MacGyver comes to a sad end in MacGyver: The Complete Final Season. Oh, he doesn't die or anything like that. He just sort of...fades away, the way most tired series do during their final, little-watched seasons. I wasn't a die-hard MacGyver fan by any stretch; it always seemed to be aimed at teenagers and below during its seven-year run. I remember all the positive news articles (no doubt courtesy of ABC's publicity department) about how the show was good for kids to watch because it got them interested in science. During its first year or two, I remember occasionally tuning in and liking the show well enough. Richard Dean Anderson had a likeable, laid-back quality that was a fresh approach for a TV espionage/action hero would didn't like physical violence, and the plots had a globe-trotting scope to them that enhanced the action. And of course, the "MacGyverisms" were top-notch fun, with half the show's appeal clearly rooted in how MacGyver was going to take a paper clip, a bar of soap and nail polish, and escape from a booby-trapped building.
I've never really understood how the show lasted seven seasons without ever ending the year in the Nielsen Top Thirty. Despite relatively mediocre ratings, it must have hit the demographics ABC was looking for, as well as garnering a loyal following of vocal fans who lobbied for its continued production (I would imagine that its stated goals to "educate" kids about science, and to keep the violence to a minimum, also helped ABC feel good about keeping it on). Certainly, there's no doubt that MacGyver, by Season Seven, was on its last legs. Most cast and crew of a long-running show know when a particular season is going to be the last, and it definitely shows here. Anderson looks alternately bored or distracted; whether it's because he's grown tired of playing the same role for seven years, or because he's asked to do some silly things in this final season, it's hard to tell. After all, when MacGyver, the guy who can get out of any situation, is reduced to begging a bulldog to bring him a bottle of sulphuric acid to eat through the ropes that bind him (in episode The Coltons, an obvious pilot episode for an unsold new series), you know that the writers have run out of fresh ideas. When the writers of a show start to go stale, they sometimes move the character to a new location in hopes of generating new plot ideas (remember The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when they kicked her out of her old apartment - bad idea). MacGyver moves to a new neighborhood in this season, a "bohemian" neighborhood as the DVD box describes, but the writers can't seem to come up with any good reason for him to be there. We're introduced to a new reoccurring character who lives nearby -- Mama Lorraine, a quasi-voodoo priestess/shopkeeper -- but seriously, that fake Caribbean accent pretty much blows the whole point of the character. Another sign post of desperation for any long-running series is a time travel episode, and MacGyver: The Complete Final Season has a particularly lame one, where MacGyver is transported back to the court of King Arthur. It's a two-parter, meaning it's double the non-fun.
There are a couple of good episodes in MacGyver: The Complete Final Season; Obsessed, where MacGyver's arch nemesis Murdoc returns from the dead, yet again ("Oh my God, they've killed Kenny! I mean, Murdoc!), is probably the strongest in the group, with some tight direction and editing. But it's fairly outnumbered with junk like the season opener, Honest Abe, featuring an ungodly unfunny appearance by "comedian" Shelley Berman, and The Prometheus Syndrome a mad bomber/arsonist tale that looked stale back in the '70s when countless variations of it appeared on numerous cop/detective shows. The main problem with MacGyver: The Complete Final Season seems to be a disconnect with MacGyver's role as a crime fighter. His commitments to the Phoenix Organization seems haphazard at best; is he working for them or not? Most of the time, he just seems to be hanging out in his apartment, waiting for something to happen. His involvements with nefarious plots seem to come willy nilly; it's lazy screenwriting when MacGyver can't even walk down to the neighborhood grocery store without encountering a kidnaping/voodoo plot. The social activism of the show, regardless of whether or not you deem that particular plot element necessary or even wanted in an action series, clearly is a crutch for the writers at this point. I'm not convinced MacGyver audiences wanted a weekly lesson in civics buried amid the various explosions and gun play. Neither element is well served in MacGyver: The Complete Final Season, with the action underplayed, and the social commentary delivered in a compromised, superficial manner. Clearly, the show was on life support when MacGyver: The Complete Final Season was produced.
Here are the 14 episodes included in MacGyver: The Complete Final Season:
MacGyver gets pulled into a crazy plot by his godson's grandfather, an ex-CIA agent who steals a high-tech helicopter in order to kidnap a dictator.
When a quirky actress from MacGyver's neighborhood is abducted by two hit men, MacGyver works with his new bohemian neighbors to find her.
MacGyver's obsession that Murdoc is still alive is interfering with his job and threatening Pete's position at the Phoenix Organization.
The Prometheus Syndrome
A psychopathic arsonist is setting explosive fires around the city, so MacGyver plays detective in order to track him down before he strikes again.
MacGyver's friends, the bounty-hunting Colton brothers, are hired to find a young woman who is the only witness to a gangland slaying in Chinatown.
After a student organizer is kidnapped, MacGyver and his neighbor Mama Lorraine have to rescue the girl from a powerful voodoo priest.
Good Knight MacGyver Part 1
While tracing his family roots, MacGyver is knocked unconscious and transported back to the court of King Arthur, where he is asked to free a princess from the clutches of a tyrannical queen.
Good Knight MacGyver Part 2
The magician Merlin accompanies MacGyver on his quest to rescue the princess, but first they need to stop the evil queen from causing destruction with an early form of gunpowder.
Silent-film star Pinky Burnette's only remaining films get stolen. But when he and MacGyver try to get them back, they encounter a dangerous special-effects expert bent on revenge.
Ex-con Earl Dent desperately needs money in order to retain custody of his teenage daughter, so he asks MacGyver to help him train for a boxing match.
Gunz 'n Boyz
At the Challengers youth center, a former gang member is accused of murdering his rival. But MacGyver suspects a notorious weapons dealer who sells guns to gangs.
Off the Wall
When his grandmother is suddenly evicted from her apartment, a young graffiti artist enlists MacGyver's help in battling greedy landlords and corrupt city officials.
The Mountain of Youth
Jack Dalton ropes MacGyver into yet another scheme, this time in Kabulstan, where locals claim that water from an ancient spring is a virtual "fountain of youth."
While working with Chinese dissidents to expose illegal labor camps, MacGyver gets unexpected help...from a young photojournalist who claims to be his son!
I've read that previous seasons of MacGyver on DVD have had problems with the transfers. That problem has not been solved for MacGyver: The Complete Final Season. Compression problems and picture noise abound, with a generally fuzzy, unfocused look to the full-screen video image. It's a pretty poor way to showcase these episodes; perhaps CBS/Paramount didn't think anyone would care -- the fans are going to buy this last season, anyway.
The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is fairly good, but it's a pretty quiet show, except for the explosions, so don't expect a lot of dynamic action on your speakers.
There are no extras for MacGyver: The Complete Final Season. You'd think someone associated with the series would want to comment on the final season -- unless everyone involved would rather just forget these last episodes.
I liked MacGyver when it first came out. It had a fun, fresh approach to James Bond variant, and Richard Dean Anderson had a cool style that suited the material perfectly. But MacGyver: The Complete Final Season is a desultory collection of cast-off episodes that show no forward direction in taking the MacGyver character to his final resting place (Of course, he did return for some TV movies). If you're a fan of the show, you're already going to buy this season -- you won't heed my advice. But if you're new to the whole MacGyver universe, rent the first two or three seasons, and skip this one.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.