MacGyver is sort of a modest James Bond, a resourceful Indiana Jones. Give him a Swiss Knife and whatever he can scavenge in the immediate vicinity and he can wreck a convoy of baddies, bring down helicopters, rescue anyone from the strongest of strongholds. When all other means of solving problems are exhausted, a call goes out (you’re never quite sure who’s placing the call) for old Mac, and so far this season he hasn’t found a deed so daring he couldn’t do it.
The nice part about him is that he carries no weapons and when there’s shooting going on, he’s likely to be found running like mad, knitting spider webs into a bulletproof vest or manufacturing an escape car out of some handy paper clips. We exaggerate — but not by much. Besides being terrific looking (our source for this is quite reliable). Richard Dean Anderson is just right as the brilliant, wry MacGyver, who starts his assignments with a knapsack he carries, “not for what I take but for what I find along the way.” His part doesn’t call for much heavy acting, but Anderson, a veteran of General Hospital and a couple of brief CBS prime-time series, manages to play it with just the right amount of tongue in his cheek. They know what they’re doing: the writing is generally sharp, the directing on target and the special effects impressive.
Most adventure shows open with a “hook” — exciting scenes from the episode’ designed to keep the viewer from switching channels. MacGyver begins with what the producers term an “opening gambit,” which is a five or 10-minute mini-adventure featuring our hero. When that ends, the night’s main story begins. It’s an effective gimmick, serving to both increase the show’s entertainment value and to lighten the main story.
Thus one program began with MacGyver in a auto junkyard interrupting the sale of missile secrets to espionage agents. He snags the valuable briefcase with one of those huge movable magnets, is captured by the agents, trussed up and tossed into the back seat of a car about to be flattened. He escapes through the trunk and, using available machinery, leaves the bad guys suspended about 50 feet in the air. Then come the opening credits and MacGyver is off to Burma to recover a canister of deadly poison that was lost when an Army cargo plane crashed near a village where the natives are slaves to an opium warlord. He not only recovers the canister but helps the villagers regain their freedom by using whatever items are lying about to defeat the warlord. In the final scene, MacGyver manages to tie a wire cable from the downed plane to the warlord’s helicopter and reel it in. Nothing is taken too seriously. Early in the episode, when MacGyver is staked out in the hot sun by the warlord’s soldiers, his voice is heard remarking, “My mom used to make great broiled chicken, I’m starting to feel real sympathetic about those chickens.”
It’s a charming adventure show, less violent than most, and just right for young people in its early-evening time on ABC’s Wednesday schedule. By young, of course, we mean young at heart. Stay with it, ABC.
Don Merrill. TV Guide, Feb. 1 1986.