Case Number 06255


Paramount // 1985 // 1034 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // February 23rd, 2005

The Charge

"Don't tell me you know how to make a bomb out of a stick of chewing gum?"
"Why, you have some?"

Opening Statement

He's part Boy Scout, part genius, and all hero! That's the tagline for this series, and that's pretty much how most of us remember the magnificently mulleted MacGyver. The man who would run in and save the day using the junk he finds at the location. Always able to resolve a crisis without resorting to using a gun, MacGyver is the epitome of a man's man: intelligent, attractive, witty, yet down-to-earth. Women love him, and men want to be him.

MacGyver is a part of television folklore, and just about everyone has heard of the character and what inspired creations he could make from garbage. I fondly recall watching MacGyver as a kid and loving the show, so I was very excited to revisit this old friend in his first season. But I have to tell you up front that this first year is not a good year at all. It's missing most of the trademark elements that would define the series, and most of the stories are simply dull and boring. MacGyver may be Patty and Selma's all-time favorite television show, but I'm afraid I cannot make the same claim. Let's go back and revisit the genesis of the man, the myth, the legend, the MacGyver.

Facts of the Case

Presented on this six-disc set are the 22 episodes that document the first season of MacGyver's derring-do:

* Pilot
* The Golden Triangle
* Thief of Budapest
* The Gauntlet
* The Heist
* Trumbo's World
* Last Stand
* Hellfire
* The Prodigal
* Target MacGyver
* Nightmares
* Deathlock
* Flame's End
* Countdown
* The Enemy Within
* Every Time She Smiles
* To Be a Man
* Ugly Duckling
* Slow Death
* The Escape
* A Prisoner of Conscience
* The Assassin

The Evidence

Where do I begin? So many elements are missing from this first season that would later develop in the series and help define "MacGyver." But this initial foray is a year in flux, where things would change from one episode to the next. For me, I found watching 22 episodes of MacGyver to be an interminable bore and an insufferable chore. I had to force myself to sit down and watch another episode. I constantly kept telling myself that it would get had to get better. But it just doesn't this year. Let's detail some of what makes season one a hellish experience:

* Weak Stories: In this first year, I would list only three stories that I found enjoyable and that stood the test of time: "The Pilot," "Target MacGyver," and "Countdown." Most of the stories aren't interesting these days, and the predicaments that MacGyver is sent to fix aren't exciting to watch. I often lament the MTV style of today's television and cinema, with its seizure-inducing edits and rapid pace. Yet watching MacGyver, I found myself wishing for more of that action and excitement. Mac's just a bit boring and slow, and I wish he would get into bigger scrapes. I did appreciate the awesome explosion in "Hellfire," but that didn't excuse the other problems in the episode.

* Bad Acting: You'll never find yourself about to shout, "Wow, that was some inspired acting" during this year. Let me mention the one moment of passable acting, Mac's grandpa in "Target MacGyver" -- which is why this is one of the few "good" episodes. That old man is the only person who makes his character believable. "Now, wait a minute," you're exclaiming, "what about Richard Dean Anderson? He is MacGyver! He is very good in his role." I'm going to have to argue with you on that one, for while Anderson isn't terrible in his role, he really isn't that good this year either. He's quite the likeable guy, but if you strip away that Boy Scout veneer, you'll see that Anderson is struggling to work the role and make it more than a joke, which is what he will eventually become. I will concede that, given a choice, I would prefer to watch an entire episode with just Anderson and no guest stars, for the supporting characters were plain awful on most occasions. Take a look at "The Golden Triangle" for proof, if you dare.

* Inept Bad Guys: Speaking of "The Golden Triangle," this episode, only the second of the series, lays the foundation for the fatal flaw in this first year. It's not really that MacGyver is so fantastically clever and constantly outwits his opponents; it's that his enemies are inept and stupid. The bad guys leave themselves wide open for an easy assault from MacGyver. They are never thorough, never cover all the exits, never have enough men, and never seem to have a complete plan in place. Another great example of this is in "The Heist."

* Horrid Clichés: I just can't seem to get away from "The Golden Triangle," for it too is the epitome of the rancid clichés that abound in this season. From people who are more caricatures than characters to situations that we've seen twelve billion times before (and since then), there aren't any especially fresh and innovative people, places, things, or situations in MacGyver. (How about Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives) as the ultimate '80s fluff chick?) It's all a feeling of been there, done that, seen that before.

* Stock Footage: And when I say seen that before, it's not an exaggeration. MacGyver, probably in an attempt to stretch a thin budget, constantly relied on stock footage to flesh out an episode. From simple establishing locale shots to rockets exploding, this first year constantly takes you out of the story with these blatant insertions, none more painful than the car chase in "The Thief of Budapest." I have never seen the original The Italian Job, yet I could instantly deduce that the entirety of the chase footage in "Thief" was nothing more than a redress of a chase from that movie. If they had relied less on this footage and if the quality of the footage hadn't been worse than the episode itself, maybe it wouldn't be so bad and worth mentioning.

* Voiceovers: A staple of (most of) the series is MacGyver "thinking to himself" about his situation and how his past relates to it. This thinking was translated to constant voiceovers. For a while, I didn't mind the voiceovers, but sometimes that were so banal and obvious that they rubbed me the wrong way. Instead of being a cute way to explore Mac's character, they were an irritating shortcut to storytelling.

* Reduced Cleverness: Just about anytime people talk about MacGyver, they inevitably mention one of Mac's infamous inventions. More often than not, they don't exactly recall what happened in the episode, so it's a touch more preposterous than what was shown. But supposedly everything that Mac does in the show is based in science fact -- at least in this first year. That's a cool thing to realize: what you don't know and how much you can learn from science. The season starts off with a bang with what I call the "ultimate MacGyver moment" (I'll go into details later). But as the season progresses, Mac's inventions aren't as grand and clever as they once were. It becomes more like anyone could have done that instead of only Mac being able to have thought of that. His little inventions weren't cool enough to be called "MacGyverisms."

* Improbabilities: Still, even though I was told that what MacGyver does is based on hard science, I had a hard time believing a lot of the things he did were possible. For example, Mac makes a smoke bomb out of some kitchen ingredients (no biggie); we can still see Mac in the smoke, yet miraculously the laser-guided weapons on a sweeping pattern can't lock in on him any more -- too convenient and improbable. Further, as Mac crafted his little gizmos, what was more amazing was that those specific pieces were lying around, not what he was able to do with them.

* The Flux: But what makes season one weak is that it hasn't completely found its footing. So much changes as we try to figure out who MacGyver is. It doesn't always feel like a lot is going on, but once you add it up, it's distracting. Look at all these things that happen in "The Pilot" that quickly disappear: MacGyver shoots a gun; Dana Elcar -- later to play Pete Thornton, Mac's boss -- is a background character and not Pete Thornton; Mac lives in an observatory; Mac has a kid (maybe "Little Brother"); and Mac wears a satchel to carry the odds and ends he picks up. All that changes: soon Mac hates guns, Dana becomes Pete, Mac lives on the beach sans kid, and the satchel is gone. Beyond this, there's limited use of duct tape, no Jack Colton, no Murdoch, and, most importantly, no Phoenix Foundation. All the time, it's just some "department" with an office in the "Federal Building."

Because The Phoenix Foundation is a season away -- and I knew it was even though I tried to ignore that fact -- I kept asking some fundamental questions: Why MacGyver? Why do they always pick him? And for whom does he work?

But that's not the end of the questions that bubble up. On the trivial side, I wonder how MacGyver can be a success when he makes such fundamental blunders: He never asks for backup, he never attempts to blend into his surroundings (except the one time in "Target MacGyver" when I almost fell off my couch from surprise), and he simply refuses to bring anything along that he knows would help him in his forthcoming mission. Thank goodness he's MacGyver; any other mortal man would have been quickly vanquished.
Previously I alluded to the "ultimate MacGyver moment." I had originally planned to put MacGyver's best moment for each episode, but I ended up not being able to find one for each episode. As a result of my original quest, an interesting situation bloomed where I found the "ultimate MacGyver moment" nestled right next to the "ultimate anti-MacGyver moment." One of Mac's best tricks of the entire series is at the end of one episode, and his dumbest moment (at least of Season One) is at the beginning of the next episode. So what am I talking about? Here we go!

The Ultimate MacGyver Moment can be found in the first episode ever, "The Pilot." Here we find MacGyver stopping a massive acid leak with a few chocolate bars. It's so perfectly off-the-wall that this is probably the most oft-mentioned thing MacGyver ever did. It is the essence of MacGyver.

The Ultimate Anti-MacGyver Moment is in the second episode, "The Golden Triangle." During the opening gambit, Mac confronts some spies in an auto junkyard. He's caught, tied up, and tossed in the backseat of a car that's about to be crushed. As Mac scrambles in the backseat, the crusher comes slowly down and busts out the back window. Tada, instant, easy exit! But instead of climbing out the window, which had plenty of room, Mac rips the back seat down, climbs into the trunk, and uses a crowbar to the pop open the lid. What a monstrous and stupid waste of time and effort! This is the same guy that did that thing with the chocolate?

This first season of MacGyver is not only disappointing on the story side, but it's also a disappointment on the DVD side. The quality of the video and audio are weak, significantly below average for most television released on DVD. Easily looking older than 1985, the video is soft, with muted colors, excessive dirt, and a fine haze from beginning to end. There's also a bit of shimmering at times, but that's only a footnote to the overall lackluster video. Faring no better is the audio, which, while you can understand all the dialogue, has a flat presentation with no range, no separation, and plenty of echo. Adding insult to injury, there are no subtitles and no bonus items.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

MacGyver is one of the best series that came out of the '80s. Featuring a noble, idealistic, and intelligent man, the show was instantly addictive and constantly innovative. From his amazing inventions to his wonderful personality, MacGyver is a man that you honestly wish you knew. Each week brought you to a fascinating new locale filled with extravagant dangers that only Mac could solve. The show was exciting and amazing; and, when life handed you a problem, you ended up stopping and thinking, "What would MacGyver do?"

Closing Statement

Am I the only person who really digs the opening music? (Am I also the only one who was bummed out when they tweaked it a few seasons in?) Did you know that MacGyver can fly a jet? Did you know that MacGyver is more powerful than an army of ants two miles wide by ten miles long? Did you know that Star Trek vets Robin Curtis, Nana Visitor, and Persis Khambata all appeared in the first season of MacGyver?

MacGyver, he's such a people person. This man not only stops the bad guys, saves the day, and gets the girl (almost like Kirk with one in every port), but he also helps people with their personal problems. Who could ask for more in a guy? I could. I would ask that your first season not be quite so weak, so dull, so boring that you ruin my memories of your greatness. Let's just hope that you do get better as time goes on and that I didn't just fantasize that your show was good in the first place. Being thoroughly disappointed with this set, there's no way I'm giving you any recommendation for this one.

The Verdict

MacGyver is hereby found guilty of tainting a perfectly good childhood memory. It is sentenced to repair the damage with some duct tape.

Case adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2005 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 70
Audio: 70
Extras: 0
Acting: 60
Story: 74
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile
Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* None

Running Time: 1034 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb

* TV Tome MacGyver Guide