First, Be Good

 

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 StoryThe Dark CrystalTron? “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.

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There are 55 comments.

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  1. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Vince Guerra:

    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 twenty years people won’t look at my work and shake their heads, wondering, “Why did I like that again?”

    It depends. If you write a book, and people like it, enough so that they buy your second book, then I’d say it’s held up well enough. And so on.

    Vince Guerra: The cheap, soap opera set lighting, boring storylines, 80’s TV writing…it all seemed so much better when I was fourteen. Even the action couldn’t save the pilot episode.

    I haven’t tried it with MacGyver, but I’m just barely old enough to remember a lot of the shows you mention, and I have watched a lot of The A-Team recently. I don’t know that it “holds up”, but I get a heck of a lot of entertainment out of it, probably because some of it is so inexplicable. 

    • #1
    • May 20, 2019, at 1:04 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Hartmann von Aue Member

    You’re a brave man, Vince, saying such things in public to this audience. Kudos. 

    But, yeah, quality is rare. Especially in television and film. My long-departed father-in-law used to say, “we call it ‘the Golden Age’ of Hollywood because we’ve forgotten 90% of what Hollywood produced at that time.” 

     

    • #2
    • May 20, 2019, at 3:38 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  3. Amy Schley Moderator

    Vince Guerra: 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 Capt. Carter’s line in the Stargate pilot that they “had to Macguyver the super computers just to make it work,” and Richard is clearly trying not to roll his eyes. 

    Vince Guerra: The Neverending StoryThe Dark CrystalTronQuantum Leap? Surely these hold up, right? Nope, not even a little.

    The Dark Crystal holds up. The rest? Well, I managed to miss them as a kid, so discovering them as an adult prompted a lot of “what did my generation see in these things?”

    • #3
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Vince Guerra: 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 StoryThe Dark CrystalTronQuantum Leap? Surely these hold up, right? Nope, not even a little. Quality is rare, it would seem.

    I finally watched Tron last year, having completely skipped it when I was younger.

    My friends, it is an awful movie. I have no idea why people remember it so fondly. Everything about it is terrible.

    Except . . . the art design. As a film capturing the beginnings of the computer era, it works great. It has that great 1980s vector-infested look that instantly takes me back to that time in all its cheesy, wonderful awfulness.

    • #4
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:39 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    I suspect we’ve all discovered the dangers of revisiting the stuff you liked when you were younger. Sometimes it’s best to just remember them fondly instead of actually attempting to re-experience them.

    At the risk of starting a flame war, I recently attempted to watch Ghostbusters for the first time in decades. It was . . . kind of dull.

    And it would be savaged by the SJWs if it was released today.

    • #5
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:46 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. EJHill Podcaster

    I can explain. Entertainment isn’t sold on what’s enduring, it’s sold on what’s new and different. But at some point, that new and different becomes old hat and dated, only to be replaced by the current new and different.

    In 1977 it was the visuals, not the storyline, that pulled me back into the theater for a second showing of Star Wars. Now it’s unwatchable.

    Unfortunately society often is like that. It pushes and pushes the envelope until it collapses, where it’s reset to the enduring. Then we rinse and repeat.

    • #6
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:56 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  7. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    In 1977 it was the visuals, not the storyline, that pulled me back into the theater for a second showing of Star Wars. Now it’s unwatchable.

    I often wonder what I’d think of Star Wars if I saw it today for the first time. But it turns me into a wide-eyed 11-year-old again every time I watch it. I cannot be objective about it.

    • #7
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:03 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Stina Member

    My husband’s version of this is Thundercats. Mine is Gummi Bears (yes, I’m serious).

    What I learned here, though, is that sophistication ruins good things.

    Still love A-Team. And I still love whatever era gave us Green Acres, Bewitched, and Genie.

    • #8
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:26 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Stina Member

    Also, this is why my husband and I are a big fan of the Nostalgia Critic on YouTube. His tagline? “I remember it so you don’t have to.”

    • #9
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra Post author

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Sometimes it’s best to just remember them fondly instead of actually attempting to re-experience them.

    Yes, but by the time you realize that, it’s already too late. 

    • #10
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Jim Chase Member

    The overall quality of the show may leave something to be desired, but it does still have its niche in our collective culture. Those of a certain age know exactly what it means to have a MacGyver moment.

    • #11
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Miffed White Male Member

    Never watched the original show, but I always enjoyed the McGruber sketches on SNL.

     

    • #12
    • May 20, 2019, at 9:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Steve C. Member

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    You’re a brave man, Vince, saying such things in public to this audience. Kudos.

    But, yeah, quality is rare. Especially in television and film. My long-departed father-in-law used to say, “we call it ‘the Golden Age’ of Hollywood because we’ve forgotten 90% of what Hollywood produced at that time.”

     

    Heck, it pains me to watch Star Trek. I was, and remain, a devotee. (I get a bit nostalgic for my youth) To think they were cranking out 20 some odd episodes each year. And they consistently overspent the episode budget of $900K. The fights over stories and writing credits are stunning.

    If you are a serious fan, I recommend you check out

    These Are the Voyages: TOS: Season OneHardcover – December 30, 2013

    by Marc Cushman (Author), John D. F. Black (Foreword), & 2 more

    Three volumes, one per season. 

    • #13
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    You’re a brave man, Vince, saying such things in public to this audience. Kudos.

    But, yeah, quality is rare. Especially in television and film. My long-departed father-in-law used to say, “we call it ‘the Golden Age’ of Hollywood because we’ve forgotten 90% of what Hollywood produced at that time.”

     

    Heck, it pains me to watch Star Trek. I was, and remain, a devotee. (I get a bit nostalgic for my youth) To think they were cranking out 20 some odd episodes each year. And they consistently overspent the episode budget of $900K. The fights over stories and writing credits are stunning.

    I find that Classic Trek is more watchable than Next Gen. Classic Trek still holds up very well (particularly the first season) and feels more timeless, whereas Next Gen feels tied to its era.

    • #14
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:26 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra: 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 Capt. Carter’s line in the Stargate pilot that they “had to Macguyver the super computers just to make it work,” and Richard is clearly trying not to roll his eyes.

    Vince Guerra: The Neverending Story? The Dark Crystal? Tron? Quantum Leap? Surely these hold up, right? Nope, not even a little.

    The Dark Crystal holds up. The rest? Well, I managed to miss them as a kid, so discovering them as an adult prompted a lot of “what did my generation see in these things?”

    Having missed out on the Dark Crystal as a kid, I kind of feel the way you do about the rest of it.

    • #15
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra: 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.

    I finally watched Tron last year, having completely skipped it when I was younger.

    My friends, it is an awful movie. I have no idea why people remember it so fondly. Everything about it is terrible.

    Except . . . the art design. As a film capturing the beginnings of the computer era, it works great. It has that great 1980s vector-infested look that instantly takes me back to that time in all its cheesy, wonderful awfulness.

    I think it’s because the lightcycles are a pretty solid cultural reference.

    • #16
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:30 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    I suspect we’ve all discovered the dangers of revisiting the stuff you liked when you were younger. Sometimes it’s best to just remember them fondly instead of actually attempting to re-experience them.

    At the risk of starting a flame war, I recently attempted to watch Ghostbusters for the first time in decades. It was . . . kind of dull.

    And it would be savaged by the SJWs if it was released today.

    Hmm. I might agree, but then again, I’m not watching it for the action, I’m watching it for the quotes.

    • #17
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:32 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    In 1977 it was the visuals, not the storyline, that pulled me back into the theater for a second showing of Star Wars. Now it’s unwatchable.

    For me it’s more because I’ve seen it a hundred times. 

    • #18
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:32 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Never watched the original show, but I always enjoyed the McGruber sketches on SNL.

     

    Then they tried making it into a movie, which I started watching. Ugh.

    • #19
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra: 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.

    I finally watched Tron last year, having completely skipped it when I was younger.

    My friends, it is an awful movie. I have no idea why people remember it so fondly. Everything about it is terrible.

    Except . . . the art design. As a film capturing the beginnings of the computer era, it works great. It has that great 1980s vector-infested look that instantly takes me back to that time in all its cheesy, wonderful awfulness.

    I think it’s because the lightcycles are a pretty solid cultural reference.

    Just check this out, though. Everything is terrible here. And it is glorious!

    • #20
    • May 20, 2019, at 10:36 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. AUMom Member

    Quantum Leap holds. Scott Bakula does, anyway. 

    • #21
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  22. crogg Coolidge

    All of my kids are now teenagers and I have been routinely torturing them with movies from the 1980s when I was a teenager. Like the post author, I realize about half the time the movie does not hold up well and my kids think I am even a bigger dork. On the bright side(?), they really enjoy 1980s music. They also cannot get enough of Queen for the last six months.

    • #22
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Hartmann von Aue Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    You’re a brave man, Vince, saying such things in public to this audience. Kudos.

    But, yeah, quality is rare. Especially in television and film. My long-departed father-in-law used to say, “we call it ‘the Golden Age’ of Hollywood because we’ve forgotten 90% of what Hollywood produced at that time.”

     

    Heck, it pains me to watch Star Trek. I was, and remain, a devotee. (I get a bit nostalgic for my youth) To think they were cranking out 20 some odd episodes each year. And they consistently overspent the episode budget of $900K. The fights over stories and writing credits are stunning.

    I find that Classic Trek is more watchable than Next Gen. Classic Trek still holds up very well (particularly the first season) and feels more timeless, whereas Next Gen feels tied to its era.

    Vrouwe and I made this discovery, too. The average episode of TOS “reads” like a work of staggering literary genius compared to nearly every episode of TNG. Of course, only about 1/2 of the episodes of TOS are still worth watching, but TNG has really aged poorly. And VOY, it is just lousy with very few exceptions. 

    • #23
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:28 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. sawatdeeka Member

    Hartmann: Vrouwe and I made this discovery, too. The average episode of TOS “reads” like a work of staggering literary genius compared to nearly every episode of TNG. Of course, only about 1/2 of the episodes of TOS are still worth watching, but TNG has really aged poorly. And VOY, it is just lousy with very few exceptions.

    TNG episodes just vary widely in quality. There lots of cheesy episodes, but a few very watchable ones sprinkled in there, especially in later seasons.

    • #24
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:36 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Jim Chase Member

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Hartmann: Vrouwe and I made this discovery, too. The average episode of TOS “reads” like a work of staggering literary genius compared to nearly every episode of TNG. Of course, only about 1/2 of the episodes of TOS are still worth watching, but TNG has really aged poorly. And VOY, it is just lousy with very few exceptions.

    TNG episodes just vary widely in quality. There a lots of cheesy episodes, but a few very watchable ones sprinkled in there, especially in later seasons.

    TNG episode “The Inner Light” remains rewatchable – but primarily because of its music.

    • #25
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:53 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Jim Chase (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Hartmann: Vrouwe and I made this discovery, too. The average episode of TOS “reads” like a work of staggering literary genius compared to nearly every episode of TNG. Of course, only about 1/2 of the episodes of TOS are still worth watching, but TNG has really aged poorly. And VOY, it is just lousy with very few exceptions.

    TNG episodes just vary widely in quality. There a lots of cheesy episodes, but a few very watchable ones sprinkled in there, especially in later seasons.

    TNG episode “The Inner Light” remains rewatchable – but primarily because of its music.

    Have I mentioned before that my wife and I used the music from that episode as the processional at our wedding?

    Geek win.

    • #26
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  27. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Classic Star Trek also stands out as a truly American piece of television. Roddenberry might have been on the kooky end of liberalism, but I’d call Star Trek more of a Classical Liberal tv show.

    • #27
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Jim Chase Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Have I mentioned before that my wife and I used the music from that episode as the processional at our wedding?

    That is way cool, Drew. “The Inner Light” melody has at times been an emotional experience for me. My wife would appreciate your geek win on that score (pizza and Star Trek were hallmarks of our pre-kid Friday nights).

    • #28
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. RyanFalcone Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra: 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.

    I finally watched Tron last year, having completely skipped it when I was younger.

    My friends, it is an awful movie. I have no idea why people remember it so fondly. Everything about it is terrible.

    Except . . . the art design. As a film capturing the beginnings of the computer era, it works great. It has that great 1980s vector-infested look that instantly takes me back to that time in all its cheesy, wonderful awfulness.

    I think it’s because the lightcycles are a pretty solid cultural reference.

    Just check this out, though. Everything is terrible here. And it is glorious!

    Wow. I haven’t seen this since my friends and I went to see it in the theater. I just remember how awesome it was in the context of what else was available to 8-year-old boys at the time. I was floored. I can still remember how blown away I was by that clip. 

    I watched Star Wars: A New Hope with my best friend and his little kids a few years ago. We were excited to share the experience with them as both my buddy and I had such fond memories of seeing the original in theater with our dads. I’m thrilled to report that the younger kids were sufficiently thrilled and the older ones still liked it even though, they had already seen the prequels, which ruined the continuity and mangled context.

    • #29
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra Post author

    crogg (View Comment):
    On the bright side(?), they really enjoy 1980s music. They also cannot get enough of Queen for the last six months.

    So jealous. I routinely play dad music for my kids in the hope something might stick. They almost always race to turn off the bluetooth speaker, but one time they let “Keep Yourself Alive,” play through, and my teenage daughter said it was, “catchy.” I took that as a win. 

    • #30
    • May 20, 2019, at 12:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
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