MacGyver Reboot - Advance Verdict Not Good (one exception)

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MacGyver Reboot - Advance Verdict Not Good (one exception)

Postby Mr. Mike » Thu Sep 22, 2016 5:51 pm

CBS' MacGyver is an unnecessary, middling reboot that has little to offer - its biggest sin being a bland hero and eye-rolling stakes. Lifting more than a few swerves from the Mission Impossible franchise, this new MacGyver somehow even manages to make the science gimmick dull.

As for the pilot itself? Despite a blockbuster director at the helm, it's a shoddy product made out of the sort of ill-fitting bits and bobs that Angus MacGyver himself might fashion into a bomb. I'd make the matchingly shoddy joke that the MacGyver team has also constructed a bomb, but this show may well have the sort of brainless escapism and nostalgia that will slot in just fine after CBS' sturdier — Scott Caan was nominated for a flipping Golden Globe — Hawaii Five-0 reboot. That MacGyver finally is little more than a half-speed, quarter-brained version of last season's one-and-done Limitless confirms that what CBS wanted was a show called MacGyver and the actual specifics of said show hardly mattered. Bringing back Limitless and starting the second season premiere with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's character telling pill-enhanced crime fighter Brian Finch that he was being given the FBI's rarely assigned honorary codename "MacGyver" and going from there might have saved development money, but this is not my job.

Lucas Till plays Angus MacGyver, who introduces himself by boasting about his time at MIT, his military experience and his science-fair trophies. He's part of a Department of External Services team headed by Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt), and featuring Jack Dalton (George Eads) as gun-toting muscle and expert analyst Nikki (Tracy Spiridakos), who also happens to be MacGyver's main squeeze — as in they have sex on her desk sometimes. When bad things go down as the team attempts to break into a vault in Lake Como, MacGyver is left slightly sad, looking for purpose and hanging out with a fast-talking roommate (CBS' Patron Saint of Unnecessary Reboots Justin Hires), a character who exists for no reason other than broad comedy to remind the audience that MacGyver doesn't take itself too seriously.

And surely MacGyver doesn't take itself too seriously, which is the best thing I can say about it. Other than Holt's boss, everybody keeps it light and there's no risk whatsoever of worrying about the stakes, even when the villain talks about a mass purging. When you have Vinnie Jones playing the Vinnie Jones role as British Henchman and saying things like, "I guess this is the end of your silly game of hide-and-seek, MacGyver," at least "giggles" are your primary goal, even if MacGyver never gets quite to witty or clever.

But maybe it also doesn't take itself too seriously in the ways that it ought to? While the original series kept things light much of the time, it was an action show and not a comedy, because if it had just been a comedy, we wouldn't have needed MacGruber. Till is handsome and bland and easygoing, which aren't the worst traits to have, but two or three veteran character actors or actors with character were needed to surround him. The entire MacGyver team, including Tristin Mays as a hacker who gets sprung from prison to help on a mission, is smooth and pretty and essentially authority-free. Eads' cockiness and Hires' inexplicable shrillness are the only performance variations. There's no actor in the cast capable of providing the grit or grounding that the show needs for the flights of fancy to land.

This new MacGyver pilot features plenty of the necessary MacGyvering — turning ordinary items for various forms of militaristic disruption — but I thought, "Hmmm, that was probably too simple" more often than I thought, "That was cool" or "Could that possibly work?" and the latter reactions ought to be the show's key currency. And if the expected MacGyver-y things MacGyver is doing aren't inspired, at least the action beats ought to be, but Wan and Lenkov's eyes may have been bigger than their heads, leading to too many stunts and set pieces either steered by less-than-ideal CGI or in front of less-than-convincing backdrops. The pilot travels the globe, but doesn't look like it moved too far off the backlot. There's no "wow" factor at all.

And perhaps that boils down why MacGyver is just unnecessary, rather than being explicitly awful.

When nobody on TV or in the movies was MacGyver, MacGyver was exceptional. When everybody is MacGyver, he's just another guy doing the same science-fair experiments and life hacks that could make up a Buzzfeed list. It isn't Angus' fault that MacGyver went from outlier to almost a template for industrious, wisecracking procedural leads, but when the pilot talks about his cleverness based on a couple years at MIT, I couldn't help but think how the Scorpion team would giggle at MacGyver's primitiveness and how fundamentally disappointed Chuck Bartowski, Sydney Bristow and Jack Bauer would be by how their ancestor has been updated.

Like Lenkov's other show Hawaii Five-O, the tone here is fun first. It pairs nicely with Five-O, which will follow MacGyver on Friday nights. Reboots are a tricky thing to pull off. You don't want them too new to lose the spirit of the original and you don't want them too old to feel dated. CBS's MacGyver falls right in that safe zone in the middle.

(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS.)

Nostalgia for the semi-recent past is everywhere in television: Shows set in the ’80s and ’90s or that tweak legacy properties have become common. Networks want to break through the pop-culture clutter with known quantities, and even new series have found nuggets of thematic and aesthetic gold in the pre-millennial era. Not all of the throwback series have worked, but some inspired by the past have been among the most scintillating offerings of the present.

And then there’s Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” and CBS’ “MacGyver,” which demonstrate the limits of the reliance on older properties. These shows, both of which are based on hits from the ’80s, have no spark of their own, and add nothing of value to their respective franchises.

These plodding dramas do not evoke the past as much as they pretend that the past 30 years did not happen. Audiences are extremely familiar with the kinds of story beats that drive not just these “new” programs but the hundreds that came before them; buddy-cop and spy-guy moves have been remixed and repeated for decades, but these derivative works ignore that reality.

Both programs seem like broken relics from a time capsule; neither does much to update, add to or simply have fun with these well-regarded properties. That each ransacks its source material in search of something fresh and lively, and comes up empty, is astonishing and disappointing, given that these programs — at least one of them — could have provided a whole lot of escapist fun.

“MacGyver” should have been one of the fall’s slam-dunks; the property is known and loved by many TV fans of a certain age, and its cheerfully inventive hero could have become part of a renewed TV franchise that drew in both old-school fans and gadget-loving newcomers. How hard could it be to find a charming actor to play a smart rogue who has a string of zippy, espionage-driven adventures? Quite hard, apparently.

Lucas Till’s performance as the title character misses the mark completely; even when MacGyver explains the contraptions he builds on the fly via voiceovers, Till’s delivery is wooden and clunky. The writing doesn’t help — the pilot script is full of silly plot short-cuts and painfully cheesy lines — but there’s no getting around the fact that the new version of the character has very little appeal, and certainly won’t put the memory of Richard Dean Anderson, who originated the role, out of anyone’s mind.

CBS has a very successful procedural formula: It usually revolves around a rule-breaking lead who assembles a team willing to do whatever it takes to assist him (and it’s usually a him). Just because the Eye network (and many others) have used that format a lot doesn’t mean it can’t be highly effective and enjoyable. But whatever the new “MacGyver” is trying to do, USA’s “Burn Notice” (to cite just one example) did it much, much better. George Eads does what he can to bring a bit of energy to the MacGyver spy crew, but it’s a futile effort. MacGyver may know a lot about chemistry, but this unmemorable team has none.


One thing the shows share is an annoying adherence to the idea that the only thing that can make their tough heroes feel anything deeply is a tragedy or trauma involving the women in their lives. Whatever you think of the sexist foundations of that particular cliché, it’s 2016 (really, it is — I checked). Not only has that device been done to death (quite literally), it carries with it a whole range of unsettling implications about the value of female lives in TV narratives. When they exist only to fuel the emotional and logistical struggles of men, especially in pilots that are already derivative in any number of ways, it raises a large red flag about the writers’ willingness to seek originality in the realms of motivation and characterization.

In any event, when it comes to their inciting incidents, both pilots not only go to predictable extremes, they exhibit strange and skewed assumptions about what it takes to make men feel or do anything. These are meant to be enjoyable, light programs, and providing that kind of weekly escape is an honorable endeavor. But more attention should have been put into the care and feeding of these old warhorses. It’s hard not to escape the conclusion that Murtaugh, Riggs and Angus MacGyver, not to mention the mostly underwritten female (and male) characters around them, deserved better than this.
Mr. Mike
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