MacGyver: Season 1
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Macgyver: Season 1

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It is not unusual for a television show to spawn a catch phrase, to become part of popular culture. What is exceedingly rare is for the main character of a series to become part of the actual language, MacGyver, to manufacture creative solutions to a problem with whatever is on hand. In 1985 the series MacGyver came upon the American television audience and the most popular do it yourself personality ever was born. MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) is a secret agent that works for the mysterious Phoenix Foundation, a think tank that freelances for the American government to resolve the most difficult problems. MacGyver is the ultimate anti-James Bond. With boyish good looks and a careful, optimistic manner he refuses to ever carry a gun. Instead of elaborate devices from a Q section MacGyver typically carries little more than a Swiss Army Knife, a pack of matches and some chewing gum. With simple items like this he can more than Bond ever imagined. In the opening episode of the series he disables a missile with a bent paper clip. What a man! Since all of MacGyver’s tricks are based on actual scientific principles the producers always made sure that a few steps where omitted so people wouldn’t be tempted to try this at home. Week after week MacGyver goes after the bad guys, saves the innocent and fights for truth, justice and the American way. Along with his immediate superior at the foundation, Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar) MacGyver winds up in horrible danger only to use one of his MacGyverisms to get out. At every turn MacGyver tries his best to avoid violence and his imaginative solutions are such that few are killed. While many television shows use fake violence this one actual showed the audience that intelligence is better than an automatic weapon. Both MacGyver and Thornton once worked together in the field for the Department of External Services (DXS), a government agency that appears to be close to the real life CIA. With Thornton in the office and MacGyver in the field the bad guys didn’t stand a chance.

What I have always enjoyed about this show is the way intelligence is shown as superior to physical violence. In most hour long action series brute force is the typical way out of any tight situation but MacGyver was able to think on his feet, or tied up in the corner, depending on circumstances. I also grew up amazed by Saturday afternoon shows like Mister Wizard, which explained simple scientific principles to kids. MacGyver is like a Mister Wizard that finds practical applications to these scientific wonders. While many think that this was just a gimmick, and to a certain extent it was, but it proved a point. Children watching the show could actual learn something that it is better to think than fight. It would appear that the American public was actually waiting for a show like this; it lasted some seven years and always was a popular choice for viewing. This is not to say the show was devoid of action, there was plenty. The bad guys would shoot, blow up things but nothing could stop the inventive mind of MacGyver. A little note here, in the first episode, the pilot, MacGyver did use a weapon but fortunately for all of us fans someone at ABC had the insight to see that this was not the direction the series should take.

Richard Dean Anderson absolutely owned the role of MacGyver. He has look down of a meek and mild man that would lull his adversaries into a false sense of security. He also looks like a man that could have gone to Western Technical University (a thinly disguised California Tech). There are great little touches in his portrayal of this character, things that make MacGyver more human, easy for the audience to identify with. MacGyver cares about kids; he spends his off time helping the local Boys and Girls club. Anderson gives us a nice guy as a hero, what a concept. Where most television action characters are one dimensional Anderson gives us a fully fleshed out human being. Dana Elcar is one of those actors that are immediately recognizable but most people can not place where they have seen him. His career as a character actor in films and television has spanned decades. He is perfect as friend ad boss to MacGyver. There is excellent chemistry between the two. In each scene they share there is a natural and realistic flow to the interaction. This relationship also centers the series and provides a strong foundation to build each episode. Both actors provide characters that are morally strong, driven by there beliefs and dedicated to what they know is right. This elevates this series above the all too common shoot-em-up series that television is inundated with.

The direction of the series is above the norm in almost every episode. Each installment is paced so that exposition is perfectly balanced with the action. As with most television series a different director is used for each episode but the producers chose wisely. Each director, while putting their own little twists on show they maintain and excellent continuity between each episode. There is a bit of the old Saturday morning movie theater serial to the show. Just before a commercial MacGyver would be in a seemingly inescapable trap of some sort, armed with his quick wit he natural gets out, while could have become very tiring very quickly, the talented directors and producers made this show fresh every week.

Paramount is to be applauded for bring this show to DVD. It is a welcomed change to most of the series out there and far better than watching endless reruns of the reality shows around today. The audio is in two channel Dolby Mono and for the most part is excellent. There were no drop outs or blurry dialogue. The video is full screen, naturally, and is also typically well done. There where a few frames that where marred by a fleck or two but considering this is a twenty year old television show the source material held up well. This is a must have for anyone that would like to trade in mindless pap for an intelligently written, well acted series.

Posted 2/3/05

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