TV storytelling, like that of any creative medium, is essentially the art of recycling of ideas that have seen the light of day many, many times before.
Christopher Booker’s 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories proposed the existence of a finite number of story ideas, and whether you agree with that is, as always, open to debate; the fact remains however that there are only so many ways a narrative can play out and they have all, at one time or another, in a book, play, movie, or an off-Broadway experimental piece of theatre, made their bid for creative immortality.
With such a small gene pool of plot drivers, the key is to make something as unique as possible out of your brilliant germ of a previously-expressed idea, something that MacGyver, the 2016 iteration of the 1985-1992 TV show of the same name starring Richard Dean Anderson, manifestly fails to do.
This rickety cobbling together of every trope, cliche and been-there-done-that-got-the-Tshirt-I’ve-worn-before narrative device apparently decided somewhere along its uninspired route to a premiere episode to dispense with even a modicum of originality and to strive to evoke every other spy/adventure TV show and movie you have ever seen.
Every last damn one of them.
Within the first five minutes, you can give yourself physio-corrective finger strain simply by counting off the number of tired and worn plot devices that spring up so fast that it looks like Peter M. Lenkov, who developed the show for CBS, is hoping that the act of furiously-fast repetition will dull the mind to the point where questions aren’t asked and pap is accepted as the natural filling agent of every TV show.
If you’re after vapidly disposable TV with no real character or sense of place and time of its own, then you’ll be happy go along with this; MacGyver 2016 is the perfect accompaniment to doing your taxes, washing up the dishes or alphabetising your bookshelves.
As a piece of compelling television in a world with something like 450 shows of reasonably-original scripted content, it is however a manifest failure.
There is very little about this show, if fact nothing at all, that can lay claim to being even remotely cutting-edge, or Sopranos-esque.
It begins with a party scene we have seen, and this is being charitably conservative, a thousand times before.
Our hero, one Angus “Mac” MacGyver – Lucas Till, handsome but displaying all the wit and charm of porridge left to harden in the sun – arrives at the epic gala in a lavish mansion in a state of the art sports car, dashingly good-looking in his tux, and flirting playfully, and with more than a hint of mild misogynistic intent with his techie right-hand-woman (and girlfriend, naturally) Nikki (Tracy Spiridakos) and his witty, jocular man’s man Jack Dalton (George Eads).
Exposition is given, witty remarks and banter traded and Mac sidles into the party where he meets his beautifully-attired boss Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt) who chooses that moment, in a highly-risky secretive op to recover a virulent pathogen being held sold to the highest bidder- stop me if you’ve heard this all before; oops sorry waaaay too late – to saunter in full view of everyone down the stairs.
Slipping off his jacket, Mac pretends to be a member of the wait staff, diverts security, drugs someone, steals the thing, jumps in a speedboat with Jack on Lake Como, manages to blow up their pursuers and … ZZZZZZZZ
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, mired deep in a plot so predictable, laced with dialogue to leaden and wooden and all things inanimate, and so leached of any real tension and playfulness, that you begin to wonder what the meaning of life itself is.
OK it doesn’t quite reach those levels but you aren’t far off it.
You are left wondering why it is you squandered any time at all on a show that seems utterly unable to generate any sense of compelling storytelling, that renders its characters so inert and so lacking in investment that when of them has the good fortune to leave the show for that great TV network in the sky you are utterly, and completely unmoved.
In fact, it’s safe to say you have found shower-cleaning product commercials more engrossing and diverting that this tired excuse for a show.
There is absolutely nothing wrong of course with light, frothy fun TV done well.
The original MacGyver was exactly that; no one is pretending it was a HBO-worthy contender for Greatest TV Drama of all Time.
But as more modern variants of this type of light and breezy storytelling makes abundantly clear such as Scorpions and even the new iteration of Lethal Weapon for TV, it is possible to create TV that is escapist, fun-filled end-of-the-workday enjoyable without divesting yourself of every last measure of wit, originality, cast chemistry and narrative nous.
MacGyver 2016 manages it, conniving to further insult our intelligence by labelling every single object Mac picks up to construct his once-cleverly-arrived-at devices with big bold letters on the screen, as if we have TV amnesia and cannot recognise simple household objects such as bleach and paperclips (“What are these strange metal twisty-things? Oh right … PAP-ER-CLIIIIPS”).
The title music too is sucked dry of any signs of palpable life, missing the get-up-and-go verve of the old show’s zippy intro and outro themes, both of which lent some excitement to a show that was high on outrageous plot devices sure, but never short on cast chemistry, sense of fun or deftly-used dialogue.
No one, of course, hardcore fans being the obvious exception, want the past recreated in lavish detail; after all, what makes watching a re-imagined show so enjoyable, if they have to do it at all and increasingly TV networks have proven they most certainly do for reasons known only to their accountants, is seeing what original new twists can be draped around the original concept without it seeming like a tired retread.
MacGyver 2016 dispenses with any of this, settling for every last clandestine trope in the book, and thanks to Bond, Bourne and a host of others including the original MacGyver, it’s a bulging tome indeed, and serving up a show so tired, exhausted and lacking in creative verve in its first episode, that you have to wonder why they bothered at all.
Clearly modern Mac can make something out of anything except a wholly unoriginal plot idea, proving there is a limit to his once considerable powers and that we should leave the show to quietly fizzle out, paperclips and all, to its own inevitable abortive end.
- And this, THIS, is how it should look and sound …