Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Movies aren’t the only medium that adapts.  Television will adapt, remake, and reboot, too, to varying degrees of success.  Genres abound on TV, from soap operas – daytime and nighttime – to police procedurals, from sitcoms to action-adventure, adding to the feeling of familiarity.  The nature of television has changed over the past few decades.  Where once viewers had a choice of three or four stations, there are several hundred options, with channels for every niche.  This change means that programming for the lowest common denominator means that’s the only denomination that is watching.  Still, with the sheer amount of competition for eyes, not helped by the infinite channels available on the Internet, studios and networks are looking for anything that will let them sell ad time.  Remakes of memorable shows is one way to get viewers, at least for the first episode.

This season, the 2016-2017 season, is seeing a number of adaptions, including at least two shows based on movies – Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon.  Also premiering is a remake of the Richard Dean Anderson series, MacGuyver.  The original series ran for seven seasons, featuring Anderson as the title character, capable of creating solutions out of anything on hand, to the point where creative solutions are known as MacGuyvering.  Anderson’s MacGuyver prefered the more peaceful solution over easy violence.  MacGuyver used guns a total of two times over the seven season run; once was a rifle set to shoot into the ground, with each bounce due to recoil resulting in another trigger pull, and once to use a heavy revolver as a wrench.

Mac worked for the Phoenix Foundation, run by Pete Thornton, played by Dana Elcar.  Pete was nominally Mac’s boss, but the relationship was more friendship than anything else.  Mac’s pilot friend Jack Dalton, played by Bruce McGill, wasn’t part of the Foundation, but appeared often.  Jack was more likely to get Mac involved in existing trouble, often triggering Mac’s acrophobia.  Other recurring characters include budding actress Penny Parker, played by Teri Hatcher, and Mac’s nemesis Murdoc, played by Michael Des Barres.  A typical epsiode of MacGuyver dropped Mac into a situation, usually an investigation, with several opportunities to jury-rig a solution with whatever is on hand.  The show was light entertainment, with the added draw of viewers trying to figure out what Mac would do with the materials on hand, with Anderson narrating the action.  In the first season, the pre-credits teaser, called the opening gambit, was often written by Dalek creator Terry Nation.

The new MacGuyver debuted September 23 and is a remake of the original instead of a continuation.  However, Lee David Zlotoff, creator of the original MacGuyver, is on board as an executive producer, with Henry Winkler returning as another.  The new Mac, played by Lucas Till, still works for Thornton, Patricia Thornton, played by Sandrine Holt.  The pilot begins with Thornton as the head of the Department of External Services, one of the myriad intelligence agencies in the US.  Mac is part of a team with Jack Dalton, now played by George Eads, and Nikki Carpenter, played by Tracy Spiridakos.  Over the course of the episode, Nikki is replaced by the new character, hacker Riley Davis, played by Tristin Mays, and the DXS becomes the Phoenix Foundation.

With just one episode, it’s too soon to do a proper analysis of the series.  It takes time for a show to find its legs as actors figure out their roles.  However, first impressions do happen.  Casting is tough; Richard Dean Anderson’s Mac is iconic; Lucas Till has big shoes to fill.  Helping, though, is that he can pass as a young MacGuyver, even taking into account the difference in hairstyles between 1985 and 2016.  The new Mac still prefers a peaceful solution, eschewing guns, and still creates jury-rigged solutions on the fly.  With the advances in electronics and computers over the past thirty years, there are new ways to MacGuyver a solution to a tough problem.  The big change is in the approach.  Mac now has a team instead of working solo, and Jack is now part of that team.  Jack is also is the heavy on the team, as likely to pull out a gun and shoot as the opposition is, in contrast to Mac.  Patricia Thornton is less buddy-buddy with Mac than Pete Thornton was but is still sympathetic.

The new MacGuyver still needs a few episodes to get comfortable in its own skin.  There is a lot of baggage from the original that just can’t be hidden, such as Mac’s first name.  Once a secret kept until near the end of the series, the name is known well enough by the potential audience that keeping it hidden would just be awkward.  However, the show has potential once it settles in.  Lucas Till isn’t Richard Dean Anderson, nor should he try to be him.  The new Mac needs to be his own person, informed by the original but not a carbon copy, especially given the thirty year difference between the two series.  The pilot of the new MacGuyver did feel like a first season episode of the original, and has potential.  The new show needs to balance the legacy of the original while still being its own series.

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  • Just to add to the “at least two shows based on movies” list, there’s Frequency. The original movie from the year 2000 had a father and son communicating through time (1969/1999) using on old ham radio, the twist being saving the father’s life somehow causes a serial killer to still be killing in the present (1999). The remake (that premieres this Wednesday) has a father and daughter communicating between 2016 and 1996 with similar results.

    I’m kind of amazed they’re trying a MacGuyver remake. You’re right that with the advances in electronics there’s new problems and new solutions, but somehow a continuation would make more sense to me… this coming from someone who never really watched the original, but knows enough through osmosis that it seems a tough one to start fresh. I guess time will tell. Side note, I had no idea Teri Hatcher was in the first one. O.o

    • This season is busy with adaptations, apparently. Completely missed that Frequency exists.

      The original idea was for a gender-flipped version. Not sure what happened there. The new MacGuyver feels more of a group effort behind Mac instead of just Mac on his own with the occasional recurring guest star. I think that was Hatcher’s break-out role, getting her noticed. Penny Parker is unlike her latest roles.

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