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I hate to admit this, but MacGyver is not good. I’m not referring to the unwatchable reboot currently withering away on CBS. No, I mean the original Richard Dean Anderson vehicle of awesomeness which aired from 1985-1992.
Dat dat dat dat dat dat daaaaa, dat dat daaaaa. The theme song gets you pumped, right? It makes we want to go rifling through the kitchen junk drawer, grab the broken can openers and fashion a defibrillator, just in case we need one. Or take the mercury out of those unused curly cue light bulbs (still in the four-year-old box, because they suck) and make…something with mercury, and batteries!
MacGyver was more than a hero, he was a superhero. In the days before Captain America, comic book superheroes were lame. Heroes were more grounded in reality: “The A-Team” (a bunch of guys with guns and explosives), “Knight Rider” (a guy with a tricked out car), “Walker, Texas Ranger” (a cop with a good roundhouse). But MacGyver was more than all that; he became a verb. Younger folk might not understand, but I’ll bet every GenXer knows what it means to “MacGyver the crap out of (something).” Amen?
I loved MacGyver, even so far as to get annoyed when the Monday Night Football game went long and preempted it. And you know how I feel about Monday Night Football, especially in the ’90s, when the Chiefs had Derrick Thomas in his prime.
So I was filled with childlike glee the day I noticed all 139 episodes of all seven seasons of MacGyver pop up on Amazon Prime Video to stream. “Oh, I’m in,” I told my wife while laying in bed looking at my phone. She raised an eyebrow, then went back to reading Dickens, probably because she has a greater recall ability with respect to quality. She is much less swayed by nostalgic sentimentality. “Whatever,” I thought, “MacGyver rocks.”
But she was right. MacGyver is awful. The cheap, soap-opera set lighting, boring storylines, ’80s TV writing … it all seemed so much better when I was 14. Even the action couldn’t save the pilot episode. I figured I’d try and skim through a few later seasons. What I remember as a kid was 45 minutes of this:
When in reality, it was 40 minutes of this:
The acting? Two observations: 1) Richard Dean Anderson started his career on “General Hospital.” 2) They had an episode featuring Traci Lords. Any questions?
It was heartbreaking. I almost wept, then began wondering what other childhood favorites I would have to refile into the “regrets” category alongside hang-over memories, ex-girlfriends, and old college writing. The Neverending Story? The Dark Crystal? Tron? “Quantum Leap”? Surely these hold up, right? Nope, not even a little. Quality is rare, it would seem.
This is a problem for me. I’m trying to make a career in the creative arts. I write fiction. What if what I’m writing today doesn’t pass the test of time? I went to the bookshelf and pulled off some of my all-time favorite fiction: Red Storm Rising, Perelandra, The Killer Angels, Fahrenheit 451. Do you know what? They’re still good. They hold up as well as Narnia and Lord of the Rings. Whew.
Hopefully in 20 years, people won’t look at my work and shake their heads, wondering, “Why did I like that again?” Perhaps it’s because the written word lends itself so well to customization. The words on the page don’t reflect era-specific hair height, or show a hero wearing a printed silk vest over a white t-shirt. It kinda takes the suspense out of the story.
But that’s not always true. Star Wars has ’70s haircuts all over the place. You can hardly identify Harrison Ford’s blue Members Only jacket in The Empire Strikes Back. The dramatic synthesizer riffs we’re ashamed of liking in Duran Duran or Erasure seem strangely unnoticeable in great films like The Right Stuff or Top Gun. George Lucas, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott were (are) not great writers, but they create some amazing backdrops for their characters to play in. If the story is good, and we care about the characters, the details seem to peel away.
First, be good — then we can overlook the perm hairstyle.