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Back in the ‘80s, action oriented television shows for the most part weren’t as violent or gritty as today’s offerings like 24 that push the envelope of violence on the tube. There was, and still is, only so much you could get away with on network television in the genre which has contributed to most action oriented television programs either appearing more frequently on cable than on network airwaves and fewer of them on the schedule over the years with far more dramas packing the schedule, especially since television is a far friendly ground for programs in that broad genre.

MacGyver: The Complete First Season
The limitations placed on these types of network programs, such as Knight Rider, The A-Team and Walker: Texas Ranger make those that do air seem quant and outdated nearly the instant they are aired, much less two decades later in some cases with what I like to refer to as play violence—no one is ever brutally killed and there is never any blood. The producers of ABC Television’s MacGyver, however, took a different approach to the conventional action oriented show back in 1985 than their contemporaries. Instead of showing unrealistic action on television, they created a character who abhorred the idea of picking up a gun to simply blow the bad guys away and avoided direct action whenever he could, thus avoiding the need to feature most of the lame action that dragged down other action programs at the time.

Known throughout much of the show’s run by only his last name, MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson), whose first name, Angus, was revealed several seasons later, is an agent for an organization known as The Phoenix Foundation, a government think tank that is called upon when all other options have run out. Armed with only his trusty Swiss Army knife and mullet, MacGyver uses his vast knowledge of science and creativity to get out of, and sometimes into, any particular situation by crafting the perfect solution out of whatever materials are at hand. Along with his best friend and Director of Field Operation for The Phoenix Foundation, Peter Thornton (Dana Elcar), MacGyver helps protect the nation’s security and aids the helpless, all while evading many of his past girlfriends and usually throwing in a wholesome message for the viewers at home along the way.

Like most programs, much of MacGyver’s first season saw the show attempting to find its footing. Many of the initial ideas in the show’s pilot episode never appear again in the series, such as Michael Lerner’s Gantner character who was the prototype for Peter Thornton, MacGyver living in an observatory, and MacGyver’s nameless, teenage friend played by Diff’rent Strokes alum Shavar Ross. Mac even fires a gun in the opening teaser for the pilot episode, something that was later removed from syndication airings of the first episode. The show finally hits its stride, however, with the eleventh episode entitled ‘Nightmares’. Although not a particularly great episode by any means, it does introduce the Peter Thornton character to the series and begins a relationship that would become the heart of the show for its entire run.

I hadn’t seen any episodes of MacGyver in a number of years before sitting down to watch these DVDs, and to my surprise the show has held up better than I initially thought it might since its debut nearly twenty years ago. While some of the story lines aren’t as intricate and there really isn’t an arc to the season as in most of today’s programs, and at times the show is down right cheesy, MacGyver has held up better than most of its contemporaries due to the main character being different than anything seen on television before or since. I had a good deal of fun trying to figure out what Mac would build next in order to get himself out of any particular jam, or ‘MacGyverisms’ if you will, and liked the overall good, easy going nature of the character. I also enjoyed picking out the show’s several guest stars such as Teri Hatcher who played a reoccurring role on the show as Penny Parker, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Nana Visitor, Peter Jurasik from Babylon 5 and Q himself, Jon de Lancie. Overall I would say that I liked the series well enough based on this first season that I might just watch it when it appears on my television guide while channel surfing from time to time.

MacGyver: The Complete First Season
Video
MacGyver: The Complete First Season is presented on DVD in the full frame, televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 that all programs were shown at the time the series aired. The transfer isn’t all that great with lots of blemishes, pops and other such artefacts, a muted colour palette, and often times the image is blurry or choppy. The quality of the video also varies from episode to episode and at times even from scene to scene within the same episode—sometimes it’s adequate and other times it’s not very good. Obviously the prints haven’t been as extensively re-mastered from their original elements like other Paramount shows such as Star Trek, but there is only so much that can be done based on the quality of the source material. I didn’t expect the show to look as good as newer programs on DVD, but MacGyver really shows its age more than it really ought to in this set. At the same time though, when comparing the lower retail price of this set versus other television programs on DVD, this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for.

Audio
As with the video transfer, you get what you pay for with the audio too. MacGyver: The Complete First Season contains a single Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track in English, and as far as mono tracks go it isn’t a bad one. All of the series’ audio is clear for the most part with the only fault that I noticed being that the sound wavered from time to time at various points. While it would have been nice to have the set furnished with an audio track re-mastered in at least Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or Surround, what is presented here is a good representation of the show’s audio during its original airing in 1985-1986.

Extras
Well, if you are looking forward to purchasing the set for commentaries or featurettes on MacGyver’s gadgets or mullet hair care you are going to be extremely disappointed. Besides a main menu to select each episode and unavoidable trailers on disc one for Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy on DVD, there are no special features included in the set. The least that could have been done is a chapter selection menu for each episode or a play all feature, but those must have been too difficult to conjure up, even for MacGyver.

As for the packaging, the first season's twenty-two episodes are divided amongst six discs with four per disc, save the final one which contains two episodes, and each are housed within their own THINpak case along with a slipcover for the entire set. I highly prefer this packaging to the foldout digipaks that many television shows on DVD come in since they hold up better over time and prevent wear and tear on the discs. I am glad that more and more companies are producing their sets in such a layout.

MacGyver: The Complete First Season
Overall
I didn’t really watch he show when it originally aired so I have no sense of nostalgia for the series, but I mostly enjoyed what I saw in reviewing this DVD set. MacGyver has surprisingly held up better than most other action shows from the ‘80s thanks to its quirky and creative main character offering up something different than the standard, boilerplate template for the genre. Besides the title character though, it’s definitely a product of its time that contains all of the other pratfalls of the genre on television during the Reagan era. Paramount Home Entertainment’s DVD presentation offers up the most basic of video and audio quality and no special features worth mentioning, so those looking for more info on MacGyver will have to look elsewhere. Anyone thinking about picking up the set that isn’t already a fan of the show should first catch a few syndicated episodes or give it a rent, but fans of the show will enjoy the fact that their favourite Mr. Fix-It has been brought home on DVD.


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