Speaking of a little song and dance, like we were last time, in this morning’s episode of MacGyver, Penny Parker lands the lead role in a hilariously eighties rock opera, and in the first scene, MacGyver visits an afternoon rehearsal. It’s all downhill from the end of the song.
I apologized to our son for missing out on another recurring character in MacGyver. When I was choosing episodes, I looked at the cast lists on IMDB and passed right over the ones with Michael Des Barres, because he’s an actor I don’t particularly enjoy, without it registering that he plays MacGyver’s arch-enemy, Murdoc. I wasn’t going to go for the obvious metaphor and say it would be like deliberately skipping all the episodes of Doctor Who with the Master, because I didn’t know the character, but darned if he’s not remarkably like the Master, particularly the eighties version played by Anthony Ainley that we’ll meet soon, all silly disguises and outrageous accents and hiding his true identity in clues for the hero, not to mention the unbelievably overcomplicated screwball bad guy schemes for revenge, revenge, revenge.
Although it must be said that as hairbrained and dopey as some of the eighties Master’s schemes were – I’m honestly looking forward to “Time-Flight” about as much as I’m looking forward to my next trip to the dentist – he never tried to stage a freaking rock opera to ensnare our hero. I know there’s been some competition, but this might just be the stupidest episode of this show we’ve seen.
Also, remember what I was saying a couple of weeks ago about naming the surprise actors in the opening credits? It’s cool to list Teri Hatcher and Robert Donner in the opening, but when you say “Michael Des Barres as Murdoc,” it kind of gives the game away. Eighties Who hid their guest villains in the credits with pseudonyms, so anybody picking up the TV listing would see names like Roy Trommelly (Terry Molloy) or James Stoker (Master’s joke) and not, ideally, be on the lookout for anybody wearing a fake mustache and beard! Eh, it fooled our kid, anyway.
Playing catchup with the last couple of MacGyver installments we’ve looked at, “The Survivors” at least starts with an interesting premise. The Phoenix Foundation requires its operatives to be physically fit enough for field work, and so, knowing that he is old and out-of-shape enough to be certain to fail, Pete wants MacGyver to give him the assessment solo, so he could flunk out quietly and let his friend break the bad news alone instead of in front of a group. A little Hollywood magic helped Dana Elcar, then in his early sixties, navigate some of the obstacle courses that surround a plot about drug smugglers, but this truly felt like a cheapie of the season with as few speaking parts as possible. Nice location, though.
There’s also a ridiculously nice location in “Ma Dalton,” which introduces Richard Lawson as a new recurring character, Jesse Colton. Various members of the Colton family showed up in seasons four through six, ending with a failed pilot for a proposed spinoff. Jesse is a flamboyant bounty hunter who’s looking for a $15,000 prize: Jack Dalton’s mother, who skipped bail three years ago. Unfortunately, Ma Dalton is trying to turn surprise trial-day evidence in some nebulous eighties insider trading / Wall Street business against some men in Armani suits and bad haircuts. That’s where the episode fumbles for me. It’s far too tame and trendy. It would have been a million times more interesting if she had been on the lam since the late sixties for being part of some radical Weather Underground / Symbionese Liberation Army group. As it is, the episode is mawkish, sentimental, and far too predictable from top to bottom, with only the larger-than-life Jesse Colton and this one eye-popping building to make it notable.
Thanks to the eagle-eyed gang at the MacGyver Online Forums, we know that they filmed the evil stockbroker’s headquarters at this building in Burnaby, British Columbia which was the headquarters for Kodak Canada and is today the home of Schneider Electric. Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, which was designed by Richard Meier, opened in 1983. This building looks like the work of a Richard Meier tribute act. There’s a similar huge, open central atrium with natural light, along with some very modern gigantic primary-colored objects keeping the visitors’ sightlines occupied. I just bet that MacGyver‘s location scouts had a meeting with the writers’ room at some point and said “Just as soon as you can write a script where the bad guy’s a super-rich dude who owns a building, we’ve already talked to this one place they can let us have on a Saturday…”
In 1990, Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy brought his lecture tour to the University of Georgia. Naturally, I attended, and an acquaintance of mine decided to use the Q&A opportunity to pester Mr. Liddy as to whether Nixon really knew what he was up to. And I mean pester. How Liddy kept his cool under that barrage of obnoxiousness, I’ve no idea.
Since I was even more of an immature schmuck at age 18 than I am now, and since I was being egged on, I joined my buddy at the mic, but not to ask whether Nixon knew. I just decided to tease our distinguished guest about his Hollywood career playing villains in shows like MacGyver. Well, Liddy swatted me like a forgettable fly and I’ve sniggered about what a little jerk I was ever since. Compounding my assholery, the terrible truth is that I’d never actually seen any of Liddy’s roles before. But now that I have, I can safely say that as an actor, Liddy made a good Plumber. (Thank you, thank you, ladies and germs, thank you.)
Of actual note this time, for those of you trying to piece together MacGyver’s unusual past of bomb disposal, military service, longtime girlfriends, and star of the ITC action show that shoulda been with Jack and Mike, he apparently spent most of the late seventies as a professional race car driver in Europe. He is haunted by the experience and never talks about it. Plus, among all the very best friends forever that nobody ever heard of before the plot required them to pop in (a problem endemic to television adventure heroes), MacGyver has one called Jeff who is played by Patrick Wayne in a blisteringly obnoxious ’80s haircut. As is the way of these things, we apparently never see or hear of this best friend again after this story, but at least Jeff doesn’t die as these best friends so often do in stories like this.
Remember all those little girls who were falling down wells in the eighties? Well, that happens here. Then a boy from the local Amish community gets trapped down there with her. Ruth de Sosa, who would later play Young Indiana Jones’s mother, got some practice in the art of acting worried about her baseball-loving boy here. For posterity, our son thought this one was incredibly exciting and he was, despite his protest that he knew it’d all be fine, really worried about the kids.
Back to 1988 and another ten episode best-of from the world of MacGyver. That year, just about every show’s fall debut was pushed back by five or six weeks by the Writer’s Guild of America strike. When everybody came to an agreement, it looked like the earliest that they could get the first new episode of MacGyver on the air was Monday, October 31st. I wonder whether that gave them the idea to do a haunted house story?
I had some fun at our son’s expense before we got started. I picked this one because it’s another to feature the wonderful Teri Hatcher as Penny Parker, and I knew, because Marie actually pulled it off the shelf to watch about a year ago, that it was set around an allegedly haunted house. So I asked our son whether he enjoys MacGyver so much because our hero is never in really serious danger, and because the show is never scary. He agreed on both counts, and then squirmed and hid behind his security blanket at all the goings-on. There are perfectly rational explanations for everything, up until the inevitable “maaaaaaaaybe there really is a ghost?” tag scene, anyway, but I think the producers had fun coming up with as many frights and cobwebs and things that go bump in the night as they could squeeze into the show’s first half.
A fun little casting note: I picked seven of the ten episodes we’re watching just by breezing through IMDB and picking out familiar names. Teri Hatcher was good enough for me. I’d watch her in anything, honestly. So since I wasn’t paying attention beyond her, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ray Young – Bigfoot himself! – in the opening credits. “Is there a real big guy in this episode?” I asked Marie. “Like, seven feet tall big?” And while I firmly believe that actors should receive proper credit, it’s a bit of a giveaway when you’re waiting for Ray Young to show up and the TV show is trying to keep you guessing as to who might be in the haunted house with our heroes. (The worst example ever is when you watch a Law & Order: Criminal Intent from about the middle of the run and the credits read that Olivia D’Abo is guest starring, spoiling that whatever’s going on this week, Nicole Wallace is behind it. That drives me mad.)
There’s a great bit in this story that emphasizes how different the business world was in the eighties. MacGyver has a lead on a villain who’d jumped him earlier, thanks to a distinctive wrench used by workers in a shipping yard. Some random security guy in an office that was blown up at the beginning of the episode goes to a computer terminal that really shouldn’t be plugged in at the moment, presses about six buttons, and our hero has the guy’s photo, name, and address in a hilarious screen-filling image. These days, the guy’d have a legitimate complaint with his HR department, wouldn’t he?
Another thing that was different in the eighties: ninjas. Tia Carrere plays a submachine gun-packing ninja with all the requisite crazy ninja weapons and gear and insanely overcomplicated ninja traps, including a birdcage that explodes with poisoned needles, and a cobra just in case that doesn’t work. I’d say the writer’s grandkids really enjoyed playing with GI Joe toys.
The writer, incidentally, was Hollywood veteran Herman Miller, who had earlier created that iconic early seventies show Kung Fu. Keye Luke, who had played in that series, has a small part here, along with some other familiar faces like Soon-Tek Oh and Al Leong. The highlight of the episode is a genuinely great fight scene in a car park about halfway through the proceedings. Our son was a little more thrilled than I was, but, you know kids and ninjas.
That’s all for MacGyver for now, but we’ll select ten episodes from the show’s fourth season and give them a look in August. Stay tuned!
As you might expect from any adventure show, the hero has a lot more incredibly important old girlfriends than anybody in the real world. In Peter Filardi’s “The Endangered,” MacGyver has such a close call on an assignment, only saved from death by the gunman’s pistol jamming, that he decides he doesn’t want his old college sweetie Karen to be the one that got away any longer. Oblivious to the reality that she moved on long ago, he drops in / imposes on her in extreme upstate Washington, where she works as a ranger in a huge national park that borders Canada. They run afoul of three poachers who shoot Karen and then start tracking them through the wilderness to finish the job.
Typically, the usual TV adventure hero isn’t shown to be as downright wrongheaded about his old romances as MacGyver is here. He says that he wouldn’t have come to the park had Karen told him about her current boyfriend. You can find plenty of examples of a character looking up an old flame to find that she has married or has a strong relationship, but there’s something a little awkward and different about the way MacGyver just pathetically tries to tell himself that this can’t be true. I liked the honesty. The character feels more like a real, dumb human than a superhuman TV character here.
Karen is played by Moira Walley, who racked up a few dozen guest star parts in the eighties and nineties. Credited today as Moira Walley-Beckett, she’s principally a producer and writer, and worked on ABC’s Pan Am, which I enjoyed more than you did, along with Breaking Bad and the CBC’s current “Green Gables” adaptation Anne. Don S. Davis plays one of the poachers. This is Davis’s other acting part in the third season of MacGyver, and it’s a much meatier role than the one we saw previously.
I was more impressed by the production of “The Endangered” than the script, because the story requires the villains to be tactical but not strategic. There is no way in any universe that such intelligent and resourceful men could possibly expect to get away with the absolutely idiotic decisions they make. I just didn’t believe in them, but I enjoyed watching the story unfold in this glorious, rain-soaked location. As for our son, he has lots of questions about hunting and poaching and conservation, and I hope we can assure him that nobody who enjoys the sport of hunting is anywhere near as ruthless and/or stupid as these guys.
“Rock the Cradle” is certainly one of the most entertaining and fun episodes that we’ve watched so far. In the ongoing saga of Jack Dalton starting his air cargo business, he’s finally got a plane. Unfortunately, it’s one with a dud engine and faulty landing gear, leading to a first-act midair crisis that reminded me of the “opening gambits” from the first thirteen episodes.
Mitzi Kapture, the future star of Silk Stalkings, guest stars as a waitress on the run from counterfeiters, and she dumps a baby – Jack Jr.?! – with Dalton along with $95,000 in phony money before going into hiding. There are the expected mid-eighties “fellows can’t take care of a baby” gags, including MacGyver diapering the kid with duct tape, but it’s honestly better than I can make it sound, thanks in part to Richard Dean Anderson and Bruce McGill’s terrific squabbling chemistry. We all enjoyed it, and it even ends with a perfectly in-character hockey gag.
Meh. I picked this one because I saw Judy Geeson, who had appeared in dozens of British shows in the sixties and seventies, was in the cast. She started showing up on American dramas like Murder, She Wrote and Hotel in the eighties. Here, she’s cast as a French con artist. Is she going to ensure that Jack Dalton’s latest get-rich-quick scheme will blow up in his face again? Of course!
I dunno. Dr. Plausibility had a whole lot of problems with this script, particularly with an unbelievable French police inspector. There are certainly a few fun moments. Our son absolutely loved MacGyver’s nitrogen-powered battering ram, and I adored the camera lingering on Richard Dean Anderson’s long, long slow burn of disbelief as he realizes that he’s letting himself fall for this nonsense again. Writer Stephen Kandel has constructed better stories than this before, but it sparked a few smiles.
Meh. I picked this one because I saw Martin Milner, who had played Tod in one of my all-time favorite American shows, Route 66, was in the cast. But Milner’s barely in this. It’s an Afterschool Special with MacGyver coaching a college hockey team in Minnesota and teaching a hotshot the value of teamwork. Nice to see some hockey at least. I’m gonna take our son to Knoxville for an Ice Bears game one of these days.
Steve Armitage, the longtime, legendary host of the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, does the play-by-plays in the role of the local FM announcer for this sleepy, one-horse college town. It’s every bit as goofy as it would have been to hire Keith Jackson to play the announcer for the Bad News Bears.
“Blow Out” is a considerably more interesting installment of the show than the last one we watched. It’s a more traditional heroes versus terrorists story, building up to a hidden bomb and no time to defuse it. It’s the fourth appearance of the Nikki Carpenter character played by Elyssa Davalos, but despite coming on board as a full-time employee / operative of the Phoenix Foundation, she’d be written out a couple of months later.
Right at the end, in a very small part, eagle-eyed viewers might catch Don S. Davis as the driver of a cement truck. Davis was also Dana Elcar’s stunt double this season, and it turns out he plays another character in another episode that we’ll watch in a couple of weeks. Ten years later, Davis and Richard Dean Anderson would star together in Stargate SG-1, which was also filmed in Vancouver.
But the most memorable moment watching this one with our son came with a little trick that MacGyver does to keep track of a truck while tailing it from a safe distance. Yesterday, as regular readers know, we watched The Avengers for the first time, and our son first saw the cute scene where Captain America recognizes what somebody means when they mention flying monkeys and then enters meme immortality:
MacGyver’s trick involves a can of paint with a hole punched in the bottom, allowing Nikki and him to “follow the yellow brick road.” Our son said, “Hey! That’s a thing from The Wizard of Oz!” We paused the show and reminded him of the bit in The Avengers. The cute character moments were kind of lost among all that movie’s mayhem, but I couldn’t resist. But he kept paying close attention. The trail leads them to the “industrial sector,” and MacGyver says that it’s not quite the Emerald City. “That’s also a reference to The Wizard of Oz,” he said with a huge grin.