MacGyver: Season 4
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MacGyver: Season 4

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Good ole American ingenuity has never been showcased with such vigor as it was on the late eighties television series, MacGyver. MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) was an agent for the just and powerful Phoenix Foundation and was able to get out of any dire situation with a Swiss Army Knife, a paper clip and his wits. This not so secret agent had a great distain for weapons of any kind, preferring to get the better of the bad guys using tips he must have seen on the old television series, Mister Wizard. In this forth season this continues to be what set this series apart from the pack of action shows on the tube, it focused on intelligence over fire power. It was also a lot of fun to try to figure out just what little objects and scientific principles our stalwart hero would employ to extricate himself from the danger of the week. His nominal boss and best friend at the Foundation was Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar). In this season Pete would more frequently find himself in the field typically requiring a last minute rescue by MacGyver. In this season it seemed that MacGyver used his abilities to help his plethora of friends in need instead of a straight forward assignment from his employer. Apparently, being a friend of MacGyver guaranteed winding up in some life threatening situation. Two recurring examples featured in this season are Jack Dalton (Bruce McGill) and Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher). Dalton is ostensibly a pilot but since is frequently handles cargo that is, shall we say, less than legal, he often must turn to MacGyver to save his life. Penny is a young woman who dreams of being an actress. She is ditsy, full of life and has more chance of being in danger than getting a role.

While most action/adventure series modern viewers are used to have story arcs that run through the entire season or event he series, it was more typical in the late eighties for such shows to run stand alone episodes. Part of the thought process behind this was it would make it easier to run the series in syndication. There would be no concerns for showing the series in the correct order. The forth season of MacGyver followed this philosophy. The only thing that tied episodes together was the recurring characters and the Foundation. While the episodes were a bit uneven the overall entertainment factor holds up. Even the lightest episodes are a lot better than some of the mindless reality shows out there now.

The season opens up with a retread of a familiar theme. A young woman, in this case Penny, is broke and inherits a huge house. Her glee is soon dimmed as she realizes that the house is haunted. Naturally, the force behind the apparitions is more avarice than supernatural. Penny calls in her buddy MacGyver to save the day. In the other Penny Parker episode of the season, Penny finally has a chance to make it big in a new musical production. Her chances are almost ruined when dead bodies start popping up. When MacGyver becomes involved he discovers that his arch nemesis Murdoc (Michael Des Barres) is at the heart of the matter. Most of the episodes had a didactic theme to hold the action together. One particularly well done episode has MacGyver on vacation when his jeep goes off the road. He is pulled into a conflict between an Amish community and the construction company charged by the government to clear the land. Of course, the two sides become friends and a lesson is learned by all. In another episode the Foundation mandates that all agents must pass a physical fitness test. MacGyver takes Pete into the woods to help him pass and the pair stumbles across drug smugglers.

Richard Dean Anderson had everything needed to be a television action star. He certainly had the looks. My daughter, wife and mother-in-law all think he is real cute. That multi-generation appeal helped to make the series a hit. For the guys watching there was the required explosions, chases and fights. What differentiated this series from the others was the lack of guns on the part of the hero. Since MacGyver had to think his way out of situations the show was one where thinking was somewhat required. These MacGyverism, as they are known were always based on actual scientific principles. The producers did make sure that some important step was omitted to prevent emulation by the kids watching. Anderson is just a likeable kind of guy. It is easy to believe that he would rush into danger to help a friend. He is the all American hero that people loved to watch in the waning days of the cold war. Dana Elcar had a bit more to do in this season. While most television bosses sit behind a desk and issues orders he got out in the action. Elcar was middle management who dreamed of some action. Elcar also took the helm as director for a few episodes and showed he had talent both in front of and behind the camera. Teri Hatcher was under utilized in this season. She has such a natural, self deprecating sense of humor which brought a lot of fun to every appearance. It is easy to see how she did so well in Lois & Clark and the much lauded Desperate Housewives. Bruce McGill’s Dalton usually got on my nerves. This DVD set did give me a chance to revisit his episodes and I think that Dalton was supposed to be annoying. He the friend that most of us have, usually fun to be with but you know there is a real chance of trouble when he is around.

Paramount did its usual great job of bringing this season to DVD. Like the previous season the episodes are distributed over five discs. This was a short season with only eighteen episodes plus the final 19th which was a clip show. The full screen video is generally good, better than you can see it in reruns but not as well done as some of the re-mastered sets out there. The Dolby two channel audio does the job but lacks channel separation. This is a bare bones set with no extras. This was one of the better seasons of the series with more action than the previous ones. If you are a fan this is a must have. If you are unfamiliar with the series this is one of the best ways to get to know one of the better series that was on television.

Posted 12/9/05

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