Thursday, September 22, 2016

TV REVIEW: CBS' 'MacGyver'

CBS will premiere its new original drama series MacGyver on Friday, September 23 at 8/7c. The drama stars Lucas Till, George Eads, Tristin Mays, Justin Hires and Sandrine Holt.

Read on for my thoughts on the remake of the hit TV show after screening its premiere episode.

CBS' remake of the classic TV show MacGyver is a classic example of a network trying to will a show into existence. Seriously, the story of how this show came to be airing tomorrow night is incredible. It almost defies any kind of rational explanation beyond this being something that CBS really wanted to do. It all started last year when CBS put the remake in development with R. Scott Gemmill writing. In February, a pilot was ordered but the original script was scrapped in favor of one to be written by Paul Downs Colaizzo. A pilot was cast and filmed. In May, CBS gave the show a series order and a prime fall debut date. And yet, the pilot was being scrapped, the entire cast was let go except for Lucas Till and George Eads and a third writer, Peter Lenkov, came onboard for the new pilot. That was shot this summer with new supporting characters being cast. Additionally, feature film director James Wan (The Conjuring) was in, then out, then back in as director for the pilot. That's the episode being aired tomorrow night. Sounds completely crazy, right? And yet, it's a true story. This is something CBS wants. But there's no indication that the final product is something worth becoming a major success.

MacGyver was a hit show back in the late 1980s because of how unique it was. It focused on one man being able to escape impossible situations and stop global crises simply by using the everyday items he finds lying around. It was an action show that suggested anyone could be a hero if they know how to use the world around them. It was unique and stood out on the schedule. In the years since then though, there have been many action heroes with impressive improvisational skills over the years. The action genre has exploded and is more popular now than ever before. It dominates the box office for movies and provides some truly captivating television as well. So what makes it so important that MacGyver be brought back in 2016? It returns much more as an hourlong action comedy. The stakes are just as real and tense as they've always been. But now, every character needs to deliver a dry line as well to lighten the mood and boost morale.

Lucas Till's MacGyver finds himself surrounded by a team including Jack Dalton (George Eads), a former military guy who provides tactical support; Riley Davis (Tristin Mays), a hacker who wants to do good; Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires), Mac's roommate who provides his cover identity; and Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt), Mac's boss at his secret government organization. Till is a capable leading man. He has the square jaw and good looks to be the swoon-worthy star of an action show. And yet, there's just no texture to the characters. They all feel the same kind of bland. No one really pops on the screen. Despite his impressive film credits, Wan doesn't especially make this pilot look memorable or particularly well-directed. In fact, there are some pretty ridiculous special effects work that can really take the audience out of the action. The action drives the story forward. There's more action than ever before. But none of it seems to pop in the way that makes this an ensemble any audience will want to spend more time with in the future.

Moreover, MacGyver's whole schtick is being able to use bubble gum, paper clips and a pocket knife to escape any situation. The uses he finds for these materials do help advance the plot forward. But nothing really stands out as that inspired or smart. Mac doesn't do anything that will especially make the audience question if that is legitimately possible or not. The creative team may have fears about pushing the believability of this premise. They want things to skew towards real-life practices. And yet, that doesn't make anything particularly exciting to watch. It's just the basic function for the show. It's what MacGyver is known for. He doesn't use guns even when one is dropped into a tense situation. But the actual solutions to his problems don't seem all that inventive or surprising.

And lastly, the show just has a major villain problem in this first episode. It's setting up the global stakes of this world. The missions Mac and his team go on have life-or-death consequences. It's hard for those stakes to feel genuine though because the team continually makes jokes about their current situations. The show wants to be fun and light-hearted. It essentially wants to be everything. But that just doesn't work at all. When the villain's sole motivation is summed up in the line: "Sometimes a purge is necessary to fix what's broken," you know the script has some major problems. And yet, MacGyver could be a hit for CBS especially as a part of the Friday night lineup. But it doesn't come close to the appeal of the new Hawaii Five-0 series. And frankly, it just made me miss Limitless even more. Now, that was a show that actually knew what it was and was smart and fun in the process.