Topic: MacGyver Reborn

As someone who reveres the Quinn Mallory character, I naturally have some interest in MacGyver, an 80s-era secret who would use his knowledge of chemistry, engineering, mechanics, aerodynamics and improvisation on various missions. MacGyver, despite the protests of some, is a very Quinn Mallory-esque character, a man constantly in dangerous situations who, despite battling evil is ultimately a man of peace who avoids violence and lethal force when possible. He was a great contrast to the machismo of 80s action heroes, and in this day and age, a hero like MacGyver is needed more than ever.

Unfortunately, the reboot completely misses the mark. The actors are all great, but the writing seems deeply uncomfortable and at times simply incapable. The MacGyverisms are not only deeply unimaginative and predictable, they also prove to be ineffectual. In the teaser alone, MacGyver's brilliant invention is to use a magnet to create radio interference and use tape to lift fingerprints. That's not clever; that's just commonplace with the writers creating incredibly easy softball situations to avoid challenging the character or themselves. More alarmingly, even these simplistic measures fail. The mission proves to be a complete disaster and MacGyver and his team look ineffectual and incompetent.

Then there's the discovery that MacGyver's girlfriend and colleague, Nikki, turns out to be a collaborator in a mass murder plot with a virus. The script provides no depth whatsoever into what MacGyver's relationship with her meant to either party and the actress is provided with no dialogue or scenes to explain her character or motivations -- she's simply a blank space and actress Tracy Spiridakos has nothing to play to make the character menacing or mysterious, and the fact that MacGyver was in love with this vapidly written cipher who fooled him makes him look even dumber.

And then we come to the violence. The classic MACGYVER had scuffles and battles despite not using guns, but this new MACGYVER has the character teamed with a partner, Jack Dalton, who casually shoots villains to death. While it's understandable to allow this in an espionage drama, the result is that MacGyver's non-lethal tactics are further undermined because if they were in any way effective, he wouldn't need Jack to kill people on his behalf.

When MacGyver gets into fights himself, the scripts make extremely poor use of his ability to use his surroundings effectively, coming up with all of two ideas when the pacing calls for at least five or six. If you're going to have MacGyver fight hand to hand repeatedly, it needs to be akin to Jackie Chan using shopping carts, cabinets, chili peppers and refrigerators in rapid succession instead of MacGyver dropping a ladder on someone once. The most exasperating thing is that despite Lucas Till's superb charm and presence as MacGyver, the script has him giving self-satisfied voiceovers about his competence when the visuals show he's a catastrophe and the show doesn't seem to know it.

It's funny -- the show is being led by the series creator, Lee David Zlotoff. But the thing is that Zlotoff was barely involved in the original MACGYVER; it was Henry Winkler and John Rich who were trying to come up with an action-adventure series for Richard Dean Anderson; Zlotoff was hired to write the Pilot episode and came up with the idea of a hero who used the objects around him to get him out of dangerous situations, but the Pilot uses that more as narrative convenience than the main attraction.

Zlotoff then took a long hiatus from television. The MACGYVER pilot written by Zlotoff is like a vague sketch at best; MacGyver is arrogant and at one point fires an AK-47 and lives in an observatory. It was only when producer Stephen Downing came aboard did the MACGYVER solidify into emphasizing MacGyver's improvisational brilliance not as a plot device but as the centerpiece of the show and what would draw viewers in week after week, and he also toned down MacGyver's smugness and made him more humble and seemingly deferential.

Due to Winkler and Rich forgetting certain key contractual issues, Zlotoff's representation determined that Zlotoff was the creator of the property and held the rights to the character, leading to lavish payments and the reboot where Zlotoff is in charge.

Now, I don't think it's unreasonable for Zlotoff to have reaped the rewards of his creation as he did come up with the name and the idea of MacGyver being a master-spy who could turn a tent into a hang glider on the fly -- but Zlotoff wasn't really a part of the series that came after the Pilot and made MacGyver a cultural icon, so I'm unfortunately not surprised to see that the creator doesn't really understand how his successors were able to make his show special.

The new MACGYVER is aesthetically respectful to the past, mimicking shots from the original, using a variation on the original theme, preserving MacGyver's Swiss Army knife and even his hairstyle. But in Zlotoff's hands, MacGyver has returned to what he was in that early draft that was the Pilot: a generic action hero with some inventive but low-key and ultimately irrelevant quirks played by a terrific actor who desperately needs a better screenwriter.