CBS is bringing back MACGYVER this week, a rebooted series for a new generation. This show resets things at square one; it is not a continuation with a son or grandson or nephew of the old character. So if you’ve never seen the original, it won’t be any problem to keep up. But the central story of a top agent who doesn’t shoot people and can make inventions out of nearly nothing, often alongside ridiculously unrealistic explosions, remains. And if you are a fan, there are tons of Easter eggs stuck in just for you.
As many know Angus “Mac”(Lucas Till, the latest X-Men movies) works for the very secret Department of External Services (DSX), a government agency that few know exists. He carries a Swiss Army knife and uses his superior mental abilities to save the day. In the new pilot, that means stopping a man (Vinnie Jones, Galavant, Snatch) from releasing a biological weapon on the unsuspecting public. Can he do it? Of course he can.
Unlike the previous, though, this one doesn’t work alone. Sure, old Mac had his boss, Pete Thornton, who has become Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt, House of Cards) in the new series. But now he also has buddy and muscle Jack Dalton (George Eads, CSI), roommate Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires, the Rush Hour TV series), tech whiz criminal Riley Davis (Tristin Mays, The Vampire Diaries), and love interest Nikki Carpenter (Tracy Spiridakos, Revolution).
Now, not all of these characters are new, though the cast does look appropriately more diverse. In fact, Riley is the only one who never appeared in some incarnation back in the old days, which makes sense because technology wasn’t really an everyday thing then. However, besides Mac and Pete, Jack was the third-most seen character back then, and he was still only in 19 of the 139 episodes. So Mac working with a team is definitely different, and feels forced both by the standards of today and the lazy structure most case-of-the-week procedurals take, unable or unwilling to dig deep into one lead character. Even though yes, it doesn’t make sense for Mac to know tech, so that one addition is kind of necessary.
Also, the pacing is quite a bit faster. In the 1980s, Mac could take his time disarming a bomb or hunting down a single villain. In 2016, that’s not going to be the case, with the new MACGYVER rocketing through several obstacles pretty darn quickly and not stopping to catch his breath too much until the end of the hour.
What this makes for is a very odd mishmash of periods and styles. MACGYVER borrows a lot from the crime shows of today, as noted in the two preceding paragraphs, but it also tries very hard to mimic some of the things that the old MacGyver is remembered for, such as Mac’s narration, his charming niceness, a light touch, and of course, the really big, cheesy explosions, all of which feel very out of place on television now.
So can the current formula work with enough nostalgia and resurrected style? My gut tells me no. While the MACGYVER pilot is fun, the two competing tones don’t gel all that well together. I think the production should either have doubled down on creating a true 1980-1990s feel or updated for the modern day (though the latter would really have annoyed me) rather than trying to do both. The result is messy and uneven, and I feel like people will see right through the gimmick, making it tough to build a following.
I do recommend watching the pilot anyway, though. It is a relatively unique piece of drama precisely because of the things listed above. Just be warned it may make you long for something you can never
have. And maybe you’ll be inspired to rewatch the original series on Netflix, which is nearly impossible to do because the aspect ratio is messed up and the quality is so bad. Can you get on fixing that, Netflix?
MACGYVER premieres Friday, September 23rd at 8/7c.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.