Nostalgia is a powerful thing in a post-internet-awareness society. Where once it was a somewhat ineffable emotion that conjured wistful feelings in an individual, now it’s a dishrag that can be squeezed for profit for the masses. The latest droplet rung out is the CBS reboot MacGyver.
It’s here at the top I should confess that I have never seen the original MacGyver series, which enjoyed a respectful run from 1985 – 1992. However, like most people, I’m familiar with its cultural touchstones and still found a way to feel indignant about the reboot’s shabby handling of the beloved hero. Going into the 2016 reboot, we all know that MacGyver is a non-violent secret agent who uses his genius and near superhuman resourcefulness to get him out of sticky situations. He doesn’t like guns, and that fact helped him teach millions of people that using knowledge as one’s weapon of choice can be just as badass and sexy as using a Walther PPK.
The reboot opens and wastes no time introducing us to our intrepid group of good guys. There’s the muscle, Jack Dalton (George Eads), who backs up our hero and lends support through violence and blue-collar military humor. The hacker/tech support person, Nikki Carpenter (Tracy Spiridakos), who leads the team from (of course) a van. And, lastly, the team leader, Patricia Thornton, who has already infiltrated the scene but doesn’t do anything while there. If all that seems like a lot of information to take in through exposition, you’re not going to like the first 40 seconds of this series.
This leads us to our title hero, Angus “Mac” MacGyver (Lucas Till). He pulls up in a fancy car, wearing a tux, reveals he’s sleeping with the sexy hacker and starts to get the better of his fellow agents on the communications channel through banter, which the characters of this show speak exclusively. This cool-guy image ends up being the largest problem with MacGyver, so it’s fitting that it’s how we open.
Based on what we all know through cultural osmosis, he’s supposed to be a rather unremarkable man until it’s time to start solving some life puzzles and his usefulness is proven through ingenuity and guts. The MacGyver of the new age is an absolutely unflappable secret agent who is so capable of throwing down in martial arts combat that one wonders why he needs the craftiness at all.
The original series turned an entire generation of people onto the fields of engineering and applied sciences. Allowing the hero to be a straight-up action hero, jumping out of helicopters and knocking out armed guards with his bare hands, undercuts the necessity of him needing to, I’ll say it, MacGyver things. It constantly reminds us that imagination and brains aren’t the strongest ally in a dire situation, a closed fist is. Furthermore, while he never shoots anyone per the character’s trademark “no guns” policy, his body count plays fast and loose with his previous “non-violent” nature.
This wouldn’t be a big problem if any of the “inventions” the hero comes up with during the show were remotely close to being inventive. No spoilers, but if you don’t know how to beat a fingerprint scanner with dust and tape or that you can pick a lock with a bobby pin, you’re simply not the fan of the action/adventure genre that this show boasts itself being – so why are you here?
The show bends over backward putting the team in every action-movie trope there is, from a boat chase to stopping a moving plane to even jumping from a helicopter onto a moving truck. All the while, it begs us to enjoy the lead characters, who exchange not-so-witty one-liners back and forth like everyone is trying to get the last catchphrase of an Expendables movie before the credits roll them to cultural obscurity.
However, it doesn’t set their friendship up by showing us the circumstances by which these people met. When we join them in minute one, they’re talking about old memories from an operation in Cairo like the best buddies we’re demanded to believe they are. While we’re on the subject of the supporting cast, I’m afraid I’m going to have to talk about gender politics for a minute.
When the first two female leads of the show are introduced, things get a little not OK for 2016. The first is a leading government espionage agent based on (according to MacGyver’s voiceover) how “dangerous” she looks in her dress. The second, a brilliant hacker capable of running covert ops from a laptop, is described as the girl he’s banging… I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea. Add to that the culturally tone-deaf character of his black roommate, who dresses the entire premiere as a 1950s fry cook spouting a network-friendly “urban” vernacular, and you start to wonder where the quest to capitalize on nostalgia ends and the “modernized” reboot begins.
Overall, I can’t see what itch MacGyver scratches in 2016. If you long for a show that teaches you cool scientific tricks to get you out of sticky situations, I have to recommend Burn Notice, and if you told me in 2013 that I’d be discussing that show favorably, I would have fallen to my knees and wept for the future of TV.