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!
Here’s one for the Stargate fans. This seems to be Christopher Judge’s very first screen credit, playing a high school football player in a couple of scenes. Seven years later, he and Richard Dean Anderson would be spending a lot more time than this together in some Vancouver sound stage or other.
Otherwise, this is as dire as I’ve seen this show get. It’s another social consciousness story. Stay in school, kids!
“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.
A couple of nights ago, we watched a Young Indiana Jones story in which Indy learns about jazz, and our son was really, really unhappy with the music. He was much more satisfied with the late-80s rock used in tonight’s MacGyver, in which MacGyver looks up another old childhood friend, this one a successful singer. He asks her to join a Phoenix Foundation-sponsored Rock Against Drugs initiative, not knowing that somebody is trying to kill her.
Well, I didn’t like the music, which reminded me of something from Heart’s Bad Animals period, but the only other annoyance was a remarkable scene where a doctor at a Chicago-area psychiatric hospital just blabs all about his patient to MacGyver without a care in the world. Even accepting that this was before HIPAA, the guy acts like gossiping about his patients is what he really loves most about his job! Otherwise, this wasn’t bad. It’s got a welcome twist on the weary “old friend” trope and a very well-done scene where MacGyver and guest star Audrey Landers have to climb out of an elevator shaft. Plus, our son got to dance.
About the only thing I can tell you about Babylon 5 is that the two principal characters from the Centauri world were played by Peter Jurasik and Stephen Furst. Jurasik got to appear in MacGyver‘s first season and Furst got a turn in this one. He plays a nervous Phoenix Foundation scientist whose lab has been infiltrated. One of MacGyver’s old friends has gone rogue and stolen a vial of anthrax.
This one’s got spy ninja stuff and dirt bikes and fights, so our son enjoyed it, but it’s all stupidly predictable and tedious, and the story never gives us any reason to hope MacGyver’s renegade buddy comes to his senses. This was a very ponderous hour of television.
It’s not, however, the last MacGyver that we’ll watch. I agreed to forty episodes, and we’ve reached that now, but since our son enjoys this show so much, we’ll rotate in a few selections from season five a few months down the line. So stick around, there will be more to come!
Our son summed up this episode by announcing “that military machine got a taste of its own venom!” He enjoyed it the most, of course, but it’s honestly not bad. It’s a straightforward and simple adventure story where MacGyver and Pete stumble on a plan by some terrorists to hijack an EMP generator. The villains are called the Black Dove Front, and though there’s no particular reason to think that they’re related to the terrorists in season two’s “Phoenix Under Siege,” we can pretend.
I picked today’s episode because one of the guest stars is Walter Gotell, who appeared as the Soviet General Gogol opposite Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton in six of the James Bond films of the seventies and eighties. It’s a good treasure hunt adventure story, and an amusingly well-timed one. Our heroes are up in the Arctic Circle looking for a crate of gold bars that went down on a Soviet airplane in 1944, and the survivors of the crash rigged up their ice cave with the same sort of traps that we watched Indiana Jones navigate around when we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark just a week ago!
Our son really enjoyed this story, which features a couple of very fun impromptu gadgets, a runaway ice sled, C4 explosives, and some creepy frozen corpses. Because I’m a jerk, I grumbled a little inside because neither the tree-filled location nor the one-step-above Land of the Lost ice caves really fooled me into believing this was really the Arctic Circle, but credit where it’s due: this was an honestly entertaining episode of the show, certainly better than the average. Unfortunately, this was writer David Engelbach’s only MacGyver credit, and it looks like he retired to teach screenwriting after this. That’s a shame. With this as a calling card, plenty of early ’90s adventure shows should have been proud to offer him a staff writing job.
I picked tonight’s episode because it features an early acting appearance by Cuba Gooding Jr. I’m glad I did. It was a look back at how an eighties show addressed racism. The answer is, of course, “with a very heavy hand,” but there’s more than that. It’s interesting to see MacGyver seem to dismiss any allegation of white privilege, as to be expected from the time, and it’s also interesting to see what language was permissible on network television in early 1989. I believe this was the first installment of the show written by Chris Haddock, who would contribute several more stories through season six, and who would go on to create the successful Canadian cop drama Da Vinci’s Inquest. Dana Elcar doesn’t appear in this episode, but he directed it.
As for the content of the episode, it sparked a discussion about with our son afterward, especially to remind him that only horrible people use words like the villains of this story did. A race-baiting bigot has been trying to close down a boys and girls club for kids in bad situations that one of MacGyver’s old friends, played by Michael D. Roberts, runs. When things don’t go his way after an attempt to frame one of the kids for car theft, the bigot and his goons murder MacGyver’s friend, intending to taint his memory by making it look like he was connected to a local gang.
Considering how fluffy and light MacGyver always is, the episode features an unbelievably stark scene where our hero finds the body of his friend, murdered by the white supremacists. We haven’t seen Richard Dean Anderson get to lose his composure and collapse in grief before. That was a very powerful and sad moment. I do think the show missed one major opportunity: the cop character is obnoxiously gullible and stupid; it would have been so much better to have an intelligent cop see right through the obvious frame. Other than that, while some of its perspective has dated, this was a strong and important episode, and I’ve never said that before about any of MacGyver‘s heavy “social conscience” stories.
Let’s watch something fluffy and light tomorrow, shall we?
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.