Thursday, January 15, 2015

#62: Target MacGyver

Season: 1

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver blows up a Middle Eastern nuclear refining plant and gets a price on his head as a result.  He goes to visit his grandfather in Colorado as a way to hide, but Ax Minster (the hired gun) and 7 of his men track him down.  MacGyver and Grandpa Harry set some traps and then make their way to a ghost town for the final showdown with Ax Minster.  

Memorable Quote:
Damn you Ax Minster.  ~MacGyver

Highlight:
38:00 - Nice moment between Grandpa Harry and MacGyver.  I'm not the biggest Grandpa Harry fan in the world (he generally seems like a downer), but he is a good guy and John Anderson plays him very well.  Speaking of John Anderson, a quick check of his Wikipedia page reveals a piece of trivia that I'm surprised I never knew before - that he was the voice of Mark Twain in Epcot's The American Adventure (one of my favorite Disney World attractions as a kid).

Lowlight:
The bad guys are pretty inept - I think the episode would be more enjoyable if they were more capable. And while Ax Minster has an awesome name, his character is cartoonish and lacking any substance.  

Best MacGyverism:
A clever yet simple trick by MacGyver to stack a lot of pots on top of a bag of ice which is then played next to a toaster oven (though it's hard to imagine him being able to move the pots around that quietly without making any noise).  When the oven heats the ice, the bag deflates and the pots crash - then the bad guys run in and slip on the vegetable oil that MacGyver threw on the floor.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • It's an opening gambit!  I've said before that I love the opening gambits and wish there were many more, though I understand that they were hard to keep around for budgetary reasons.  This one is relatively short and lacking in substance compared to the others, but it's still fun as MacGyver heads to the beach to rescue a "lady general." You'd think the authorities would send in a swat team of 100 people, but who needs that when you have MacGyver?  I like the juxtaposition of the ladies playing beach volleyball right next to the house where the general is being kept.  Also a fun moment when MacGyver takes the carrot from the bag and looks like he's thinking of a use for it, but then he just eats it.  
  • Then it's almost like a second opening gambit as we see MacGyver in the Middle East blowing up a nuclear refining plant.  Pretty impressive explosions - not sure if it is stock footage (probably is). 
  • I mentioned the blue jeep last review.  In this episode we get a good look of it from the side and see the label "Cherokee Chief." 
  • 9:08 mark (on DVD) - MacGyver pauses to look at the bikini babes walking by.
  • 9:34 - awesome infrared light at the apartment to see footprints on the welcome mat.
  • Though it's a nice thought from MacGyver to want to visit his grandfather, probably not the best idea to do so when the world's most fearsome assassin is hot on your tail. And how awesome of a name is Ax Minster?  Whoever thought of that one is brilliant.
  • 11:41 - strange little scene where the guy on the bus next to MacGyver talks to him about an alien baby in Alabama.  This scene must have been a deleted one because it is not on the youtube video linked above.  Probably for the better.  On another note, an awesome Calgary Flames hat MacGyver is wearing.
  • MacGyver says he hasn't seen his grandfather since he was 10, and that it's been 18 years, so that means MacGyver is 28.  Highlander notes in a review (that's right, I'm not the only one ranking and reviewing MacGyver episodes!) that this is inconsistent with later episodes.
  • 18:50 - cool shot of 8 guys with guns driving off in 2 jeeps to look for MacGyver.  Has kind of a Die Hard feel to it.
  • 22:50 - a pretty lousy surprise attack by Ax Minster's men.  Shouldn't be that hard to hit two unsuspecting people in a fishing boat. 
  • Awesome blow gun made out of bamboo and some liquid from a plant.  Sounds like a tagline from Pinterest.  
  • While making the pine cone bombs, MacGyver mentions how he used to chew pine pitch like it was chewing gum.  I've never chewed pine pitch, and honestly it doesn't sound like that great of an idea to me.  
  • 43:55 - no way a wounded Grandpa Harry just pushes Ax Minster back like that.
  • What happens once all the bad guys are down?  Grandpa Harry mentioned something about a phone line in town, but that was when he thought there were still some people living there. Does MacGyver tie them all up and then find a way to call the authorities?

    Script Analysis:
    Here's a link to my script analysis where I compared the original script to the final episode.

    Final Analysis:
    Good episode and a nice introduction to the Grandpa Harry character.  I like the MacGyver vs. 8 guys dynamic, even though the 8 guys are pretty inept including Ax Minster and his silly one-liners.  I also like the Home Alone-style pranks, and the opening gambit lends a little extra juice. Coming up, a little trip to Season 5!  

    17 comments:

    1. As a boy there was something about this episode that rubbed me the wrong way. I like it more now because of the relentless ingenuity on MacGyver's part but it's still not a favorite. It can be hard to know how to rate the main story on episodes with opening gambits but in this case I felt the opening gambit hurt the primary story. The inept villains watching bikini babes through binoculars like 12-year-old boys were so distracted that they couldn't hear somebody 10 feet away in the kitchen stacking up every pot and pan from the dishwasher? Seriously? Now I did get a kick out of the carrot bit and, to a lesser extent, the vegetable oil slide, but when you look at the vintage MacGyver awesomeness that the other opening gambits were chock full of, pinning down two bad guys with a beach chair seems just a little thin.

      As for the main story, inept villains continued to be the primary theme of the hour as you pointed out as Axminster--the meanest, baddest hit man in the land--had all the tactical skills of Elmer Fudd. You mention "Home Alone", but Macaulay Culkin even had worthier opponents than these doofuses. Still, MacGyver had plenty of classic early season moments here making bombs out of pine cones and pine pitch (I'm with you....can't ever imagine "chewing pine pitch"), blow guns out of hollow reeds and plant venom, homemade bandages out of fool's gold, and manmade spontaneous combustion with grain dust. It's just too bad he wasted all these clever stunts on some of his most incompetent opponents.

      Another double-edged sword for me was Grandpa Harry. Unlike you, I'm a huge Grandpa Harry fan as he reminds me of my own late grandfather, and I even liked the surlier version of Grandpa Harry we got in this episode, but the inconsistencies in his back story represented some of the sloppiest continuity issues we saw on a show that had way too much of it in general. I hadn't even picked up on the "haven't seen him since I was 10....and now 18 years later" snafu but in this episode Harry has apparently lived in the mountains of Colorado for many years but in his next episode he talked about farming the same patch of land in Minnesota for years. And when Grandpa Harry was teaching MacGyver to drive and scolding him about tripping the boy in the hockey game in "Harry's Will", that young MacGyver was definitely older than nine!!!! Apparently the writers decided to soften Grandpa Harry's edges in subsequent episodes and make him more of a role model figure for MacGyver rather than the guy who left him and his mother to fend for themselves when MacGyver was in elementary school, but the idolized Grandpa Harry we hear about in the series' later years is tough to square with the guy barking at MacGyver to "not come...I'm busy!!!" in this episode. With all that said, John Anderson gave one of season 1's best acting performances and was likeable by the episode's end. Agreed though that if MacGyver wants to go into hiding from the brutal Axminster, putting his grandpa in the line of fire by visiting him doesn't seem like the smartest choice.

      MacGyver's single-episode handler "Barney" was hugely unappealing as well and thank goodness Pete Thornton came in to save the day by episode's end. And I laughed at your excellent point about the ending.....how did the villains eventually get rustled up as far from civilization as MacGyver and Harry were with no phone line? I hadn't considered that. With all of the glaring downsides, this was still a reasonably strong episode with MacGyver in his survivalist element and introducing a legendary character. I ranked it #87.

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      1. Haha, yeah I think Pesci and Stern could have probably outmaneuvered the hapless Axminster! Like you, I wasn't as fond of this one when I was a kid but I like it more now than I did. Also agreed that Barney was very weak.

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    2. And regarding the odd scene on the bus with UFO sighting guy, it wasn't cut from the USA reruns but I don't know about the You Tube posting. There were no deleted scenes on this episode on USA as it was one of the shortest episodes of the series running only a little over 46 minutes, eliminating the need to cut scenes. Perhaps in the original, they should have filled out the remaining two minutes by telling us how MacGyver and Harry got out of Ebermore.

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      1. I have a vague recollection of this episode and GX-1 often being skipped on the USA rotation - does that ring a bell with you?

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      2. Hmmmm.....didn't notice that if it happened. Once I got the episodes recorded from USA I didn't pay much attention to their continued rotation. My casual observations were that the two-parters were often either omitted or reshuffled to not air on weekends. And "The Madonna" was often showed out of cycle and aired on Christmas rather than some random Tuesday in October.

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      3. That used to irritate me about USA - they'd pluck the X-mas episodes out and run them at the holidays - not just w/ MacGyver, but with any show - and all of us who like to watch the episodes in order get frustrated about that whole mess.

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    3. Its season 1, my favourite as you must know by now, MacGyver has some of his swagger but is also confronting his past and they're outdoors; its got to be good! Even so, like you, I think the opening gambit is weaker than most - its also the only occasion I can think of where MacGyver actually holds the bad guys at bay with a gun himself.
      The opening of the main story is much more exciting; I'm not normally a fan of big explosions but these were spectacular. I like the concept of MacGyver's bus journey - it speaks of going home and epic journeys across America by greyhound to me and and seems appropriate here. MacGyver certainly sits next to the 'nutter on the bus' ( a very English turn of phrase!). I also have plenty of time for the grumpy Harry and always love backstory even if, as here, its inconsistent with later episodes. I think the relationship works as they both come to terms with the past through MacGyver's straight talking and the shared experience of life-threatening danger. Good acting from both RDA and John Anderson here; shame one couldn't say the same about the villains. Axminster is portrayed as a serious contender and seems competent at first and the threat level high with the jeep-loads of goons until you realise how bumbling they are. But it all serves to give MacGyver the chance to come up with some great outdoor ruses. He goes from hightech infra red and radio controlled explosion to reeds, pine cones and poisonous weeds ( although I can't believe any poison is quite that fast acting!).
      Things I like; The SAK lock pick, MacGyver carefully selecting the right carrot, the footprint detector, plaid shirt and gilet combo, Harry's 'just what is it you do ' Bud?' and MacGyver rugby tackling the verandah support. Don't like; the awful Barney, MacGyver's guff about 'Its to do with freedom and peace and some people who don't like either' (Lamest job description ever and I'm surprised Harry let him get away with it). Why would you hack at a branch behind where you're sitting on it and why did the branch on the ground look a look thinner than the one MacGyver was cutting? Nitpicks aside, its altogether great stuff in spite of the disappointing villains and continuity mess-ups. Ranked in my top 20.

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      1. Thanks Al. I've realized from doing this project how much I love season 1. I always thought Season 3 was my favorite (and I still think it is), but Season 1 definitely occupies a special place in my heart. I'm with you on the "freedom and peace" answer - if I were Grandpa Harry I would demand more of an explanation!

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      2. Definitely seems as though Season 1 will dominate your top-25. Reasonable enough....it's my second favorite season. Think you might compile a full list by the end (or even during) the countdown? It would be fun to compare yours to Nicholas and mine.

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      3. I'm sure you're right on Season 1 although there are some real favourites from other seasons which haven't appeared here yet. I'm working on it but keep changing my mind on rankings. Will keep on trying!

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    4. This was a good episode in general and it was interesting to see Harry again, having recently seen his final bow on 'Passages'. He was a perfect grumpy foil for MacGyver and it was nice to see him mellowing throughout their adventure with the realisation that they were in fact quite similar. I think he used the nickname 'Bud' even more than in 'Passages'!

      One thing that I couldn't get over was the main villain. No, it wasn't the oversized visor/goggles/safety sunglasses! No, it wasn't the safari-style beige gear he was wearing! It wasn't his cartoonish deep voice! It wasn't even his inexcusable ineptitude despite being 'the best'! What was hilarious and inescapable for me was his name! Axminster! Axminster is a type of old fashioned patterned carpet! This was almost certainly not common knowledge in the USA but I couldn't really buy into his supposed deadly credentials when all I thought of was a moth eaten old carpet! Hilarious villain and a hilarious name! No wonder MacGyver wasn't exactly terrified of old Ax man!

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      1. That's interesting, I wasn't aware at all of Axminster carpet. I think I'll reach out to Stephen Kandel and ask him what the story is behind that name.

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      2. Kandel said:

        "This particular episode was thrown together hastily -- all gimmicks and spit. The actor wore a hairpiece. A rug. So, in honor of the founding town of carpetry -- I named him Axminster. Cheap inside gag. Your blog reader reads close to the bone; must be an outstanding researcher."

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    5. Haha! Brilliant! Thank you for enquiring, and thanks to Mr Kandel for responding! Why did I doubt that anyone would have heard of Axminster carpets, apologies! The actor was obviously partly bald when he took his hat off but I never put two-and-two together. I wonder how many, or should I say few, viewers got the joke? I like to think that I half-got it, it was certainly hilarious either way so Mr Kandel's humour wasn't in vain!

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    6. Thats great! Being a Brit, the name immediately reminded me of carpets (made originally in a pleasant little town in Devon) but assumed that it wouldn't be the inspiration behind the name for an American tv villain! I was thinking more along the 'axe-wielding killer' line. How wrong can you be and what a good in-joke. Thanks for that,Nick and for prompting the inquiry, Ed, and not least to Stephen Kandel for more intelligent humour!

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    7. As pointed out, this opening gambit had less spectacular action but a lot of fun parts in it, like the lady general rolling eyes at the guy commenting on the chicks outside, MacGyver’s careful selection of the carrot then the reveal of its use or the goons kicking the chair right at the camera when slipping on the oil. A cool move from MacGyver picking the lock behind his back.
      The music in the first twenty seconds reminds me of the first 20 seconds of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLztm3PD-KQ song (and to a lesser extent The Gauntlet’s desert running one of 5:36-6:20 of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSodg3nF1TY one, from the same band!).
      I wish they made the subsequent laboratory bit more MacGyver-like rather than just him putting out ready-made explosives, had it as the opening gambit for this episode (as we know it from the first part of the Holy Rose, they don’t have to be unrelated to the main episode), then had the beach one for a different episode so we would have one more.
      I thought Barney was unlikeable too, and judging from the ice-cold reaction when he finds him inside, so did MacGyver.
      In the Hungarian version, MacGyver’s “I got to wonder what happened to my grandfather that made him decide to live in such isolation” got translated with the inclusion of a nice idiom, as “decide to move to this place behind God’s back”.
      My first impression of Harry was, “what an insufferable grumpy old git, almost as bad as Mary Poppins (in the book)”, then I warmed up to him later as it turned out he was more like Heidi’s grandad, without inconsistencies in the character. MacGyver remembering Harry to tell him to “get lost” when he was little in an episode as late as season 7’s Split Decision was in perfect square with the “don’t come, I’m busy” of this episode’s voice message which, on the other hand, looked a bit silly when Harry gave MacGyver the phone number Mac already rang just so that the goons could trace it. And I agree that the MacGyver playing hockey in Harry's Will was older than nine, the actor was 13!
      The “you don’t fish for fish, you fish for fising” is a great line, I could finally give an answer to someone who asked me what the point of fishing was if the fish then gets released back into the water!
      The tree branch cutting cut was as terrible as unnecessary! Not only it went from MacGyver hammering on a branch behind him while sitting, to an already cut one rolling around in front of him while he was standing, but in the first shot it looked like he was hacking at the branch he was sitting on (“cutting the tree under oneself” happens to be another self-explanatory Hungarian idiom) until later it is shown that it’s the other, thinner branch further to his right is what hits the jeep.
      The way the bad guys were dealt with was reminiscent of those in Faith, Hope and Charity and fun to watch!

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    8. Another tedious outdoorsy episode without much to look at. I much prefer the international spy or big city crimefighting tales.

      I agree it was foolish of MacGyver to endanger his grandfather by leading the assassins to him. Didn't care much for Anderson's predictable crusty character, but he certainly did a lot of TV work over the years. Just before this episode he was on North and South, Dallas, Matt Houston, Riptide, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, etc.

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