Weekend Review – “MacGyver: Season One”

The long weekend is not quite over yet where I am. This season has driven my inner geeks to a state of total war.

Cast and Crew Information

Richard Dean Anderson as Angus MacGyver
Dana Elcar as Pete Thornton

Created by Lee David Zlotoff
Written by Thackary Pallor, Paul Stanley, Joe Viola, Lee H. Katzin, James Schmerer, Larry Alexander, Judy Burns, Douglas Brooks West, David Abramowitz, Paul Savage, Mike Marvin, Hannah Louise Shearer, David Ketchum, Tony DiMarco, Don Mankiewicz, Larry Gross, and Fred McKnight.
Directed by Alan Smithee, Dennis Foley, John Patterson, Stephen Kandel, Donald Petrie, John Florea, Richard A. Colla, Alexander Singer, Ernest Pintoff, Cliff Bole, Bruce Seth Green, Stan Jolley, Charles Correll, Don Weis, and Don Chaffey.

Availability Information

This is available on DVD in both single season and complete series releases.


MacGyver is not usually the strongest man in the room. He’s rarely the fastest man in the room. He is, however, the smartest man in the room at all times. Armed with nothing but an incredible knowledge of chemistry and physics, a knack for improvisation and a dry wit, he continually makes the world a safer place for people to live in.

High Point

The science geek within me loves the show, and considers MacGyver to be the greatest character television has ever seen.

Low Point

The film geek within me was forced to cringe more than once, and not just in episodes that gave directorial credit to Alan Smithee. MacGyver is undoubtedly smart, but 95% of the villains he deals with are unmitigated morons.

The Review

This is an original concept. We’ve seen spies and action heroes before and since. However, MacGyver is unique: James Bond goes into the field with all sorts of gadgets produced by Q, but MacGyver builds equally effective gadgets out of bits and pieces he finds and cobbles together while working in the field. He hates guns with a passion, and manages to never kill anyone. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were pretty well done. You can tell the budget isn’t quite as large as they had hoped, but it’s not small and they made excellent use of it. I give it 6 out of 6.

The stories are frustratingly inconsistent. On one hand, there are absolultely brilliant science moments, most of which would work exactly as shown. (The potentially dangerous ones have important steps or ingredients left out of the dialogue, but work with small tweaks including equipment and/or ingredients that appear on screen. (It seems like they didn’t want kids blowing themselves up at home after watching an episode.) On the other hand, we’ve got the standard problems with 1980s TV villains: they fill the air with bullets from a distance, but forget to pull the trigger when the hero gets close enough to hit. They also make all the judgment errors MacGyver needs them to make, such as devoting all 30 lackeys to running down the hallway to the right while MacGyver slips away to the left. Even worse, the happy endings have a tendency to be so incredibly happy I feel like I might develop diabetes. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting from Richard Dean Anderson works very well. They seem to have incorporated a lot of his real life traits into the character (including his attitudes toward guns and hockey) which may help keep the character feeling natural. Dana Elcar is similarly well cast. The guest cast, which includes virtually everyone else, are somewhat variable, but often bad. In fact, they can be downright painful, including Teri Hatcher at her most annoying. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production is as frustrating as the scripting. The science-based sequences are usually well shot and edited, but others are weaker. Villains have the usual problems: they aim at shoulder height if the hero is near a wall, but aim for the feet if he’s running out in an open field. Personal, touching conversations are inconsistently shot as closeups and medium shots, and the lighting is high key and uniform. It’s got something of a “two steps forward, one step back” feel, starting with the pilot episode. That one has one of the few “opening gambit” sequences, in which MacGyver has a quick mission before the credits and first commercial and then hits the main story. That opening gambit is so inconsistent with the rest of the episode (and season) that I suspect it’s the reason the original director has his credit replaced with “Alan Smithee.” I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response from my inner science geek is fantastic. My inner film geek often cringes and groans. This dialogue from the pilot episode sums it up nicely:
Barbara Spencer: Blow an opening? With what? Don’t tell me you know how to make a bomb out of a stick of chewing gum.
MacGyver: Why, you got some?
Yes, I believe MacGyver could indeed make a bomb out of a stick of chewing gum. Still, the painfully awkward “set-up, punchline” structure forced in here is common to the season, particularly in the early episodes. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, I enjoyed the season enough to seek out and find a deal on the complete series box. If your inner science geek can beat up your inner film geek, you’ll probably want to do the same. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, MacGyver: Season One receives 30 out of 42.

2 replies on “Weekend Review – “MacGyver: Season One””

  1. On my screen, the black text in the Cast section is in front of a green background. Thought you should know. ;)

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