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MacGyver 5.12 – Serenity

“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.

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MacGyver 4.9 – Cleo Rocks

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.

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MacGyver 4.1 – The Secret of Parker House

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.)

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Coraline (2009)

This kid of ours has had a lot of books read to him. It’s been part of his bedtime routine since before he knew what the heck his mom and dad were doing, sitting there next to him in his crib making funny sounds with our mouths. Mom does most of the reading; he’s kind of outgrown the part I liked best, which was doing storytime at the library and letting him pick two of the three picture books that I read aloud to bring home for Mom to give a second, third, fifteenth spin. He’s on early chapter books now, but he still likes illustrations quite a lot.

That’s not to say he’s completely abandoned picture books. We were killing time in a Barnes & Noble last week and I read him Elise Parsley’s unbelievably delightful If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t!, and one of the double-page spreads was so funny that when Mom joined us several minutes later, we were still laughing.

Anyway, so our favorite seven year-old critic’s already had Neil Gaiman’s Coraline read to him, but I didn’t exercise due diligence and ask what he enjoyed most about it, or what the scariest scene might be. I found out this afternoon. There’s a bit toward the end where a malicious and disembodied hand, made from a mass of sewing needles, forces its way past a locked door, and he shouted “Oh, no!” and went white as a sheet. It turns out this was the bit in the book that gave him the most serious fright.

He’d been absolutely quiet and still up to that point, just occasionally laughing with gusto over the antics of Coraline’s downstairs neighbors and their dogs. The 2009 film adaptation of Coraline, a stop-motion animation directed by Henry Selick and featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher, runs to about 100 minutes and he was the best-behaved child you’ve ever seen sit still that long.

His calm attention matched the tone of the movie. This is a very quiet film, and the music is often very low-key and not intrusive. For parents who want to enjoy a movie with their children that isn’t exploding with noise, dated pop culture references, wacky voices, and old pop music, this is an oasis in a sea of pablum.

I wouldn’t go any younger than seven, though. Coraline’s a good hero and extremely brave, but she has a very, very outre and frightening adventure. She and her family have moved into a dilapidated and isolated apartment building in rural Oregon. Coraline sees her parents as inattentive and awful, though they really just seem to have scheduled their move from Michigan at the worst possible time, and are fighting work deadlines without a chance to unpack, shop, cook, or spend time with their daughter. Coraline begins dreaming of another world, where button-eyed “Other Parents” give her the attention that she craves. She also learns that three children have vanished from this house over the last several decades, and that her too-kind-to-be-true Other Mother has an insatiable craving for love and affection.

Coraline is a very creepy movie that lingers in its strange and sad atmosphere rather than rush, but it doesn’t sit around idly either. Fifteen minutes in, and our heroine is already visiting the other world. I hadn’t seen the movie since we went to its theatrical release nine years ago and had forgotten most of the details – although not the horrors of the terrific Other Mother as she sheds her humanoid form – and was very pleased to reacquaint myself with it today. I think our son might ask to watch this one a few more times, and enjoy cuddling with his security blanket during the scariest parts.

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MacGyver 2.13 – Soft Touch

Teri Hatcher’s character, the bad luck-prone Penny Parker, came back for another go-round in this silly and fun story. This time, she stumbles across a couple of hitmen, played by the very familiar faces of character actors Vincent Schiavelli and Robert Donner, at the same time that Mac is babysitting a Soviet defector. I liked this one because it’s a great example of the Maverick formula. Rather than a “serious but never hopeless” story, it’s “hopeless but never serious.”

Oddly, we thought that our son’s favorite bit was when Mac threw a flare on the roof of the hitmen’s van and our son exclaimed that it was dynamite. He wasn’t actually disappointed when it didn’t explode. He’d earlier seen the hitmen test their voice-activated bomb by blowing up a wheelchair, and that was a big enough bang.

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MacGyver 1.16 – Every Time She Smiles

I’m always happy to watch Teri Hatcher in just about anything. I think she’s by far the best Lois Lane ever, and I appreciate how she’s made appearances as other characters in later Krypton-style TV like Smallville and Supergirl. And of course, she was Susan in ABC’s long-running hit Desperate Housewives, and the unforgettable Sidra in Seinfeld. One of her earliest screen appearances was as Penny Parker in this 1986 episode of MacGyver. The character, despite her gigantic eighties hair, brings out the suffering in our hero so very well that she came back for four more opportunities to drive him to distraction.

Richard Dean Anderson’s talent for comedy doesn’t get nearly enough appreciation. It’s what kept Stargate SG-1 entertaining when the plots were at their most exasperating, and it makes what could have been a tedious runaround with a deliberately annoying-beyond-belief dingbat of a dancer very entertaining. Hatcher’s role is kind of thankless and one-dimensional, and it’s a little unfair that she feeds our hero all the best lines, but I’m looking forward to her driving him crazy again when we get to her next appearance two or three months from now.

Also notable this time: the producers almost made up for pilfering all that stunt footage earlier in the season with a very impressive car crash in the climax that had our son jumping out of his seat. And because the weird finger of coincidence keeps hovering over my life lately, I have to point out that the location used for the Bulgarian park full of old men playing chess in front of the carousel was actually used in the climax of the last episode of Charlie’s Angels that I watched, a couple of days ago. It’s not that crazy – if you want to start listing TV shows filmed in Griffith Park in the seventies and eighties, we’ll be here all week – but I can’t help but know the place in front of me isn’t actually Bulgaria when I watched Farrah Fawcett skateboard through it just 36 hours earlier.

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