I know, we’re already about three episodes in, but I’ve been…distracted.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the original MacGyver, although I do enjoy watching it when I do see it. Long time readers also know I bought and enjoyed the comic modernizing the show. So I have nothing against a proper reboot. The question of course is whether or not this qualifies.
The original Angus MacGyver was an investigator for the Phoenix Foundation, serving under Pete Thorton and basically saving the world with a Swiss Army Knife. His ability to take ordinary objects and use them to escape a dangerous situation or stop the bad guys have earned him a place in pop culture and “pulling a MacGyver or some similar phrase is used for anyone who does that. The original series pretty much invented “life hacking”. So how does the new series fare? Going by the first episode there are some adaptation hiccups but overall I rather like the new show.
In the new version there are some similarities, from Mac narrating to his use of his “life hacking” skills to deal with baddies. He works for the Department of External Services (or DXS for short), which later gets renamed the Phoenix Foundation, the name of the group in the original show. I think the name change is in tribute to Mac and Pete’s first meeting but I didn’t catch it until I looked through Wikipedia about the old show, so they could have just kept it the Phoenix Foundation and we would have been good.
He has the jacket. He has the skills. He has the Swiss Army Knife. And that’s where it ends. I knew from the trailers that Lucas Till would play the character with a bit more energy to him than Richard Dean Anderson, but it was still a bit more than I expected. While Anderson’s MacGyver could defend himself, Till breaks out some serious martial arts moves. Again, going by the first episode we do see him use a gun to knock a bad guy out, and Mac rarely used a gun as a gun. However, Till’s version has no trouble blowing guys up with a boat or an actual bomb, which isn’t in classic Mac’s style. Also, this Mac works with a team, where the original usually worked alone or with someone he rescued. You know I usually defend the support network for heroes, but it’s also against what the original liked to do, have one man make a difference, something the Knight Rider franchise forgot for years until the last half of the remake, and by then it was too late.
Out of that support network only one is from the original series, Jack Dalton. And this is an even bigger change than MacGyver. Bruce McGill’s Jack was Mac’s pilot friend, who often got our hero into trouble more than he got him out. George Eads is the total opposite, as he usually helps Mac get out of trouble, and is a regular member of the team rather than a recurring character. While original Jack shied away from trouble, new Jack kicks all the butts MacGyver doesn’t. In fact, there’s only character who was even more changed: Pete Thorton, their boss. He’s a girl now. No, I’m not certain that’s in Patricia Thorton’s past (although this being modern TV I wouldn’t put it past them) but there’s not a whole lot I can say about her beyond that. At least not in this episode. Finally, there’s Wilt Bozer, Mac’s neighbor in the series and his roommate (and cover since he doesn’t know Mac doesn’t work for a think tank)…and I know nothing about the original. The new version I know slightly more about, because he’s a would-be filmmaker (in the pilot anyway) who works at a burger place.
New (to me anyway) to the series is computer hacker Riley Davis, played by Tristin Mays. (Yes, I didn’t know Tristin was a girl’s name as well.) Jack once dated her mom, and things led to them breaking up and Riley holds some resentment towards him. She also did something unexplained in the pilot (at least in the On Demand version I watched) that landed her in jail and joining the DXS/Phoenix Foundation was her way out. She replaces the team’s previous computer analysis, who happens to be Mac’s girlfriend, and that’s where I’ll stop in case some of you are planning to binge watch the full season for some reason. I really don’t understand why some people do that. She’s only in half of the episode but she seems interesting. All I can really tell you. I’ll either like her or not as the series goes on.
But while there are big changes to the characters, the show kind of works as an update in style. MacGyver still narrates his adventures. They do have this urge to point out every hacking combination he uses, and based on your tastes that could be annoying or help you follow what he’s doing. I’m on the fence at the moment. The theme song (an actual intro in a 2000s program!) starts with the original theme before going its own way and it works for me. You can tell they want to homage the old show without being enslaved to it. That works for me.
I may watch a few more episodes before deciding if I like it or not though. There are a lot of changes from the original, but as its own show it looks pretty good and a lot more fun than other crime dramas out there. That’s something CBS seems to be doing well, thanks to NCIS and Hawaii Five-0 for example, and what they did with Supergirl before it moved to the CW (and oddly not their version of the DC, aka the “Arrowverse” because Green Arrow was their first hit). It may end up being another example of “good show/bad adaptation”, but I suspect it will find its audience and not have the Mythbusters question its science.