Are you feeling a little déjà vu when you turn on a television or live stream these days? While Tom Selleck is playing a family patriarch on Blue Bloods, Jay Hernandez is in Hawaii driving a bright red Ferrari in a new version of Magnum P.I. Hawaii 5-O was one of the most popular shows on CBS, and Charmed is bewitching an entire new generation of streamers on the internet. You might consider this a time of little ingenuity on the tube, but CBS has gone back in time to resurrect the very definition of ingenuity in MacGyver. The show just completed its fifth and final season, while the fourth season is now out on DVD thanks to some cooperation between Lionsgate and CBS.
The basic idea of the original series remains here. Angus MacGyver is now played by Lucas Till. He still works for the Phoenix foundation, which remains a covert government agency disguised as a think tank. Just like the Richard Dean Anderson character, MacGyver has the uncanny ability to use whatever happens to be handy to build what he happens to need to bring down a bad guy or save lives. The name has become a part of our lexicon and refers to using something in a makeshift procedure to solve a problem. As much as the basic elements of the original remain, there are quite a few significant differences to be found here.
At the end of the third season, the Phoenix Organization was shut down, and the characters all went their separate ways. MacGyver is teaching at a college when he is approached by a rich former MI6 agent. Russ Taylor is played by Lost’s Henry Ian Cusick. He tells MacGyver that he has found patterns in his research that indicate there is a huge terrorist organization out there with big plans. He doesn’t know who they are or what they have planned, but he’s willing to dedicate his massive resources to find out and hopefully stop them. MacGyver agrees and sets out to put the old band back together.
Tristin Mays plays Riley Davis. She’s a super-hacker who went to prison for breaking into the NSA computer files. She’s been working at a Geek Squad kind of store and is bored out of her mind. Justin Hiles plays the comic relief in the form of Bozer. He and Mac were friends since kids and he found out Mac’s secret in the first season, and so he’s been a member of the team. Since the breakup he’s produced a Hollywood movie and is out doing a PR tour. At first he doesn’t want to give up the fame but is quickly brought back in.
One of the hardest recruitments for MacGyver is Desi, played by Levy Tran. She came into the show in the third season and was MacGyver’s love interest. They had a big breakup, and he’s not sure if they’ll be able to work together. She became the muscle of the show with her martial arts training and aggressive nature. She’s been working as a bouncer at a high-end night club and pretty quickly signs back up. They spend the season in a kind of on-again/off-again cycle, while it appears Riley has been liking MacGyver all along.
Meredith Eaton plays Matty Webber, who shares a lot of both physical and personality characteristics of NCIS LA’s Hetty, played by Linda Hunt. Like that show’s Hetty and G relationship, Matty has secrets about Mac’s father that get revealed as the show went along. She was the boss of the old team and kind of sinks into that role when she signs up for the new mission.
The mission is a group called Codex. They are out to cause large disasters to both warn the planet of its vulnerabilities and also to weed out most of the population in hopes of helping the planet reboot itself. Jeri Ryan is one of the group’s founders, with some big ties to MacGyver’s family that unfold throughout the show. One of the biggest guest stars this season, however, is Tobin Bell.
There are some other very obvious differences between the two shows. The big change is in the character of MacGyver. This version of MacGyver is too self-aware of his abilities. We often see him purposefully putting together his innovations. He’ll be working out a math formula or building something in his head. His intelligence is out in the open. Anderson’s version was so much less self-aware. His builds came more out of instinct and knowledge, and it never looked like he was making an effort to figure things out. I liked that aspect of the original, and it made him more of a fun guy. This show often talks down to the audience. They often label the pieces of the build, and this Mac explains everything with far too much detail. It’s like these guys don’t have enough faith in the audience, and so they have to tell you how much smarter they are. The old show let you see it with less explanation, and that was so much more entertaining. It used to be fun to try to guess what he was building. Now it’s all being spelled out for you.
Lee David Zlotoff and Henry Winkler return as producers on this version. Both served in that capacity in the 1980’s, with Zlotoff having created the original show. This series also exists in the Hawaii 5-O and NCIS universe. There was a cross-over with Hawaii 5-O in the first season.
The season is only 13 episodes long. It’s a somewhat complicated formula for this and the final season’s episode count. The show’s ratings haven’t been good since almost the beginning. So it’s spent most of its life on the bubble. So CBS only ordered 13 episodes, and this Codex arc was created to run those shows. The show started to show some life, and a full 20-episode run was ordered. Then came the pandemic, and like every other production around the globe, they were shut down in the middle of episode 19. Since the Codex story made for a nice complete season, the season ended at 13 as originally planned with the other nine episodes moved to start the fifth season. The ratings never really rebounded, and so that season ended with only 15 episodes, nine of which were originally intended for the fourth season. It’s complicated, but that’s what CBS decided. “We shall stop there. That’s enough.”