MacGyver (CBS) pilot preview: And you thought Scorpion was stupid?

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Created and executive produced by Paul Downs Colaizzo. Co-created by Brett Mahoney (Code Black, The Following, Eli Stone). Directed by David Von Ancken (Hell On Wheels, Californication, Cold Case). Also executive produced by original creator Lee David ZlotoffJames Wan (Saw, Insidious 2, The Conjuring 2), Michael Clear & Henry Winckler. 65 pages. For CBS, CBS Television Studios & Atomic Monster.

Description:  After spending five years on a cave in Pakistan, kidnapped by The Mazzari, a terrorist group, twentysomething Angus MacGyver gets recruited into the clandestine Phoenix Foundation where he uses his knack for solving problems in unconventional ways to help prevent disasters from happening…

With Lucas Till (X-Men: Days of the Future Past, Stocker), George Eads (CSI, Savannah), Addison Timlin (Californication, Zero Hour), Joshua Boone, Michelle Krusiec

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Last year, CBS made it clear they wanted to attract a younger crowd –that’s where the money’s at on television– as most of their series are showing their age. It resulted in series orders for Supergirl, Limitless & Rush Hour. Sadly, none of them reached that goal. Coincidentally, all of them came from previous source material. Maybe it’s not such a good idea trying to make new hits out of already known properties? One day, networks will understand. But not anytime soon apparently. Look at Scorpion on the contrary, that they launched two years ago: a 100% original bona fide hit! 100% ridiculous too, but that’s another debate. There’s an audience for it. It took people by surprise. They knew nothing about it, they liked what they saw and they stayed. That’s how things are supposed to work. Networks really need to stop taking decisions out of fear. And that includes ordering useless spin-offs for no good reason. Anyway. Ladies and gents, now please welcome a MacGyver reboot! Because of course, that’s what we were all waiting for. Especially millenials who never watched it, just heard about it at best.

CBS really wanted a new MacGyver series –even though it was an ABC show. Quick reminder: it ran 7 seasons from 1985 to 1992. Producer James Wan too. He even worked on a young MacGyver feature focusing on Angus’ college years that never got the greenlight. There was already a Young MavGyver pilot in the works in 2003 for The WB, about the hero’s nephew played by Jared Paladecki. Yet again: not picked-up. Everybody knows the SNL spoof MacGruber by Will Forte though, which ultimately became a movie in 2010 and resulted in a huge flop at the box-office worldwide. All of this proves the popularity of the original show but also that it should be left alone once and for all. Not everything can and should be revived. It smells too much like the 80s. It was good at the time. Now it stinks. Things change. Deal with it!

CBS didn’t like the first version of the script written by NCIS: Los Angeles executive producer R. Scott Gemmill. They could have abandoned the idea. But they comissioned another one instead, by newcomer Paul Downs Colaizzo, who’s under an overall deal with them. My guess: he didn’t really have a choice and did it without any pleasure. And it shows. Last year, he wrote the medical drama pilot LFE, that didn’t go to series in favor of tepid Code Black. It was really good. Such a shame. He’s very talentend. That’s undeniable. But I don’t think anyone can do anything good with MacGyver nowadays, including him. The worst thing is this is probably gonna get ordered and he will be stuck with it for a few years. Such a waste…

Many things go wrong in this pilot, starting with the fact that it’s sold as an origin story, except it’s happening in 2015. The series is expected to chronicle how MacGyver acquired some of his famous skill sets… that he used in the 80s. Before he was even born in our timeline. I know I shouldn’t even point that out. But I couldn’t resist. You know me by now. There are worst things though. Like that it’s never fun. Well. Not entirely true. The opening scene kinda is. In a ridiculous way. The way he escapes from prison… It’s clever. And laughable. If Michael Scofield had MacGyver in Fox river, there wouldn’t have been a show. One scene and he would have been out! Spoiler alert: Mac ends the sequence on a hand-made parachute over a giant cliff! That’s one hell of a cliffhanger. But as soon as he returns home, right after the main titles, it’s never fun again.

The dialogues… damn… they are so poor, savourless. And if the cast is as terrible as it looks, it’s gonna be even worse on screen. Plus, it’s a really weak group of characters, who take themselves way too seriously for their young age. MacGyver is just a geek in fact, like Sheldon’s ancestor but more handsome and courageous, and less socially awkward. His mentor (George Eads) is delusional. His friends are just kids. Clever kids. They don’t really exist without him around. The woman in charge of the organization is very generic. And it was a really bad idea to connect Mac to a terrorist organization. Yes, it makes it instantly modern and the stakes are high –there’s a bomb to disconnect towards the end of the pilot, classic MacGyver–  but it’s too much, too soon. We have action and twists and turns, but we also have irritating flashbacks from the war –that’s been done too many times at that point– and not much to come back to.

Reading MacGyver pilot script made me love even more the very few CBS scripts I liked this year, especially Bunker Hill. I’m even starting to think I may have misjudged Training Daywhich may be worth more than 3 stars out of 5. MacGyver is not the worst thing ever and still has a tiny chance to become something. After all, Scorpion did. But it’s not a thing that I’d watch and I’m pretty sure it’s not what millenials are looking for. It looks like a mistake. A mistake that CBS is willing to make, it seems. The perfect slot for it? Either behind Scorpion or after Survivor. Just sayin’.

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