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Television

Review: ‘MacGyver’ is back, for no good reason at all

CBS
Lucas Till is the DIY super-spy in the CBS reboot of “MacGyver.”
(Guy D’Alema)

“Why, why, why, ‘MacGyver’ ”? “Why, why, whyyyyyyy, ‘MacGyver’ ”?

The above should be sung to the tune of the Tom Jones hit “Delilah,” and if you know that oldie-but-goodie, you may be the age to have a nostalgic interest in CBS’ reboot of the iconic 1980’s DIY secret-agent series.

Interest that will not, I fear, have much of a payoff.

The problem with icons is that, by definition, they cannot be reproduced.

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When Lee David Zlotoff created the original “MacGyver,” with its admirable reliance on Swiss Army knives and an endless array of creative “real-life” hacks (Fact: It is more difficult to pick most locks with a bobby pin or a paper clip than the show made it seem), he invented a whole new type of action hero.

Unlike James Bond, Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) didn’t need an arsenal of futuristic gimmicks or the ability to seduce everyone in sight while mixing the perfect martini. All he needed was a little American ingenuity. Give MacGyver one gun, some string and a book of matches, and he could simulate an attacking army; put him in a hole with a little duct tape and a high-pressure hose, and he would literally fly to safety.

The show itself might not stand up to modern television standards (clunk, clunk, clunk went the dialogue), but the Home Depot conceit made it a national treasure. The name itself entered the vernacular, as both noun — “I pulled a MacGyver” — and verb, as in “I suddenly realized there were no clean diapers so I MacGyvered it.”

Even folks who never saw the show know what that means.

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Which, one assumes, is why CBS thought it would be a grand idea to bring the series back. This MacGyver, played by Lucas Till, is surrounded by other new faces with old names. Jack Dalton (George Eads) is Mac’s sidekick muscle and Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires) his oblivious roommate. Updates also include a female boss (Sandrine Holt) and a tech-savvy team that includes Mac’s paramour.

Producer Peter Lenkov also has given the 2.0 version a “Burn Notice”-lite voice-over to explain some of the hacks.

None of which need explaining, by the way, at least not in the premiere in which the action is so predictable it feels, at times, like a joke.

We meet the team as its members crash a fancy party to swipe a purloined weapon. One look at “waiter” Mac, and we know just what he’ll do: A fingerprint will be lifted from a glass, a magnet will briefly mess up something and that drinks tray will definitely be used as a weapon as Mac crashes through a window at some point.

And then it does. It does happen. Just as we knew it would because we have seen it 100 million times. (Honestly, at this point, I feel like I could lift a fingerprint and bypass a security system, and I’m a TV critic.)

There is a tiny twist, involving a hostage, to prove that the team is far from perfect, and now bent on revenge, but what follows is just more of the same. The bad guys are so bad they are British and say things like “hand it over”; the good guys are almost undone by their goodness, and for some reason, Mac feels he must dissolve “tin foil” in homemade acid to create the smoke that sets off the distracting fire alarm.

Instead of, you know, just setting a rolled-up newspaper on fire.

There is, perhaps, pleasure to be had in the nuttiness of it all. The cast is fine (though Bozer is forced to say things like “I made waffles” as if he were channeling Donkey in “Shrek”) and the action is propelled by one of those typically relentless soundtracks.

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Ironically, this “MacGyver’s” biggest problem is that it ignores the significance of the original. Zlotoff started a revolution that has affected every spy thriller from “Jason Bourne” to “Scorpion.” The reboot adds nothing to the archetype, which makes it less nostalgic than archaic.

‘MacGyver’

Where: CBS

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

Twitter: @marymacTV


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