We concluded our look at MacGyver tonight with another one of its occasional Mission: Impossible-style sting operations. This one brings back Jack Dalton as one of the “field operatives” and features a pair of pretty notable guest stars: Vic Tayback and Linda Blair. Tayback plays a local crime boss, which wasn’t unusual for him in this period, and Blair plays the daughter of yet another old friend of Jack and MacGyver’s, who gets killed by Tayback’s character in the opening scene.
Richard Dean Anderson gets to play a different role in this story. He poses as a Steve Urkel-like TV nerd called Dexter who whines within earshot of the bad guy’s goons about the impossibility of building the same device the boss already uses to fix horse races, thus starting the sting in operation. It’s a little unlikely, but all done with style and fun, and I was genuinely surprised by the ending. Our son needed a little clarification about what fixing horse races and laundering money means, but he had a good time with it as well.
That’s all for MacGyver at our blog, but there will be more RDA in the future. We’ll watch Legend, his short-lived Western from the short-lived UPN network, in about a year, after we watch a couple of other Westerns, so stick around!
“Serenity” is a very silly and very cute little change of pace episode written by Stephen Kandel. The producers rounded up most of the show’s recurring actors – Bruce McGill, Teri Hatcher, Michael Des Barres – and a couple of players like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert Donner who had shown up in other episodes, and shipped ’em off about six hundred miles east to the Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary to make a western.
So of course this is all a dream – MacGyver, exhausted from everybody demanding all of his time, collapses on his sofa in front of an old western VHS – but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good excuse to let everybody play roles that are just so slightly different and have a “this town ain’t big enough for both of us” story in which Dana Elcar’s mean and desperate rancher contracts a hired gun – Des Barres, of course – to run MacGyver off the land that he wants. McGill is a “tin horn” gambler and Hatcher is the showgirl with a heart of gold. It’s good fun, with a few very amusing lines of dialogue.
Our son enjoyed it a lot, which is nice, because I told him that he’ll get to see Richard Dean Anderson in another western in about a year. He also provided the stunningly insightful observation that with all the snow on the ground, they must have filmed this in winter. One shouldn’t be too sarcastic to one’s children, so we congratulated his deductive reasoning with smiles. Then he wondered whether it might be hail instead of snow.
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…”
“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.
Jack Dalton’s back in a by-the-numbers story about corrupt “failure to communicate” wardens and sheriffs in “the deep south,” without a single plot beat that wasn’t visible from space. British Columbia does a passable job in this episode pretending to be Arkansas, which is more than I can say for the actors and actresses who are pretending to live in that state. I was annoyed just being in the same room with this one.
For Jack Dalton’s second appearance on MacGyver, they put together a showreel of all the many occasions he’d got our hero into some scrape or other. Of course, there was only one previous episode from which to draw this footage, so they reordered the material to make it look and feel like it came from a whole host of other adventures. MacGyver’s narration goes “He was always doing this, and he was always doing that,” and if you’ve actually seen “Jack of Lies”, your eyes are bound to roll. Is this supposed to fool anybody?
The answer, amazingly, is yes. Marie volunteered that this was the first episode she saw with the character, and she convinced herself there was a pile of episodes that she had missed! Since I’ve been a little hard on this show for repurposing footage, I guess I should give them a good mark for doing it well enough to get away with it. Although they really, really missed a trick by not giving the actors some different clothes and faking a couple of new scenes from previous adventures. Sure, this is the old guerrilla filmmaker in me talking, but when they had the cameras set up with at least two police cars and uniformed extras for the on-location scene at the end, they should have just given Richard Dean Anderson and Bruce McGill each new shirts and come up with some quickie dialogue about the mess they were in this time. What would that have taken? Twenty extra minutes?
Speaking of shirts, Lee Purcell is in this story as a CIA agent called Shadow – yes, her partner was named Light – and she has the two least suitable outfits for secret agenting you’ve ever seen. We meet her in a PG-rated okay-for-eight-pm strip club wearing something not entirely unlike what Vanity wore in the “Nasty Girl” video, and for the following morning’s adventure, she’s wearing an awfully 1980s church outfit, a conservative blue dress completely unsuitable for climbing under chain link fences or getting thrust into garbage trucks by thugs with pistols. She’s not dressed like she’s going into the field on assignment, but like she’s having a meeting with the new district assistant manager of direct sales for Amway. No wonder the wardrobe manager couldn’t find extra shirts for Anderson and McGill if he or she couldn’t even find a pair of blue jeans for the female lead!
That’s all from MacGyver for now, but we’ll be back with a look at some selections from season three in June. Stay tuned!
By miles, “Jack of Lies” is the most entertaining episode of MacGyver we’ve seen so far. It gives us the great backstory that ten or twelve years previously, Mac was basically living the life of an ITC adventure show of the early seventies. He and his friends Jack Dalton and Mike Forester, played by Bruce McGill and Patricia McPherson, were globetrotting and treasure-hunting and getting into trouble and breaking each other’s hearts from Martinique to Barbados. Seems like we missed out on a potentially fun show!
Jack Dalton becomes a recurring character after this installment and it’s easy to see why. Like Penny Parker, Jack drives Mac to distraction, though his shtick is that he comes up with one hairbrained “plan” after another and never quite tells the whole truth. He’s the “lovable rogue,” in other words. The setup for this story is that he’d enlisted Mike’s help to scam a drug smuggler in Nosuchlandia, but Mike is captured and so he has to fly to Los Angeles to get Mac. This he does by stealing the entire contents of Mac’s apartment while he’s away on a mission or something. Shenanigans ensue.
Honestly, the only grumbles I have about this episode are entirely down to the inescapable eighties-ness that permeates the whole show. Well, now that it’s over and I’m reading about it, I’ll grumble that Jack comes back about fifteen more times but this is Mike’s only appearance in the show for some dumb reason. Do I want to watch MacGyver rescuing troubled teens from mountain lions, or do I want to watch these three pulling cons and toppling corrupt politicians in the French Riviera? As always, the show that we don’t get is more entertaining.