This review is based on the season premiere.
The original MacGyver is such a product of its time that, for those of us who lived through the ’80s (or, in this writer’s case, half of it), it’s a veritable nostalgia cherry bomb. Richard Dean Anderson’s feathery hair remains iconic, and the show’s then fresh, science-driven send-up of the then eminently popular superspy and action-adventure genres is to this day one of the most fun and unabashedly silly concepts to ever hit primetime.
MacGyver was totally awesome, but fans will agree that he and his improvised spy gadgets belong to the ’80s and early ’90s, so much so that any attempt to pluck him out of that era and plop him into ours would seem a fool’s errand. Proving this theory true is the tinny, sterile pilot of CBS’ 2016 version of MacGyver. It stars Lucas Till as the crafty hero, and though he’s got a hot-nerd charm about him, it’s painfully clear from his first few minutes of screen time that he’s got a long, long way to go before he measures up to the legacy of his predecessor. Age plays a big factor here: MacGyver is a fountain of knowledge, know-how, and world experience, but Till’s so off-puttingly babyfaced that it’s hard for him to exude elite-level experience and expertise convincingly.
The show opens, predictably, with a mission that sees Till rehash all of the original character’s old habits. MacGyver still refuses to use guns, his corny voiceover asides are back, and he can break into high-security areas without breaking a sweat, using nothing more than some soot, a piece of clear tape and his uncanny ability to think (and build) on his feet.
Where the show goes wrong is in its presentation of his DIY gift: When he breaks out the aforementioned soot and tape, big, floating letters that read “soot” and “adhesive” appear in an attempt to visually represent his thought process (gamers will immediately sense a similarity to quick time events and point-and-click adventure games). The cues are clunky and don’t add much insight into the mind of our hero, and the sense of suspense the original was known for (typically involving an explosive of some sort) is all but missing here, mostly due to the fact that the show insists on maintaining a zippy pace at all times. This is a major issue, but the show’s woes don’t end there.
The more critical question of cast chemistry is ultimately what sinks the ill-conceived reboot, with Till struggling to find an easy rapport with his onscreen partners. He and George Eads, who plays MacGyver’s muscly backup bro, are decent partners in anti-crime, but their exchanges are anything but entertaining.
Sadrine Holt plays their boss, Justin Hires plays MacGyver’s roommate, and Vinnie Jones pops in to play the episode’s villain. The role is typical Vinnie-Jones, stone-faced, mob-monster fare, and his interactions with Till are as wooden as they come. In fact, most of the dialogue is wooden, trite and not nearly as quick-witted as it tries to be, which is a drag considering there’s almost always someone talking, whether it be MacGyver spouting his voiceover tech talk or his partners warning him about approaching baddies.
Most viewers tuning in to the premiere will likely be looking for one thing, however, and that’s high-stakes action and adventure. MacGyver does deliver some impressive stunts (one that sees our hero attempt to stop a moving plane is a lot of fun), so on that front, the show is no slouch. If anything, Till’s got a good build and seems to have natural athleticism, which makes all of the jumping, rolling, dodging and diving look pretty slick. You can actually tell that he’s a good actor, but the fact remains that his task is a nigh-impossible one, in which he must do an impression of an ’80s icon and make it feel natural and new in 2016. You can quaff that hair all you want, but no one’s replacing the MacGyver we know and love, at least not like this.
The new MacGyver is an ill-conceived, sterile reimagining of a series that is such a product of its time that it shouldn't have been updated in the first place.