The name "MacGyver" should resonate whether or not you've ever actually seen a single episode of the classic ABC hour-long adventure series. As the years have passed by, the show has turned into an unofficial verb: to MacGyver something is to make a useful tool or solve a problem out of seemingly random, perhaps useless parts. Enhancing the series cultural cache, is the immortal mullet graced by Richard Dean Anderson who, now in retrospect is the large reason why "MacGyver" remained a TV hit for seven long years as his enthusiasm never wanes in a single episode. CBS TV has seen fit to offer up four "fan favorites" (five episodes if you count a two-parter as separate entries" on a single DVD for those unsure they want to invest a lot of time and money into collecting the cult classic; the result though is a very poor marketing decision on multiple fronts.
Kicking off this release is "Phoenix Under Siege" which was obviously selected due to its "b-plot" involving MacGyver's childhood, as the story itself feels like a sad riff on the "Die Hard" craze, even though the episode itself preceded "Die Hard" by a year and a half (thanks to reader Mark for pointing out my factual errors). MacGyver's employer, The Phoenix Foundation is invaded late one night by a band of ineffective terrorists led by a female bomber; unfortunately for them, MacGyver and his grandfather have made a stop by to pick up some hockey tickets. As expected, hijinks ensue and MacGyver must not only rescue the man who eventually raised him, but also stop a madwoman. With few resources at hand, "Phoenix Under Siege" highlights MacGyver's abilities to foil technology with innocuous possessions; it also highlights the series' biggest adversary: thinly written stories and characters. Aside from series regulars like MacGyver himself and his boss Pete (Dana Elcar), MacGyver characters are poorly crafted, with even the simplest intentions muddled. The terrorists here are absolutely inept and their reasons are never defined, sapping any shred of tension from their takeover upon their first appearance. For a show about action, it's big red flag when MacGyver's flashbacks to the night his parents died is the most compelling part of the episode.
The more emotional side of "MacGyver" continues in "Widowmaker" as Mac's climbing buddy falls to her death and our hero is sidelined with guilt and depression; it takes a madman from his past to force MacGyver to put aside his personal issues and save the day. "Widowmaker" is a tough call; on one hand you have a real chance to humanize MacGyver and on top of that bring back Murdoc, MacGyver's long running nemesis. On the same hand, the very presence of Murdoc (played with gleeful wanton madness by Michael Des Barres) is a reminder that "MacGyver" is a live-action cartoon for grown-ups. Murdoc is beyond belief, rolling out Wile E. Coyote brand traps, culminating in rather dismal mano-a-mano scuffle. The saddest part is the emotional buildup is quickly abandoned as the end credits draw near. I won't spoil specifics, but "Widowmaker" also marks the point where future Murdoc episodes ensure viewers must possess superhuman levels of disbelief.
If "Die Hard-esque" plots weren't enough, "Legend of the Holy Rose" sees fit to mine from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." As a complete, two-part package this entry is above-average suffering from a little too much padding, but the trademark MacGyver moments in this one are killer. The Bond-esque opening (10-15 minutes total) has no real relation to anything else, but bestows on fans MacGyver's greatest work of on-the-fly craftsmanship: fashioning a working plane from wood and spare machinery. The actual "holy grail-esque" story itself has your stock characters, including an evil wealthy treasure seeker and female partner to guide MacGyver along the way and serve as damsel in distress. The two-part cliffhanger is brilliantly over-the-top and sets the tone for the conclusion, which never takes itself very seriously. Truth be told, "MacGyver" is at its best during episodes like this that have a very strong sense of what the show is and any false drama is left at the door.
The set concludes on a high-note, bringing back Murdoc not to hunt MacGyver, but to enlist his help in saving his imprisoned sister in "Halloween Knights." Des Barres and Anderson have great on-screen charisma and seeing the two foes work together for the greater good against Murdoc's former employers is both a hoot and tense experience, because this time out one of the heroes could very well die. The set-up for most action sequences are over-the-top, but MacGyver's handling of matters is actually quite low-key, making it the most believable episode of the set. "The Nanny's" Daniel Davis turns in a memorable guest appearance as Murdoc's ex-boss and episode heavy, proving that the show did sometimes hit gold in casting for bit parts.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfers are in rough shape for late 80s/early 90s hit show like "MacGyver." Colors are faded, while detail is in the medium range of the spectrum, but artifacts from the obvious video transfer are incredibly evident. It's not pretty, but it is serviceable.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track for this release is a mixed bag, with the first two episodes lacking even the most minor auditory range. Later episodes, with intros that proudly read "In Stereo Where Available" offer a little more for the ears to digest and remain strong and clear tracks. There are no major issues with any of the episodes, it's just that the whole package is a bit underwhelming.
Honestly, there's not a lot of appeal in this random sampling of "MacGyver's" history. The two Murdoc episodes raise the question, "why not just release the entire series of Murdoc-centric offerings?" At the end of the day, the show has a very specific audience and that's the type of audience who will just spring for complete seasons, not this hodgepodge of highlights, that really only contains one great MacGyver moment. Everyone else is better served with reruns. Rent It.