Friday, September 30, 2016

MacGyver Reboot -- Episode 2: Metal Saw

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
An arms dealer captures a CIA spy who is Jack's ex-girlfriend, and MacGyver and his team go to Venezuela to rescue her.  Meanwhile MacGyver has been regularly visiting Nikki's apartment to mentally process her betrayal and also to see if he can find a missed clue.

Memorable Quote:
The trick in this line of work is to get good at spotting this weakness quickly.  Then all that's left is finding, or more often building, the right tool to exploit it.  ~MacGyver

Despite being a small part of the episode, I like the subplot of MacGyver sitting in Nikki's apartment and taking everything in (and finding a clue at the end).  Maybe because the episode moves so fast, it's nice to have a somewhat solemn moment like this where things slow down a bit.

Thornton's sudden appearance in Venezuela was an unnecessary stretch.  Unnecessary because she didn't add anything to the mission (other than helping Riley escape the computer lab), and a stretch because she somehow made it from her kickboxing gym in Los Angeles to a computer lab in Caracas in a couple of hours.

Best MacGyverism:
Uses a tv remote, medical tape, microscope, and glasses to make night vision goggles.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The opening gambit was all right but a little anticlimactic when all the soldiers just put down their guns.  Also I'm not a fan of MacGyver introducing himself as "Angus MacGyver," which he does twice during this episode.  If the old show is any guide, he's not proud of the name which is why we never learned it until Season 7.  And also I like having the one-named hero.
  • I'm confused when Bozer tells Riley that by helping her he's helping MacGyver since his boss pulled her out of prison to fight cyberterrorism, because they established last episode (and again earlier this episode) that Bozer doesn't know MacGyver's real job.
  • We learn that in the reboot MacGyver universe, MacGyver's mother died when he was 5 and his father left when he was 12.  This is different from the old show where his father and maternal grandmother died in a car accident when he was 7 and his mother died when he was a young man away on a mission.  In the Five-0 reboot, McGarrett's mother was presumed dead but was actually an undercover spy.  I'm assuming they won't do the same thing here, but I imagine we'll have a MacGyver meets his father again storyline at some point. 
  • On a related note, I've heard Peter Lenkov talk about the importance of character in his shows.  I'm all for character development and getting to know the backstories of the characters, but I think it's possible to overdo it also.  I'm not saying that they've overdone it yet here, but they did just focus on Jack's emotional connection to his ex-girlfriend and it's only episode 2.  One thing that was nice about the original MacGyver was that there were elements of his backstory sprinkled throughout the series, but we weren't hit over the head by a hammer with it.
  • Despite what I said last episode about hoping that they didn't make too much of a joke out of the bubble gum/paper clip/tin foil usage, I did like the big bowl of paper clips in the Phoenix Foundation office, and I also like the idea of MacGyver as a habitual paper clip bender/artist.
  • The actress playing Sarah the captured spy is Amy Acker.  I recognize her from a Hallmark Channel movie where she was a literary critic, quite a departure from her gun-toting role here.  I have a lot of thoughts about some of those movies -- I think my next blog will be "The Hallmark Channel Project."
  • Another difference between the reboot and the original is that the reboot uses real places for their hostile settings like North Korea and Venezuela as opposed to the original which made up fake military republics like "San Perez."
  • I'm watching the Burn Notice series for the first time, and coincidentally the episode I just watched (Season 5 episode 1) also takes place in Venezuela.  Furthermore, this MacGyver episode was written by Craig O'Neill who wrote for and produced Burn Notice.
  • And speaking of Burn Notice, the MacGyverisms so far are delivered to the audience very similarly to the "Westenisms" on Burn Notice in that they're super fast and it's hard to follow or process what is actually happening.  That's one of the biggest things I think they should change as the series goes forward -- slow down on the MacGyverisms.  One of the things that made the original MacGyver more relatable was that he took a minute to look around and see what he could use, and it also had the effect of making the MacGyverism more compelling and memorable.
  • The guarding in the secret facility is not the best.  Once the lights go out, shouldn't someone be covering the door where the prisoner is located?  Or shouldn't someone always be there anyway?
  • Nice piece written by Aina Dumlao who plays Thorton's assistant. 
  • What is the significance of the metal saw in the title?  I'm guessing it's referring to the arc welder he builds to unhinge the metal door at the compound.

Final Analysis:
An ok episode, not terrible but not one with a lot of highlights for me.  Unlike the pilot (which I went back and watched a second time), I don't have as much interest in watching this one a second time (at least not right away). Given my predilection for ranking things I will rank these episodes against each other (and will create a landing page for those sometime this week).  I am ranking this as my 2nd favorite episode or my least favorite episode, depending on how you look at it.


  1. Unfortunately our assessments are pretty close to the same here. This was generic, boilerplate CBS action show fare. Rewrite the characters and this could have been "NCIS" or "Scorpion". It just didn't feel like it had much soul. I didn't love the pilot but it was a couple ticks better than this. As you said, less frantic pacing and camera work would go a long way to making this an effective series. I liked the globe-trotting nature of the story sending him to North Korea and Venezuela in the same hour, but just didn't think the story went to the kinds of places it needed to in either setting to make the episode fly.

    The MacGyverisms also continued to be a bit of a shrug, although like you I enjoyed the homemade night vision goggles bit. You hit the nail on the end that both the "MacGyver" update and "Burn Notice" explain things too quickly for the viewer to fully process their cleverness. Amy Acker is a good actress and a charismatic presence on the screen but she was kind of wasted here, basically being indistinguishable from Riley and Patricia. I also concur that the quieter moments in Nikki's apartment that led to the big find in the closer scene was probably the episode's high point, hopefully portending better things to come.

    They're can tell they are...and I cringe at the dismissive loathing I read on Facebook comments of people acting like this is the worst thing they've ever seen on television. Hopefully the big debut audience gives them some time to work out the kinks but so far the vibe is just way off from the original to the point that it doesn't feel remotely like the same property. Tonight was another serviceable but ultimately soulless hour of action TV and I feel a little more glum writing this review as I did last week as the series has now had two chances with only modest rewards.

    1. The topic that you bring up of a show's soul is an interesting one. Most series don't have a meaningful soul, and the few that do may not appeal to the masses at the time but are the ones that are talked about 30 years later. One question I had for Peter Lenkov that I didn't get to in our conversation was regarding the tension between being a creative artist versus having to get ratings and appealing to the studios/sponsors -- I would think that would be a tough balance to negotiate.

      And I wonder if some people involved with the show or at the network would look at "generic, boilerplate CBS action show fare" as something to strive for in that many of the CBS shows are proven ratings successes, so why not model MacGyver after those instead of after the original MacGyver? But that gets back to the short term/long term point -- in the short term it's probably good for ratings and successful that way, but will it be good enough and distinctive enough that people will be talking about it in 30 years the way they do the original MacGyver?

    2. In this case, I don't think the boilerplate approach will be a winning one because the audience of this rebrand is expecting a specific product since it bears the name of the original. They don't want "NCIS 4" and will not react kindly if that's what they get. I really hate to be too hard on Lenkov and all because doing a show like this would take absolutely everything you got to crank out week to week, and when held up in that context, they're doing fine work. But I say this as an empathetic conniesseur of the medium and not joe public who is not gonna grade on a curve when there are this many options. I was pleased to see last week's big audience but I suspect there will be significant erosion for the encore episode's numbers. And since episode 2 wasn't exactly earth-shattering either, is probably poised for further decline. I hope I'm wrong because I'd like to see how this show rolls by the end of the season, 22 episodes deep into a run, when it's hopefully found its footing. Interestingly the original "MacGyver" started off with disastrous ratings and climbed gradually to respectability and then to genuine semi-hit status in the course of just two months.

    3. I believe that Peter Lenkov is sincere about wanting to honor the original, but at the end of the day the machine as a whole is about ratings and making money, so it will be interesting to see the numbers for this week and subsequent weeks. If they stay strong, I expect the same boilerplate approach to continue even if there is some pushback on social media.

  2. I haven't watched this one yet, but one of the things that will hurt the show considerably is 'breezing' over the MacGyver-isms. In the pilot, they felt almost more like an afterthought than a core element of the show. And with the show being 'MacGyver', having the 'MacGyver-isms' be an afterthought is the wrong approach.

    1. The "breezing" over the MacGyverisms is BAD. Really, really bad.

      I recently watched the "Birdlady-Episode" (Rush to Judgement?) for the first time in years. It's one of those episodes I've only seen once or twice in my life. I didn't remember anything about it besides the MacGyverism on the soda machine. Because that's what most people will remember of the show; especially if they're not fans or overly interested in one of the actors.

      I don't even remember the MacGyverisms from last week's pilot. And that's bad. I mean, the poster features the final MacGyverism of the pilot episode. They also used it in the unaired pilot. Yet it's over in like 10 seconds and didn't even create a lasting image...

    2. On TV today it seems all about keeping up the frantic, busy pace above all else. I like to think I still have an attention span long enough to endure cleaner exposition by dialing back the pace a couple of notches.

  3. Sadly, the tone of the show is now set. The Phoenix Foundation is not a Think Tank but an extension of the US Government for covert operations. MacGyver does not work alone but with a gun toting team. His “MacGyverisms” are a supplement and the guns will be there to do the hard work.
    Amy Acker is familiar to me as the “wacko” from Person of Interest,” a show I stopped watching when it the wheels came off the wagon. This is a phrase I use when a show becomes bogged down with complicated plots that stretch out over the entire season. This is a common tread of shows today. I am afraid it is going to happen with MacGyver, as he tries to locate Nikki.
    My favorite line was, “Did anyone call for an Uber?”
    I liked the paper clip bowl and the final result of Mac making a phoenix. This is not an easy task. Anybody try to do it?
    Finally, I am keeping my word about watching the show and running through the commercials. I want the theme song to return!!! Anybody in production listening???