‘MacGyver’ (2016) Pilot Recap: “If This Guy Is the Hero, It’s Not Looking Good”

The new 2016 ‘MacGyver’ attempts something I don’t recall seeing before. It tries to consolidate and reboot two shows in one. It really ought to be called ‘MacGyver: Impossible’.

Considering that the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie franchise has little to nothing to do with the old TV series, I can certainly understand why CBS would want to revive its original formula. Unfortunately, legal ownership and naming rights being what they are, the network couldn’t actually use the ‘Mission: Impossible’ title again. But hey, wait, ‘MacGyver’ was once a popular show that people still have nostalgia for, and CBS owns the rights to it. So let’s combine the loosest possible interpretation of either show’s concept into one ungainly mutant hybrid under the ‘MacGyver’ brand, and cast a kid who looks like he’s about 17-years-old in the lead in order to appeal to the youth market that so frustratingly eludes America’s oldest-skewing television network. Yeah, that’ll work!

I watched the hell out of the original ‘MacGyver’ back in the day, but to be honest, I don’t remember a damn thing about it beyond the parts that were parodied in the ‘MacGruber‘ movie and ‘SNL’ sketches. Richard Dean Anderson had a mullet and he could disarm a nuclear bomb with some chewing gum and a paperclip – that’s about the extent of my remaining ‘MacGyver’ knowledge today. He worked for the government, I think? Was he a spy, though? I don’t know. Maybe ‘MacGyver’ was always a thinly-veiled ‘Mission: Impossible’ knockoff, though that doesn’t sound right to me. Whatever the case, the new version definitely is, and is pretty shameless about it.

CBS has been eager to reboot ‘MacGyver’ for a while now and wanted the show to appeal to a younger crowd. Lucas Till, who plays Havoc in the ‘X-Men’ movies, was cast in the lead. The actor is actually 26 but looks like he should still be in high school. So as not to completely alienate the older viewers who are still the network’s core audience, George Eads from ‘CSI’ was also brought in to play MacGyver’s partner and best friend, Jack Dalton. (The fact that Eads is literally old enough to be Till’s father is never addressed in the show when they banter like long-time BFFs.) The version of the pilot episode that aired last week is the second one to be shot. After the network executives hated the initial pilot, they scrapped the whole thing, keeping only Till and Eads, and brought in ‘Furious 7’ director James Wan to pump the show up with lots of mindless action and ‘splosions.

The new Angus “Mac” MacGyver is a brilliant kid who dropped out of school because he was just too smart for his teachers, and was immediately recruited by a secretive government intelligence agency called the Department of External Services, which operates undercover as a political think-tank. Per the old show, he’s a genius at improvising tools and weapons out of whatever is at hand. Conveniently, he always happens to run into exactly the right materials and ingredients to whip up something useful whenever he’s in a bind.

We’re introduced to Mac and his spy team – buddy Jack for muscle and sexy girlfriend Nikki (Tracy Spiridakos from ‘Revolution’) for computer hacking and techie stuff – in a scene you’ve watched in countless ‘Mission: Impossible’ TV episodes, movies and knockoffs. Using just his wits and charm, plus a radio earpiece and fancy glasses with a hidden camera and heads-up computer graphic display, Mac slips into a foreign embassy party, sneaks around, and locates a hidden room where he steals a canister holding a bright-green, liquidy something-or-other. You can tell that it’s really bad by the cylinder shape of the canister and the fact that the liquid glows through the window in the center. That’s never a good sign.

Mac absconds with the loot, is chased by baddies, dodges bullets, and has a boat chase before returning to the rendezvous point and discovering that – Oh no! – Nikki is being held captive by Vinnie Jones! Mac gives up the canister in exchange for Nikki’s life, but Vinnie Jones shoots the both of them anyway, plunging their bodies off a bridge into a river below. That evil sonuvabitch.

Three months later, Mac survives with just a teensy-tiny, adorable scar on his chest. Nikki’s body was never found, but she obviously must be dead. Right? I mean, there’s just no way she’d show up again at the end of the episode, is there? Nah…

Anyway, Mac is sad about his girlfriend being dead for, like, a minute. Then his boss lady (Sandrine Holt, who seems to be on every TV show I watch lately) tells him that the canister he lost to Vinnie Jones contains a weaponized virus that will kill every single person in the entire world if Mac doesn’t get it back right then. But how can the team do that if they don’t have their computer techie person? Jack has a suggestion for that, and – this is important – she must be a twentysomething-year-old girl of equal hotness to the last one. This isn’t ‘Mr. Robot’. No grungy or beady-eyed computer hackers will be allowed on this show.

Mac and Jack spring a computer hacker hottie named Riley (Tristin Mays from ‘The Vampire Diaries’) from prison to be their new Nikki. She uses her hacking magic to search security cameras from all over the world and instantly locate Vinnie Jones in San Francisco. They fly there to capture him, and OH MY GOD HE’S WITH NIKKI! SHE’S STILL ALIVE??? HOW CAN THIS POSSIBLY BE?? I HAD NO IDEA!!!!

Yeah, Nikki is evil and faked her death. She was behind the canister theft and is planning to sell the apocalyptic virus to terrorists or something. Mac chases her to a small airport, runs across the tarmac and jumps into her plane’s landing gear, then disables the plane’s hydraulics and forces it to land again. They capture Nikki, only to find that she already unloaded the virus and it’s going to be dispersed in downtown San Francisco.

Mac and Jack hop in a helicopter and chase an army truck with the virus canister in the back (conveniently unguarded). Mac jumps out of the helicopter onto the moving truck and finds the canister attached to a bomb with a big countdown timer which is going to explode in 10 seconds. (The truck is nowhere near the city at this point, mind you.) Mac uses a paperclip (ha ha ha ha ha, fan-service…) to detach the canister, then fashions a parachute out of the canvas roof of the truck and flies to safety while the truck drives off and explodes harmlessly.

Hooray! The day is saved! Let’s celebrate by having a drink and renaming the Department of External Services to the “Phoenix Foundation,” because that’s presumably something meaningful that fans of the old show will remember.

Episode Verdict / Grade: D-

This show is so fucking godawful I can’t believe I’ve wasted far too much of my life writing this recap. Everything about it is misguided. The new MacGyver is a total douchebag. The plot is stupid. The forced banter and humor are wretched. Even the action scenes are lame.

The pilot episode is inundated with annoying gimmicks including voiceover narration and on-screen text and graphics to explain MacGyver’s improvised inventions, and tons of split-screen montages which are so over-used that they sometimes show the same image on both sides of the screen for no reason. I have a feeling those tricks were all added by James Wan and will probably not recur in later episodes.

I can only hope that this is the worst new TV show of the fall season, because if there’s something worse than this on the way, I don’t want to see it.


  1. Ronald Moody

    Yup, that’s exactly what I thought of it. Just awful. Horrible acting, writing, casting, everything. If it makes it two episodes, I’ll be shocked.

  2. cardpetree

    I only remember the original MacGyver vaguely from when I was a kid. I think my Dad would watch it every once in a while. Maybe it was one of his shows and he was watching it every week, hard to remember something like that. I know he watched NOVA a lot and I can remember hating that. Anyway, seems like the popularity of the original MacGyver would have been a product of it’s era. I can’t remember the last time I even watched an episode but I would imagine that it probably sucks pretty bad and has not aged well. Just doesn’t seem like the idea of a MacGyver show would work in 2016 so not sure what the show execs were thinking when they decided it was a good idea to try this.

      • Josh Zyber

        It may have been, but that doesn’t excuse CBS from making a new one that’s even worse.

        A good remake/reboot takes something that had a strong concept but lackluster execution and fixes the execution (Ocean’s Eleven, for example). The execution of this one just plain sucks.

  3. Guy

    CBS abandoning Person of Interest makes a lot more sense if this horsecrap is what the current regime wants on the air. I spent a good percentage of my youth watching syndicated MacGyver episodes with my dad. If they’d called the show and character any other names while keeping everything else the same, I’m not sure anyone would be citing MacGyver as a series after watching this. Maybe they’d use MacGyver-ing as a verb to describe the environmental problem solving, but these days you’d be better understood calling that Jason Bourne-ing instead. What a turd.

  4. Jason Dean

    I believe the original MacGyver was on ABC back in the mid-1980s. I would’ve watched if Addison Timlin was still in it, but most of the people from the first pilot got recast. That’s never a good sign. Couldn’t watch it. Maybe they changed it because they were afraid of the MacGruber parodies. But, if that’s true, why remake MacGyver to begin with?

  5. Timcharger

    Josh: “immediately recruited by a secretive government intelligence agency called the Department of External Services.”

    And show abbreviated it as DXS! With an “X”!!!
    There should have been this banter:
    “No, we don’t work for the Department of X-ray Services.
    It’s DES!”

  6. Timcharger

    Josh: “The actor is actually 26 but looks like he should still be in high school.”

    So true. When we were first introduced to him
    when he is trying to get into the mansion at
    Lake Como. There was a line about MacGyver
    being in the Boy Scouts. And he looks like he
    recently was.

  7. i like the show i agree the themes sucks though
    considering macgyver was an 1980’s show and this 2016 stop BSing it people give it a chance only one episode has aired and of course its not going top be same as original i will repeat its 2016. I will say theme stinks but show is good

  8. Thulsadoom

    I watched a lot of cheesy shows in the 80s, but oddly I never watched much MacGyver (think I saw a few episodes). I was more of a Galactica/Buck Rogers/’V’/A-team/Automan/Knight Rider/The Invaders kind of kid. 😉 I know MacGyver more through Simpsons jokes and other tv references these days.

    Is it wrong that Josh’s review being soooo bad makes me want to see this? He makes it sound so bad that it’s almost good. 😉

    • I’m betting one of the reasons why the Hawaii Five-O reboot has been going on for years now is because of the theme song, of which they kept mostly the same as the original show. In contrast, CBS’ MacGyver reboot has a garbage 10-second theme song, of which the first 3-4 seconds sounds like the original, and then it just dies entirely. They should’ve just gotten Richard Dean Anderson back. He’s not doing anything anyway, now that Stargate is being rebooted by Emmerich (that reboot will probably tank just as bad too).

      Networks and advertisers are so desperate to hit the 18-49 demo, that they forget that older audiences have much more time and money on their hands. Seems like the casting these days is always focused on attracting the teen crowd.

  9. Well, I think the basic problem is not the MacGyver reboot here, which is not a problem for anyone born after 2000. However, the blatant discrepancies between the 80s series starring Richard Dean Anderson matter to people who watched it when there youth was in the 80s or 90s or even slightly later. The show should not have ‘stolen’ the name of the original – it would definitely stand better chances in times where reminiscence is still alive and making up a large part of the CBS audience. A fake is always worse than the original. What’s coming up next? Murder, she wrote with Dakota Fanning in the lead role? Or Matlock with Jimmy Fallon? Probably not, as the cast seems to focus on the hairdo, as with Lucas Till. Wearing a bushy, bushy blond hairdo? Help reboot the Beach Boys. Make it less bushy, more Achilles like, and you might wind up the new MacGyver. White hair? Become the new Matlock. And let’s dispel the fiction that the lawyer has to be a country singer. Make him younger and let him do hip hop and hard flips on his skateboard. Like asking questions? Buy a raincoat and audit for the Columbo reboot. Since with Columbo the murderer is revealed from the beginning (mostly at least) could’t Columbo just shoot him and then explain why? I gather the second amendment is becoming so popular and if MacGyver watches someone being tortured, Columbo should take the bait. For the streets of San Francisco we could cast Sponge Bob, nose size should be okay.
    That was enough sarcasm. But I don’t approve of these lousy Hollywood reboots. You cannot reanimate a dead thing. Has never worked. So stick your heads together and figure out something new. Otherwise there is indication that the world has run out of resources and nothing more to offer. I invented a genuinely new TV detective but CBS and ABC are reluctant to deal with the project for reasons unknown.
    To conclude, the new MacGyver is a bore, but i’d still grade the pilot C- hoping that in return no attempt at a Columbo reboot will be made. A final plea: is there any chance of Richard Dean Anderson taking over from Lucas Till, after losing say 40 pounds?
    Anyway good luck out there in the intriguing 21st century.

  10. Brain Zane

    My one complaint about this review is author Josh Zyber talking about George Eads being “literally” old enough to be Lucas Till’s dad and yet their two characters banter like old BFFs. Yes, I know someone is going to cry “Grammar Nazi” at me, but really, Josh, could you and the rest of the world’s journalists stop using the word “literally” as an intensive? The whole trend is older, staler, and more played out than Hollywood’s constant rebooting of old franchises, and the whole act of using this particular word this particular way doesn’t make what you’re saying any more important. It’s just a bunch of pretentious, immature, mindless, superficial fluff that the world didn’t need when you wrote this article in the 2010s, much less now in 2022, and the sooner this whole “literally” fad dies, the better.

    Thank you.

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