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Friday, October 21, 2016

How Do I Invent Something Original? Can I Invent Something Original? #MacGuyver #CBS #3weekroundup

How Do I Invent Something Original? Can I Invent Something Original? #MacGuyver #CBS #3weekroundup

All pictures courtesy of CBS

Here we are with yet another three-week roundup review of a new show. Boy, am I slow this year. Yes, I know, many of these shows have already shown their fourth episode by now, but I’ve been really busy with other stuff, so bare with me. On deck this time around: MacGuyver. Wait, is it the mid-80s again? Are you serious? Come the frick on! When will it stoooooooppp!--eh-hmm (clears throat). Excuse my freak-out. Does this new MacGuyver live up and, dare I say it, surpass the reputation of the old one, or has it failed to cobble together the right amount of magic? Let’s find out together.

CBS’ new version of MacGuyver stars Lucas Till (X-Men post-First Class editions) as our titular character Angus MacGuyver, more commonly referred to by the abbreviated first three letters of his last name. Mac is a young but brilliant secret agent working in the US government in some clandestine organization called the DES or Department of External Services—not Nintendo repair. I totally expected it to be Nintendo repair, what with it having been an 80s show, to begin with. Anyway, the parameters and mission statement of said arm of the government is never fully made clear which gives them sort of a carte blanche jurisdiction to do whatever kind of missions they see fit. Not really CIA, not really FBI, they work across borders but try to stay in places that speak English. Mac is the main agent but is surrounded by a team led by his boss Patricia Thornton (played by Sandrina Holt) who used to be one of the baddest, bestest, secretest agents around and has now pseudo-retired for a bureaucratic job away from the action (mostly). Why? Don’t know. Haven’t delved into her background yet which is fine, as the series does have 20-something episodes to build character. Still, she seems rather unnecessary and from the few episodes I did see of the original, I can’t remember if she was around or not.

Mac’s best bud in the field is Jack Dalton, ex-military muscle-man who has no problem being the fist to Mac’s brain. Played by George Eads of CSI fame, he supplies much of the comic relief that isn’t situational, adding in clingy one-liners that remind both Mac and the audience of just how sticky of a situation they currently are in. Being a military man, he is also heavy into guns, which I do remember MacGuyver being fairly against, though I can’t remember why. I also vaguely remember Jack being more of a father-figure and boss to Mac rather than here where he plays closer to an older brother or cool uncle type. He’s a total pull-my-finger kind of guy, but I digress.

Left to Right: Patricia, MacGuyver, Jack 

The team rounds out with Nikki Carpenter (played by Tracy Spiridakos of Revolution fame; OK, maybe not of Revolution fame seeing as how it felt like I was the only person watching that show, but suffice it to say that she’s a very pretty face that has been in other stuff) who works the computers for them and is also Mac’s girlfriend. Stopping here for a moment, let’s tread back to the original MacGuyver again and be reminded of the one thing that I can solidly remember about the program and that is that Mac, for the most part, worked alone. This is what made MacGuyver, MacGuyver. He’d get himself into an impossible situation, do some insane science/engineering and get himself out with a few pieces of duct tape, a paperclip and some wiring to somehow make something explode. Yes, every show seems to go for the team concept today, which I think is heavily influenced by what Gen Xers and Baby Boomers believe to be how Millennials think (don’t say that some Millennial greenlit this. No way that happened. Most are still getting coffee and running errands for execs): more team-oriented toward goals and diversity-inclusive. However, adding extra pieces to the pie doesn’t always work and can ruin a good cake. Take for instance that metaphor I just used. I started with pieces, went to pie, then cake—I’m so ready for the holiday season, and uh... what was I...? Oh right, MacGuyer. Sorry, started thinking about sweet potato pie.

In the first act of the first episode, we see all four of our heroes out on a mission at some rich guy’s house. Intel tells them that the guy has a stolen, secret bio-weapon stashed somewhere in his house, and they need to retrieve it before another bad group retrieves it, the man sells it to the bad group, and/or the guy decides to use it himself. An elegant mansion party, black-tie affair, Mac and his boss Patricia attend the inside. I don’t really know why his boss is there other than the writers felt they needed to introduce her in a semi-cool way in the opening minutes. She doesn’t really help with the extraction, so... yeah. Anyway, from the van Nikki monitors the computers, the cameras, the blueprints of the house—whatever she can to help them. She is also keeping an eye on Jack who is stationed outside at a boat dock—the guy is close to a rich bond villain—that could serve as their getaway spot in the near future, or it could also serve as a spot for him to do nothing but get caught by a guard and show his awesome ass-kickery skills by taking the guard down. Again, since he is not dressed in proper attire, he helps little in the actual extraction.

Meanwhile, back inside, Mac wanders around the party for a while as Nikki runs a radiation test which reveals exactly where the bio-weapon is. As expected, intel says it is in a study locked behind a huge thumbprint-secured vault. Using his quick thinking, Mac manages to find the owner of the house and print him with a little soot. When he gets to the vault, he sees that it is actually a full handprint scanner. He takes some filings from the plaster on the nearest wall, sprinkles it on the scanner, covers his hand with his shirt sleeves and presses gently on the handprint pad. The filings fill in the missing finger grooves and mimic the owner’s hand, opening the vault. The virus/pathogen gotten, he is immediately confronted by guards who know of his thieving due to Jack’s disarming of the guard down at the dock. Now he has to book it out of there.

He ends up on the dock where he and Jack hop into a boat. Unfortunately, the guards shoot the fuel tank. The boat doesn’t blow but they are running out of fuel and won’t get away. So, instead, Mac drives the boat in a circle, tells Jack to jump, and uses the boat as a ramming bat to take out the guard’s boat. He and Jack swim back to shore where awaits them the van with Nikki. Only thing is that Nikki has some company: the guys originally there to get the virus. They shoot Nikki in the chest and she blasts off the dock and sinks dead into the water. They also shoot Mac but he doesn’t die, even though his heart is broken. The other people manage to escape with the virus and Jack is left alive, but everything is forever changed.

A few months later, Mac is back in Los Angeles living with his best buddy off-the-field played by Justin Hires. A wannabe filmmaker, he brings a few laughs as he is constantly trying to get a b-movie horror/sci-fi film made. The end of Mac’s recovery, he reports back to work at the behest of his boss and learns of recent movement of the bio-weapon/virus/pathogen after months of silence. The intel comes from some guy whose computer equipment they stole. Unfortunately, to get the rest of the info and data dumps, they need a really good hacker who can data-dive. Enters the real fourth part of the team Riley Davis (played by Tristan Mays). Here is where I half-rolled my eyes as, apparently, Jack has had a previous relationship with this young girl (he slept with her mother). Listen, this has nothing to do with age nor race, really, but just the fact that they had some sort of tenuous relationship was actually rather unnecessary. I get it, it is supposed to show a previous relationship and put some contention between the two of them, but I sometimes get annoyed when too many shows feel like a family affair. All the characters knew each other and have this deep history before the show started and yadda, yadda, yadda. Sometimes I want a group of people thrown together and trying to figure stuff out, figure out how to be good while learning each other's quirks and whatnot, rather than developed chemistry off-screen. Most times it works, but here... Well, the jury is still out for me.

Jack introduces Riley to Mac and Patricia. One drawback: She currently sits in jail for hacking into a system to help someone ala Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’s Skye/Daisy. She agrees to help them in return for early parole. They give her the computer, which their original tech treats like a delicate flower, and she smashes it. She then gets the computer chip, puts it into a different PC and rips the info straight from the drive as if it was nothing. This hack gives them a face of the guy who shot Nikki. They use facial recognition and cellular tracking technology to track his location where the buyers are going to make the exchange: California, a hotel. They go to the hotel where Mac mixes some ammonia, aluminum, and some acid to make a smoke bomb that sets off the fire alarm to drain the hotel of its guests. As everyone is leaving, Mac sees not only the guy they’ve been chasing but—prepare for your jaw to drop—Nikki, alive and well.

And the chase is on.

He runs after her through an alley. She manages to escape, but the guy that had shot her and Mac the night of her supposed death chases after Mac only to be felled by Mac’s ingenuity to use a stair-drop fire escape as a weapon to knock the man unconscious. Jack punches him awake for interrogation on the go. As it turns out, Nikki was the mastermind behind the whole thing. She was about that action the entire time. Fake death, 5 million dollars in a bank account across seas, and, with the exception of the feelings she had for MacGuyver, nearly everything else in her life was faked. She tries escaping to a private airport where Mac and the crew end up. Even though their boss tries to ground all the flights, there is still one taking off before the order gets through.

When they see Nikki’s plane taking off, Jack stops the van far from the plane—a terrible writing/directing cliché to get MacGuyver to have to run the entirety of the rest of the way to make his jump onto the landing gear of the plane more spectacular. Mac brings down the plane by cutting the wires for the landing gear, making it unable to pull up into the plane. They get on the plane, confront Nikki who tells him that he was always the hero, not her, and he immediately knows that she already sold the virus.

The guy she sold the virus to planned to release the virus in California the whole time, which is why she was trying to get out of the country as quickly as possible. They track the guy’s truck that Mac has to rappel down into from a helicopter to try undoing the dispersion device. Some wire cutting interlaced between some hand-to-hand combat leaves the bomb ticking away while Mac struggles to survive. Too late to undo the bomb, he pulls out a paperclip and pries the virus container from its holder. He then takes some of the ties on the top of the cloth-covered back of the truck, and uses it as a paragliding chute to catch wind and lift him safely off the truck, the reason: he doesn’t want to jump because that would shatter the virus cartridge. My one problem was that when he landed with the makeshift parachute, that landing was just as rough as if he had jumped in my opinion.

The day saved, the team goes back to Mac’s place where Patricia informs them that the sabotage and treachery done by Nikki exposed the DES clandestine operations, so they have to shut down and move everything to a new site. Also, they’re getting a new name as a team that they get to pick. Mac picks Phoenix, and thus the new secret agent organization is born, still with just as nondescript of a purpose as before. Tacked on at the end is the fact that Nikki escaped police custody and is now on the run.

Episode two sees yet more connection with Jack’s (not Mac’s) past and it almost had me thinking that they really wanted to make a spin-off show focusing on Jack rather than this reboot. This time, they are concerned with rescuing a former colleague and heavy love interest of Jack from back in the day. A former military woman and current agent herself, the lady is in Venezuela working undercover to bring down an illegal weapons cartel. She was caught (or at least suspected of being caught) stealing a ledger of all of the cartel’s illegal dealings which would give the CIA enough info to bring down the entire network. Unfortunately, she has now been disavowed making Phoenix her only hope of survival.

They go there and must track her through a series of bar brawls, intimidated old contacts, and computer hacks. They chase down a lead who introduces them to a black-site hospital building where they are holding the woman. Mac devises a plan to sneak in through an old morgue elevator that will take him all the way down to the morgue/dungeon where they are keeping the agent. It works, but they are still caught when lights come back on after he has his team shut off the power. In this episode, he not only makes an at-home arc welder from a car battery and some jumper cables but makes some night-vision goggles from some computer chips and other stuff (you see where this review is going?). They escape in time for Jack to throw out his one-liner after driving through a wall: "Anyone call for an Uber," and have him make serious googly eyes the whole time as he reminisces so hard he almost crashes the car. She can’t leave yet because she knows that if she does, the gang leader will just disappear and never be caught. So, they go to his stronghold, chase him through the forest as he rides his bike, and catch him, bringing him to justice. Justice served, Jack looks to rekindle with the saved agent when he learns that she is engaged and happy. Poor Jack.

Meanwhile, Riley and Mac’s friend are bonding as she uses him as her fake boyfriend to appear before her parole officer. Mac struggles with Nikki’s disappearance as he goes back to her apartment constantly to look for clues he was previously too love-blinded to see. He finally finds one in a fake electrical socket where she has hidden a possibly fake (or real) ID.

Episode three starts with Mac and Jack running through a burning building looking for an exit. A result of MacGuyver setting a fire to create a distraction, he finally discovers a way out when he grabs two body bags conveniently lying on the floor, wraps himself and Jack in them, and uses two fire extinguishers to puff them full of air to use as airbags as they jump from the building and hit the ground. Saved, they go to their next mission where they are once again dealing with an international cartel. This time in a country where they aren’t supposed to even be, they must extract a young punk millionaire who has been funneling money for the gangs. A glorified accountant, the guy is described by Jack as having “a punchface, a face just begging to be punched.” Truer words... At first, they sneak into the guy’s house just looking for evidence on the cartel’s activities, but when he awakes and is made a target by the very people he works for, they figure that he will be a great key witness to any case they build. The guy gets shot and blood fills his lungs forcing MacGuyver to have to drain them of blood by using a hose connected to the windshield wipers, creating a powerful enough suction that would normally spray the windows with washer fluid, instead spraying them with the guy’s plasma. They also fake his death by giving him a cocktail of drugs meant to make him appear dead for an hour, long enough for someone to call the EMTs and for them to revive him. There’s another chase in which Mac makes another smoke-bomb that fogs the entire road and puts every other driver in danger, not just the gang that follows them.

They manage to revive him, get him out of the country safely to testify and... yeah. He flirts with their boss, they tell him he no longer has any money, and Jack is seen sitting in the cemetery talking to his dad’s grave. Jack reminds Mac that Nikki isn’t the only complicated heartbreak he has, but that Mac also hasn’t spoken to his dad in a while. Mac finally takes to writing his old man a letter. All the shell-corps are brought down by the FBI and everything is good. If you’re thinking my third episode review is lacking, you’re probably right. It goes straight-line with the actual quality of the show.

What is my grade? I give it a C-. It partially reminds me why I don’t often watch CBS shows. To understand why I gave it that grade, we must first look at the original show (which we already did), and then must look at some of the more recent shows that go off the same premise of a secret agent guy doing cool stuff with a huge wealth of knowledge and limited everything else. MacGuyver was originally an everyman's genius superagent, more Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt meets Get Smart’s Maxwell Smart than James Bond. The allure came from how this mulleted man could get out of nearly any situation with his wits and a few household items. He was a genius out of his time. Now, as I have said before and will say again, the TV is populated with too many geniuses. I cannot express that enough. In a TV age in which some of the highest rated shows are filled with regular people doing regular stuff (exception goes to Breaking Bad, but everything else Game of Thrones, People v. OJ, The Walking Dead, etc.), crime TV shows still bombard us with the same hero archetypes we’ve seen for years. You are either a socially awkward genius or everyman genius. Socially awkward: Scorpion, Sherlock Holmes. Everyman: Brian on Limitless, MacGuyver, etc. This is not to say that we need blander characters like on FOX’s Lethal Weapon, but rather we need people more interesting not because of their intelligence. In a world where that is the starting point, MacGuyver fails to hook on something bigger.

That was the comparison of the old concept to the new show and how the concept has aged. Now, to bring some of those same new shows from the previous year back to light, when looking at other procedurals we’ve seen since the start of the 2015 Fall TV season, things like Minority Report, Second Chance and Blindspot have all hit us not only with much more novel ideas on the twist of cops chasing baddies and geniuses solving crimes, but have been more engaging in each of their mysteries—both weekly and over-arching seasonal. Take the comparison of two CBS shows: the defunct Limitless and now MacGuyver. In Limitless we see a regular guy who takes a drug and suddenly becomes super-smart. The problem with this is that if he stops taking the drug it will kill him and also return his life to the crap hole it was. But he doesn’t control the drug and is slave to not only the FBI who supplies him with NZT but uses him as their own lab experiment to figure out why he can survive the side effects without dying, a secret he is keeping as he is given another drug to counteract the NZT’s effects. It is extremely complicated and gets more intricate as the series goes on, yet, still manages to have humor and fun in the show while playing heavy into the everyman genius stereotype. Brian is your current millennial kid, or you when you were younger: a bit of a slacker, maybe, but not rock bottom. He just doesn’t know what to do with his life. While this wasn’t my favorite show, and I did point out that one of the problems I thought might arise with it is that it tacitly sent a positive message of illicit drug use, as well as the humor could be downright juvenile (I actually enjoyed it. Sigh!), I thought this series had a chance at being renewed.

They Don't Look Too Happy Reading My Review

When compared to MacGuyver, Limitless was smarter, edgier, and more current. Aside from the glossy young sheen on the actors, MacGuyver already feels dated. My mother tuned in for this to see if she would like it as much as she did the original and she commented that she thought they were trying too hard simply after seeing the opening. After having watched three episodes, I agree. I’ve tried too hard plenty of times in my own writing. Frankly, the blog is a satire on that. But this show feels like Wonder bread to the palate. There’s nothing memorable about it; even some of the fancy tricks he does to create something (a big draw of the original and what made me want to watch this) didn’t wow me. It feels more like the producers had an idea for a show, wrote it, tried to sell it then realized that it wouldn’t sell unless they slapped a known name brand on it. Take MacGuyver off the title, and I wouldn’t know this show from Adam.

Should you be watching? No. I don’t think fans of the original will like this and I’m not sure it will win many new fans that tune in for anything other than to stare at Lucas Till or Tristin Mays; I can’t even see people tuning in weekly to figure out the mystery behind Nikki, who she is and to where she disappeared. You might watch it and, after an hour, feel like you haven’t watched anything. Sorry. MacGuyver airs on CBS Fridays at 8pm.

What do you think? Have you seen the new MacGuyver? If not, do you think you’ll tune in for the secret agent’s adventures? If you have, do you like it? Have I been too rough on this freshman show or does it have too many flaws to forgive? And when do you think Nikki will pop back up? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

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Until next time, "OK, if I use this sewing needle, this double-sided tape and this black permanent marker I can--”
‘Wait! Time out! Where the hell did you get all that and why you got it in yo pocket? You just carry that shiznit around?’
“Kmart! They were having a mystery Halloween bag sale. And yes, I do carry it around in my pocket.”

P.S. I’m not trying to nitpick here but we have come into the age of minute details. Even the most “let-it-go” viewer like me will ask on occasion where the hell this stuff is coming from and why is it always conveniently placed where MacGuyver has easy access to it. Not a great sign-off. I’ll think of something better next time.

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