In the mid-1980s, Lee David Zlotoff wrote for Hill Street Blues and later produced Remington Steele; he even directed The Spitfire Grill. But his greatest contribution to modern media was the creation of MacGuyver, the story of a troubleshooter for the Phoenix Foundation (and also an agent of a shadowy branch of the U.S. government). MacGuyver regularly found himself in situations where he could help people out of troublesome situations, usually with the help of his trusty switchblade and regularly eschewing violence. With a great perm and a trademark leather jacket, Richard Dean Anderson played the titular character from 1985-1992 (Lucas Till has taken over in the remake).
As an eight year old, I was captivated by the ideas presented within the context of MacGuyver’s story. He was like the Saint in running through rooms with abandoned weapons all around, ignoring them; unlike the Saint, he’d return to grab an Uzi, so that he could go back and use the weapon as a wrench, hammer, or wedge for whatever he was going to build. Thanks to the tragic experience of his childhood, MacGuyver would never kill. Anderson played him as a good guy, not just someone who solved problems but who was genuinely good. (My other 1980s favorites were Zorro and The A-Team; the latter was formed by a group of guys who weren’t convinced they were good or even okay!)
Anderson would go on to star in Stargate SG-1, adopting another host of fan, but for me, he’ll always be the leather-jacketed dude with the long hair, flying around in a Jeep, pulling off scientific acts of physics and chemistry no one else could have. But he was also the leader of other men, people who looked to him to see who they were supposed to be. Dana Elcar played Pete Thornton, MacGuyver’s boss at the government job and one of his best friends; Bruce McGill is the other, as pilot Jack Dalton (now played by George Eads). Their friendship made the show’s banter and dialogue work; it also served asa reminder that the good guys worked together and were never alone.
Outside of these three regulars, the significant villain of the series (who doesn’t show up until season two but he’s the ultimate MacGuyver foil)- one who gave me nightmares as a child – is Murdoc. Played by Englishman Michael Des Barnes in the original series and by David Dastmalchian in the reboot, Murdoc is a terrifying example of brutality and evil that stood as a counterbalance, a sounding board to the goodness of MacGuyver’s heart. Every time Murdoc rises up, MacGuyver is there to stop him, and no matter how Murdoc relentlessly returns, good stands in the gap.
For fans who have been waiting for this, to rewatch or to show their kids (!), Paramount/CBS’ release of the first season on Blu-ray is spectacular. All twenty-two episodes are here, from the first rescue on the side of the mountain, to Pete’s introduction in episode eleven (after Elcar played someone else in the pilot), to the arrival of Teri Hatcher as Penny Parker, there is enough action to process here. High definition excitement? This is a solid return to the 1980s for old and new fans alike.