Paul Asay
Emily Clark

TV Series Review

I’m just like MacGyver.

Oh, don’t give me that look. I totally am. Every day, what do I do? I take random letters from the alphabet, moosh ’em together and make things! Watch and learn, young Padawan: I’ll just grab a “t” and a “y” and maybe a couple of “o’s” and, oh, just for a challenge, an “x.” What do I have? “tyoox.” Which means, um, absolutely nothing. Or “yotox,” which means … also nothing. Maybe it’s not the best example. But hey, throw in a few more letters, and you can spell “tyrotoxism,” which means, “To be poisoned by cheese.” See? Have I impressed you yet?

OK, so perhaps it’s not quite as impressive as taking a couple of paper clips, a dryer sheet and crumbs from under the sofa and making a fully functioning satellite dish. For that, you’d need the real MacGyver.

Duct Tape Can Save the World …

The original MacGyver was a 1980s and early ’90s television fixture on ABC. Richard Dean Anderson starred as Angus MacGyver, an everyman hero whose ingenious use of household scraps saved the free world in less than an hour every week. He made everything from (I kid you not) a defibrillator (with a microphone cord, rubber mat and some candlesticks) to a lie detector (from a stethoscope, an alarm clock and a blood pressure cuff). He was a little like Batman. But instead of spending quadrillions of dollars on nifty gadgets, MacGuyver simply made them himself with stuff from the Dollar Store.

ABC’s MacGyver went off the air in 1992. But in today’s entertainment climate, good shows—or even just OK ones—never really die. They just hibernate until another network resuscitates them. (I’d like to think that CBS resurrected MacGyver with that authentic MacGyver defibrillator.)

This version of Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) is younger than the original—so young-looking, in fact, you wonder whether he’s graduated from middle school yet. Boyish looks notwithstanding, he’s got a doozy of a job, working for a super-secret government agency called the Phoenix Foundation. He’s obviously a skilled operative, and he never leaves home without his trusty Swiss Army knife. But even though MacGyver can craft bombs from stuff found in the standard fast food joint, he doesn’t particularly like to use violence against his adversaries. He has friends for that sort of thing.

While Mac crafts his zip lines, bear traps and air raid sirens, former Delta force soldier Jack Dalton beats up anyone who might interfere. That pair is often joined by Riley Davis, an expert hacker whom Mac and Jack recruited right out of Supermax prison (and who, coincidentally, was practically raised by Jack when she was a little girl). Meanwhile, Wilt Bozer (not to be confused with Wolf Blitzer) is the team’s official prosthetic mask creator/comic relief guy, and boss Matty Webber tries to keep the whole team in line.

… But Can It Save This Show?

This new MacGyver isn’t just predicated on an old series. The program feels pretty geriatric itself. While there’s still a certain charm in watching MacGyver MacGyver a new gadget together, the program’s cadence feels a bit moldy, its budget fittingly shoestring, and its writing even more illogical than one might expect from a rebooted show like this.

Take, for instance, a recent episode in which MacGyver and his team to jet off to Shanghai to stop a Chinese nuclear missile from hitting the United States’ West Coast. They’re successful, of course: The missile veers off course and explodes harmlessly (though nuclearly) in the stratosphere near Baja, Mexico. The team celebrates as they watch detritus from the missile fall from the sky … while in Shanghai. Hmmm.

Moments like that were part of the original MacGyver’s DNA, too. The 1980s were not exactly television’s golden age. But even if the show feels a bit old, it also ported in new problematic content. While MacGyver’s meant to be a flyaway diversion, some scenes get surprisingly bloody. Language is harsher than you might expect, too.

You might say that CBS tried to MacGyver MacGyver itself: It rescued an old, creaky show from a trash bin, gave it a new, younger protagonist, infused it with some ancillary content issues and then wrapped the whole works in duct tape.

The result? Maybe it just proves that there’s only one real MacGyver.

Episode Reviews

Feb. 14, 2020: “Red Cell + Quantum + Cold + Committed”

Following last season’s decommission of the Phoenix Foundation and MacGyver’s “squad,” the team is reassembled by former MI6 agent Russ Taylor. In order to have their security clearances reinstated, they are hired as a “red cell” to test the security measures at a top-secret government facility.

A woman is gunned down by soldiers after she shoots a general (he survives) and gets into a scuffle with MacGyver. A man jumps out of a window to his death. (We see his body surrounded by a pool of blood.) A mother and son are shot at after being kidnapped. People engage in hand-to-hand combat. MacGyver’s team steals two vehicles and gets into a car chase with police, eventually knocking a police car into a barrier. A soldier says that civilians will get “nuked” since they aren’t allowed inside a nuclear bomb shelter.

Two couples kiss. An ex-couple is forced to lay down in the trunk of a car together. A woman lives with her boyfriend. We see a shirtless surfer and a few women wear tops with cleavage.

People drink in a variety of settings. A man offers a cigar box to a general. “H—” is said once. People lie and use subterfuge to sneak into a government building. Someone hacks into several computer systems.

Dec. 15, 2016 “Scissors”

Riley unexpectedly disappears, and the team worries she’s fallen back into her old, bad hacking habits. Soon, she’s implicated in a hack of the NSA that may spark World War III. But when Mac and the rest of the team finally catch up with Riley, they learn that she was forced to hack the NSA because a shadowy group called the Collective was blackmailing her by plotting to kill her mother.

The Collective tries to kill Riley’s mom anyway, wrapping a motorized metal cord around her throat that progressively tightens. Riley, who’s trying to keep the cord from killing her mom, slips her fingers inside it and suffers several bloody cuts herself as Mom begins to choke. (Angus eventually cuts the cord free.)

Jack beats up and eventually knocks out a security guard. He, Mac and Riley all use duplicitous means to sneak into a Chinese military facility (albeit to prevent a nasty confrontation between the U.S. and China). Someone is thrown out of a moving van. Threats get tossed about. Computer equipment is destroyed (in an effort to loosen the owner’s tongue). There’s discussion of domestic violence. Characters say “a–,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused twice.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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