The wife and I have been revisiting our youth lately – we have been watching MacGyver. Remember him?
For all my readers who were only born in the nineties (you poor dears), MacGyver was the epitome of cool a decade earlier. If things seemed impossible, if it was a situation that not James Bond, G.I. Joe or Chuck Norris could handle, they would send in MacGyver. Be it an AI-controlled security system gone crazy, Amazonian army ants, a rebel army or a kid stuck down a well, MacGyver could solve the problem. And he did this without radio-controlled invisible heat-seeking-missile-firing cars, cell phones or Facebook. MacGyver needed only his trusted Swiss Army-knife (in those days you were still allowed to take them on planes) and whatever else happened to be lying around at the moment. (And he had a mullet. Just like Chuck Norris and Billy Ray Cyrus. It was cool back then. Like Chuck Norris and Billy Ray Cyrus. Thank goodness some things change.)
Friday evenings when I was a kid was spent watching either MacGyver, Airwolf, The A-Team or Knight Rider (the original series starring David Hasselhoff – he had a perm). The whole family would gather around the telly for another nail-biting hour as we wondered how Mac was going to escape the newest jam and we would stare in wonderment as he used science and good old common sense to defeat the bad guys.
Watching it again I realise we were so incredibly stupid back then. Consider this: Mac and a random damsel find themselves locked inside a walk-in freezer like you’ll find in any restaurant. The shelves contain ice cream and lard and a cow’s hind leg is hanging from a hook in the ceiling. And the bad guys have taken his pocket knife.
Mac doesn’t let that stop him. He takes the beef off the hook, detaches the hook and uses its back end, which is conveniently flat, to remove the inside handle of the freezer door. Then he melts a block of ice from inside the freezer with the help of the incandescent light bulb inside the freezer and uses the railing from which the hook was suspended (which had miraculously come loose from the ceiling the minute he had removed the hook) to channel the water into the cavity created by removing the door handle, where said water promptly freezes again. We know it freezes again, because you can see the latch on the outside of the door turn white with frost. Finally he uses the cow leg as a battering ram to force open the door (because why would you waste meat?)
Back in the eighties we would have stared at the screen, mouths hanging open. When I watched the episode the other night my mouth was hanging open…at the thought that I ever fell for this nonsense. Nothing in that scene makes sense. For starters, what’s a cow leg doing in the freezer of a small diner attached to a middle-of-nowhere airfield? How can the lightbulb be hot enough to melt the ice? Why does the water refreeze the minute it reaches the door, but doesn’t freeze while running down the railing and, how does freezing water supercool stainless steel so that it shatters when force is applied?
But the freezer was only the main obstacle of the evening. He also make a thermic lance by recycling a magnesium bicycle frame (because magnesium bikes were a dime a dozen in the eighties, so you’d expect one to be lying on the rubbish heap of a nameless air field in the middle of nowhere), and while magnesium can be used to make thermic lances, you also need pressurised oxygen. Mac doesn’t have the latter, yet the lance works perfectly.
Oh, and when they escaped the freezer they still needed to stop the bad guys, who had apparently waited for them to escape before they boarded their getaway plane which had been standing by for half the episode. MacGyver runs to the plane as it starts to taxi and jumps on the tail. He proceeds to jam the tail fin, causing the plane to spin around in circles (cause everyone knows while on the ground, moving at 2mph, a plane is steered by the tail fin and not the nose wheel).
But MacGyver was before the internet. It was before knowledge became so widely available. Back then we didn’t know any better, but it didn’t really matter either. Today a show like MacGyver simply wouldn’t pass muster. We have learned to question everything and look up what we don’t know (or maybe that’s just me?) Which is a shame, really.
Because MacGyver was genuine family entertainment. There was always a pretty girl, but never any hanky panky. There were violent guys with guns, but the hero always beat them with his wits. He didn’t like guns. Mac was also an environmentalist. He was nice to children. He never swore. It was completely wholesome, and never boring.
MacGyver was the guy every boy wanted to be. I’m kind of sorry now that the magic has gone.
To my older readers, what was your favourite show from the eighties?