In 10 Words or Less
Mac's back for a second season of adventures
The Story So Far...
Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson, "Stargate SG-1") is a different kind of secret agent; one who doesn't carry a gun and who uses science and creativity to battle bad guys. He also can rig up anything he needs out of things he finds around him, "MacGyverisms," which became part of common pop culture. Of course, in a pinch, he can pack a punch with his fists as well. As an operative of the Phoenix Foundation, he gets the call when no one else can get the job done, and that normally means either the world is in danger or one of his old friends has gotten themselves in trouble. The series aired on ABC from 1985 to 1992, with two TV movies to follow.
Paramount released the first season on DVD in January of 2005. DVDTalk has a review of the set here.
The first season of "MacGyver" established the concept of the ultimate Boy Scout, and gave the world a new hero who could be respected not just for the things he does but for the way he does them. It also introduced a couple of regulars, including Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar), his boss at the Phoenix Foundation, and Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher, "Desperate Housewives") an adorable ditz who finds her way into trouble every time she shows up in Mac's life.
Truth be told, "MacGyver"'s second season isn't much different than the first, with a few minor exceptions, the biggest being the opening scene. The first season's episodes opened with a gambit, as MacGyver would pull off a rescue or theft of some sort, completely unrelated to the rest of that episode. This season, that time is devoted instead to the show's overall plot, allowing for a bit more beef in the story.
Those stories remain essentially the same, Cold War relics now, as MacGyver's enemies were mostly of the cloak and dagger variety. The dangerous Communists, drug lords and terrorists still keep the Phoenix Foundation busy, but in the second season, domestic threats are just as big a pain to MacGyver. That includes a pair of regular guest stars that make their first appearance in this set, joining George Takei, Tia Carrere, Vincent Schiavelli, Nana Visitor, and, most annoyingly, Danny Cooksey (Sam from "Diff'rent Strokes.")
Jack Dalton (Bruce McGill, Animal House) is MacGyver's opposite number, an adventurer without the ethics. Played with gusto by McGill, the roguish Dalton manages to get his old college pal into more trouble than he really needs, starting with his first appearance in "Jack of Spies." He returns twice more in this collection, bringing a welcome burst of bravado.
His friendship with Dalton is just one of several revelations about Mac's past this season presents, shown in bits and pieces, including a clip show, "Friends." Clip shows will continue to be the bane of DVDTV collectors, as they are something of a waste when you own all the episodes the clips are culled from, and can watch them any time you please. Not to mention that fact that a clip show after just two seasons is lame.
Hired hitman Murdoc (Michael Des Barres, "The New WKRP in Cincinnati") also has a shared past with MacGyver, but his isn't quite as friendly. In fact, he wants to kill Mac, and apparently won't let death stop him, as he seems to just come back stronger. MacGyver had plenty of foes, but a hero can truly be judged by his rogue's gallery, and Murdoc provided him with a true nemesis. His first episode, "Partners," also featured Dalton, making it one of the most entertaining of the season.
It's hard to put a finger on it, but there's some reason why this season's stories just seem improved over the first run. It's certainly not the dialogue, which remains stilted. Perhaps it's the lack of time wasted by an opening gambit, or the new characters or it might just be a writing staff that gained a firmer hand on the characters. Whichever way, this season is more entertaining than the first, mixing more of an Indiana Jones-like wit with the noir-ish voiceover, to create a very unique feel. "Phoenix Under Siege" and "Soft Touch," which features Hatcher's silly character, are prime examples of what this series was capable of, even if it wasn't exactly "Masterpiece Theater." It was instead good, intelligent fun that was capable of some very nonsensical plots.
Just looking at the packaging, the second season is already much improved, as Paramount has dropped the six-case brick the first set came in. Instead, the six discs of second-season episodes arrive in a similarly designed slipcase, with the DVDs packaged in three dual-disc, clear ThinPak cases. Episode descriptions are on the back of each case, but unfortunately, the opportunity to put extended content on the inside of the covers went wasted.
Still static, the menus have changed in design since Season One, though once again providing only episode titles. There's no play-all feature, nor are there language or subtitle options. Each episode does have closed captioning.
I caught some heat for my review of the first season's quality, with some saying I was too hard on the show, due to its age. Well, I stand by my opinion, as I've seen better footage from shows of the same time period. The full-frame video from the second season suffers from some of the same problems as the first season, including slight softness and excessive grain during darker scenes. Color is relatively good, though reds can vibrate a bit.
Overall, the video quality is a slight bit better this time, a fact made obvious during the opening titles, where the difference between footage from the first two seasons is easy to see. But any time the series uses stock footage, as "Eagles" clearly illustrates, with extremely dirty, old and grainy clips of the birds, the episodes look terrible. The same goes for special effects shots, which are pretty low-tech, due to age.
The sound, a mono mix presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, is functional, but won't blow you away. There's no distortion or concerns in the track, and no complaints. This audio probably sounds better than it did on TV almost 20 years ago.
Once again, Paramount has graced MacGyver fans with nothing in terms of extras, unless you consider the same out-of-date DVD previews from the first set, along with a few new ones, bonus material. I know I don't.
The Bottom Line
From car phones to text-display computers and Dalek-like robots, "MacGyver" is very much dated, but the idea of outsmarting the enemy never expires. And while the stunts, special effects and, especially, dialogue are somewhat laughable, the series holds some pretty entertaining adventures, if you can look past the silliness. The DVD quality is better than last time out, and the packaging has been improved but the lack of any extras is still weak. Hardcore fans will want to own these episodes, but casual viewers will be happy with a rental.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.