MacGyver 1.1 (pilot)

In good improv, you never say “No.” You say “Yes, and.” And so, some years back, I told my wife Marie my idea about this blog. She said “Wonderful, we can show him MacGyver,” and I said “Yes, and… we’ll certainly do that.”

This is a program I know nothing positive about, beyond the admission that when she was a teenager, my wife watched it on ABC because she thought Richard Dean Anderson was dreamy. For the sake of balance, I freely admit that I remember that this was on ABC because at about the same time that my teenage wife-to-be was watching Richard Dean Anderson on Jacksonville FL’s ABC station, teenage me was in Atlanta watching Alyssa Milano on Who’s the Boss? and Khrystyne Haje on Head of the Class and frequently seeing commercials for MacGyver. And now that we’re up to speed on the objects of lust for teen viewers in the mid-eighties, let’s move on.

So MacGyver debuted in 1985. It was created by Lee David Zlotoff, who was then best known as a writer and producer on NBC’s private eye show Remington Steele, but he doesn’t seem to have worked much on it after putting it together, with Henry Winkler and John Rich apparently in charge after that. Other notable writers and producers include Stephen Kandel, who wrote for just about everything, John Sheppard, who contributed to more than sixty episodes, and, surprisingly, Terry Nation, who had semi-retired to California after contributing to practically every single British adventure series of the sixties and early seventies. Nation is only credited on three episodes, it seems, but apparently he touched on most of the first season’s scripts while working in the program’s writers room.

MacGyver got a reputation really early on for being a show where the hero rewires complex security systems with a piece of string, a coffee maker, and an aerosol spray can. Since I’ve seen exactly one episode of this show, from its second season, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, but I admit that I am going into this a little bit skeptical. I picked a few episodes with promising guest stars – Winkler and Rich didn’t seem to hire many of my favorites – and Marie added a few more to make an even ten episodes from each of its first four seasons. MacGyver ran for seven years, but I’m not committing to that many; we’ve got a lot of programs to watch before this kid gets too old and jaded.

Well, there is one unexpected actor who shows up in the first episode. I didn’t look at the pilot’s cast list on IMDB since we were going to start with episode one, so seeing the veteran character actor Olaf Pooley was a pleasant surprise. There are a few cast shuffles after this pilot, which features Michael Lerner as Mac’s boss and Dana Elcar, who would take the boss role later, as a completely different character. MacGyver lives in the Griffith Park Observatory – seriously, it is his house – and is a mentor to a “Little Brother” named Reggie, who’s also dropped after the pilot. But some things they got right from the start: Darlanne Fluegel plays the first of a hundred guest star women who don’t follow Mac’s instructions and get into trouble.

They spent a crapload of money on this pilot. The sets – mainly an underground research base that’s been blasted by plastique charges and leaking both sulfuric acid and some kind of gas – are amazingly detailed, full of rubble and running water. There isn’t a helicopter chase as I suggested last time, but there are two different choppers. Our son, who was kind of annoyingly overcharged with energy tonight, was hopping around way too much and has picked up a tedious catchphrase: “Now that’s what I call a helicopter!” “Now that’s what I call a missile!” “Now that’s what I call a secret entrance to the elevator shaft that’s full of lasers!” and so on. We finally had to tell the kid to clam it.

He liked it more than I did, though to be fair, the only honest objection I had was to the godawful incidental music, which is to be expected, because almost everything on television in the eighties had terrible incidental music. Certainly MacGyver improvises some ridiculous get-out-of-this gadgets with binoculars, allergy capsules, and chocolate – I’m actually not kidding this time, though they are three separate gadgets – but if we can overlook the Mythbusters team’s objections, some of these gimmicks are pretty amusing. We’ll look at another in a few days.

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