Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#45: The Black Corsage

Season: 5

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A Bulgarian defector working for the Phoenix Foundation witnesses a shooting by some thieves looking for a priceless artifact.  She goes missing, and MacGyver and Frank Colton team up to look for her.  She gets captured by the thieves and helps lead them to the artifact, but MacGyver and Colton (and Frog Dog) arrive to intercept it.  

Memorable Quote:
You name a dog Frog?  ~Frank Colton

It can only be one thing - the introduction and presence of one of my favorite characters in series history.  That's right, the incomparable Frog Dog!  I said in The Coltons that I'm more of a cat person, but I still love everything about Frog Dog, and he absolutely takes this episode to a higher place.  It's only too bad that he's not in more episodes.  Instead of the ill-fated "The Coltons" spin-off, they should have called it "Frog Dog: Bountiful Vengeance" and it would been a hit for sure.

Not much jumping out at me.  The MacGyverism at the end takes a while to come together, but at least the music is good. 

Best MacGyverism:
Ties the Black Corsage to an amusement park-style laser shooter, and rigs the booth door so it will close on the bad guy.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • In the opening, Sophia tells us the origin of Frog's name - when she first saw him he was like a "little frog caught in a fishnet."
  • I like the empty outdoor amusement park-like locale in this episode.  According to rdanderson.com, it was shot at the Plaza of Nations (site of the 1986 World's Fair), but sadly the Plaza is no more.  
  • 7:40 mark - what is that little handheld device the bad guy pulls out to enter the phone number? I've never seen anything like it, and now it's a relic of the past.  Still no smartphone for me, by the way - I'm holding out as long as I can!  
  • Speaking of the bad guy, I like the actor who plays Deegan - he does a nice job being swarmy. And we'll see him again in another episode.  
  • 13:47 - the first-ever encounter between future BFFs Frank Colton and Frog Dog.  
  • 23:00 - MacGyver breaks out his own piece of technology with a vintage cell phone. It would come in handy a time or two if only it would fit in his pocket.  
  • How does Frank not recognize Deegan coming out of the diner?
  • Kind of funny that the woman's name is Sophia and she's from Bulgaria (capitol = Sofia). 
  • At the fishery, Deegan ties up MacGyver and Frank on a conveyor belt and then turns it on.  As fish start falling on top of them, they slowly move closer to sharp, fast-rotating blades normally used to cut up the fish.  At one point Frank calls it "a lousy way to die," but it's much more than that.  Of all MacGyver's potential deaths, this one probably would have been the most gruesome way to go had he not been saved by Frog Dog in the nick of time.  This didn't bother me as a kid, but part of me now wonders if whether the possibility of MacGyver being brutally cut up into fish food is appropriate for younger audiences.  One things's for sure - if I were MacGyver, I'd be pretty motivated once I saw Deegan again given what he tried to do to me. And by the way, that's twice now (including the opening of The Coltons) that Frog has saved MacGyver and Frank's life.  Good thing that Frank takes him in at the end of the episode - that dog deserves only the best. 
  • Pretty cool how the Black Corsage is hidden in plain sight on the figure in the carousel.
  • By this point, March (Deegan's partner) shouldn't be taking orders or trusting Deegan at all after he killed the third partner earlier.  

Final Analysis:
Good stuff here.  It's a fun episode with good performances from the guys playing Deegan and Frank Colton, and it's elevated from good to great with the dynamic, lovable Frog Dog.  Coming up next, a CTE special!  


  1. I rank this episode #140......just kidding. :) In some respects this episode was a relatively routine affair and a little sillier than the kind of episodes I usually like best but something about it clicked with me too and I've always found it entertaining. Acting performances were pretty strong all around as you said and I also liked the music by Ken Harrison, who was underrated as a composer. One element of this episode that could have been a disaster but ended up turning out well is that the original script called for an encore performance from Jesse Colton instead of Frank, but actor Richard Lawson had some sort of last-minute obligation to attend to and ended up shelving his guest appearance until "Second Chance" a couple episodes down the line. This makes sense because the audience never met "Frank Colton" even though MacGyver supposedly had, but Cleavon Little's shtick as Frank worked out wonderfully here (with solid chemistry with RDA to boot) despite the initial muddling of the Colton brother narrative. In other words, the would-be "Coltons" spinoff series came together completely by accident.

    Back to "The Black Corsage", I also found the opening scene at the car wash with the whistling blond amusing, even though it was in reference to one of MacGyver's vehicles that I had the least connection to. I still remember my dad laughing at that scene when first watching it in 1989. The search for the black corsage itself and Sophia stumbling into was well-crafted and I liked how they worked a little ninth-inning Cold War drama (Bulgaria would cease to become part of the Soviet bloc within months of this episode's original airing!) to credibly weave in the Phoenix Foundation's role here. The actor who played Deegan was Ryan Michael and he was a perfect sleazeball who I'm surprised never caught on in a more widespread way. You also touched upon a theme I first cited with Papillion in "Fraternity of Thieves"....why does the next guy down the ladder (in this case March) trust a guy like Deegan who's killed everybody in his way thus far? I guess the mere implication of MacGyver and Frank being ground into fish food wasn't troubling to me since we didn't see any actual bloodshed before Frog saved the day and the whole scene was just a little too light to genuinely trouble any kids I suspect. As for Frog, I liked his presence in this episode as the unsung hero but as I said in my writeup about "The Coltons", I'm not sure I'd continue to be amused by a weekly series where a bulldog saves his owners from certain death multiple times per episode.

    I also liked the actress who played Sophia here, who walked the line nicely between an intelligent young woman and a naive fish-out-water in a foreign land being hustled by some very bad dudes. Hard to believe it would be much easier to take people at that word in Communist Bulgaria than it was in America though. And it was indeed cool that the black corsage was hidden in plain sight at the amusement park but I agree that the closing scenes at the park were a little drawn out and the MacGyverism that stemmed from it didn't necessarily live up to that lengthy buildup. Whatever the case, a fun episode that I've always had a soft spot for as it just came together nicely. I ranked it #68.

    1. Interesting about this being originally meant for Jesse Colton - I hadn't known that. And I predict your #140 will be revealed 2 reviews from now! I'm a little nervous to watch it because it's not one that I remember as well as most of the others left and I hope it lives up to the billing that my memory gave it.

    2. Also, do you know if Frog is played by the same dog in the later episodes?

    3. I don't know for sure but given that the three Frog appearances all came within a year and a half I think it's a good bet that it's the same dog. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was more than one dog as they probably wanted a back-up in case one of the dogs was being completely uncooperative in one of the scenes....basically the same principle as why TV shows featuring little children use twin actors (i.e. the Olsen Twins) in case one of the kids throws a prolonged tantrum during time-sensitive scenes.

      Along those same lines, when I was fantasizing about creating/producing my own action-adventure show back in the 90s, I toyed with the thought experiment of having twin actors playing the lead role who could film scenes at different locations at the same time, thus making it easier to complete a substantial production in the eight days or so that a typical hourlong show was given to produce a single episode back in the 90s. The logistics of TV production have changed a lot since then and negated the need for such a stunt, but I still thought that could have potentially led to an adventure series capable of doing things ordinary shows of the time could not.

      Cost was the biggest obstacle back in the 90s though and it was looking at the time that the action-adventure show would become permanently cost-prohibitive for future production, at least on network TV budgets. It's impossible to overstate how much the economics of TV changed from when "MacGyver" premiered to when it ended. Back in 1985, the networks were flush with cash and openly endorsed BIG adventure series with every production bell and whistle that could be imagined. By 1991, "MacGyver" was the last action-adventure show on network TV and was definitively in its final season as production costs soared to a record $1.5 million per episode (massive at the time) when the series moved back to L.A. even as the series was fetching only $90,000 in ad revenue per 30-second spot as its ratings started to slide. The math just wasn't adding up for "MacGyver" being a continued profitable venture, so as the ratings continued to slide, ABC did not hesitate in pulling the plug. Frankly I couldn't even really see where all that money was going in most season 7 episodes, at least compared to what two-thirds that much money was paying for in season 1. For most of the next 10 years after "MacGyver" ended, the future of adventure TV shows looked extremely bleak.

    4. I like your idea of twin actors - very creative. I suppose that those 1985 big-budget MacGyver episodes are a relic of the past the likes of which we won't see again. Shifting to movies, if the new Star Wars director hypothetically decided to forego CGI in favor of older school Lucasfilm tricks and furry ewoks, would that even be a possibility or has rising costs now made CGI the norm? I hope it's not because they think it looks better.

    5. Due to a number of factors not available or foreseeable in the 80s and 90s such as DVD set sales, a larger market of customers globally buying rights for the product, and six more minutes per hour of commercial time generating additional advertising revenue, the budgets for TV shows are much higher now than ever before. In theory, a high-end action-adventure show of the ilk of early "MacGyver" episodes could really put together something aesthetically mind-blowing today. But the flip side of that is the move towards CGI over conventional set designs that we both agree look unconvincing. My guess is CGI is quite a bit cheaper than doing it old-school and the costs of production for old school stunts may have exceeded the budgetary growth for hourlong TV shows, meaning that even the $4 million per episode that many hourlong series are working with today couldn't replicate those early "MacGyver" episodes with the opening gambits and pricy old school stunts. I can't say that with any authority though.

      The biggest factor driving prices up for production are labor, both for actors and actresses and for all the crew members.....one of those cases where their good work in the past drove up their bargaining power to demand higher salaries and thus accelerating costs industry-wide beyond what advertising revenue could counter. That's the primary reason why shows like "MacGyver" and other mid-80s era action shows were priced out of existence just a few years later. They're back now only because of the aforementioned new revenue sources available to production companies and networks.

  2. We know that we're in for a light-hearted episode here when it starts with a jaunty calypso. Not sure I'd realised that the truck was originally Harry's.
    I'm with Mark on a lot of his points here -I like the dog but wouldn't want to see too much more of it and I found the fish crushing machine was a bit of a cliche of the action-adventure genre where the good guys always escape just before the cutting blades on the conveyor bear down on them so I can't see it upsetting any kids or others of a nervous disposition!
    I had a lot of questions here; Why has Sofia got a pic of her and MacGyver hugging like boy and girlfriend? Why does Pete refer to the DSX (instead of DXS) twice? Could you really handcuff MacGyver that quickly before he could react? Why did Frank have a fish fillet at the diner if he doesn't like fish and if the order was wrong wouldn't he have gone straight back to the counter? Why is MacGyver so censorious over Frank tracking the Corsage only for the money - isn't that how bounty hunters make a living? Who's shoe does the Frog dog pinch? Why do MacGyver episodes nearly always end at a docks warehouse and why didn't MacGyver simply take out the lone bad-guy-with-gun by climbing up high and jumping on him which he often does? And why so many questions?......
    Enjoyed the suspense build-up followed by sudden action as MacGyver's looking round the house and Deegan saying' Poor girl, she doesn't stand a chance in this country' at Sofia's trusting nature (I agree, he's good as a smooth yet creepy villain). Its cool that MacGyver even knows what sort of fish it is when he uses its teeth to cut the rope and I always enjoy an 'Oh man' but couldn't they have just rolled off the conveyor belt? The first shots of all the fish falling on them looked pretty realistic but surely they wouldn't have put the actors through that! Also enjoyed the ending where Pete and MacGyver congratulate themselves on off-loading the dog. I agree that the final MacGyverism took too long for the slightly underwhelming result.
    A fun episode, and better than I'd remembered in spite of all my questions, but not one I'm particularly attached to, ranked for me about the same as Mark. Thanks Mark for all the interesting background on tv series revenues and budgets.
    I've just seen that MacGyver is back on UK tv again this week (albeit an obscure channel I'd never heard of before) - an opportunity for a new generation of fans to discover our hero.

    1. You raise some excellent questions. I didn't notice the DSX but that's a good catch on your part. And I also thought it looked like they could have rolled off the conveyor belt, but then there wouldn't have been the dramatic rescue by Frog.

    2. Good catch on the "DSX" reference which was fumbled in a few episodes and most frequently by Pete Thornton...ironic considering he was the director there in season 1!!!! I also enjoyed how MacGyver used the frozen fish's sharp teeth to cut his and Frank's rope.

  3. I love Frog dog and the Coltons!!!! :)

    "13:47 - the first-ever encounter between future BFFs Frank Colton and Frog Dog."

    Hahahaha. And Frank is allergic to dogs! :) Ah well. I guess he will just have to get an allergy shot.

    "This didn't bother me as a kid, but part of me now wonders if whether the possibility of MacGyver being brutally cut up into fish food is appropriate for younger audiences."

    Hahahaha yeah probably not. :)

    "Frog has saved MacGyver and Frank's life."

    He's Super Frog! Or Super dog! Or Super Frog Dog!

    "I said in The Coltons that I'm more of a cat person, but I still love everything about Frog Dog"

    Yeah I am more of a cat person too, but I love dogs! :) Especially Frog dog! Too bad Sophia had to leave him behind. :(

  4. In the closing credits, I like that Chris Haddock's name appears on the still of the fish.