villain does say, “I guess this is the end of your silly game of hide and seek, MacGyver.” The twist is predictable, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve respect too.
The dialogue is pretty much all as wooden as the above line, but the banter game is decent between Jack and Mac and George Eads approaches charm as a slightly-sleazy uncle-dad merc. Till has the look of MacGyver down, but he’s lacking in the “aw shucks” charm department. And that’s pretty much a metaphor for the whole show. The tin foil heroics are present, giving this the look of MacGyver, but the personality has been replaced by a slickness that may earn steady viewership but probably not a passionate following. Which is a shame, because a little camp and a little fun might have been the better tribute to the original and resulted in a more enjoyable, though less packaged to move, product.