Monday, September 26, 2016

MacGuyver Review: The Rising (S1E1, Pilot)

Well I guess reviewing one awful pilot every Fall Premiere season that sucks too much to have a direct quotation, even sarcastically, is going to be a thing for this blog now.

What is it? Single-cam 44-minute/1 hour "adult" action drama (yeah when I have to use quotes here you know it's good)
Where did it air? CBS which has the market for these homogeneous, thin-plot thick-Micheal Bay-esque explosion action dramas pretty much locked up since the 90s. 
Who stars in it? Quite frankly a bunch of people I really don't care about, including Mr. I Was On Original CSI Every Season Guy. Given the quality of what I saw I don't think a lot of people much care either. The person doing the review of this show for AV Club didn't care about them why should I?
Why are we reviewing this? That's actually a very good question, I think the best answer I can provide is to simply ask you to read the opening quotation above.

I've explained how when I was going through cancer and a very emotional breakup at the same time, Disney Channel ended up providing a lot of television comfort food. A little while earlier, when I was just starting to earn my aerospace degree (yeah I have one of those, I think I explained that too) and when I needless to say had a lot fewer health and relationship issues, ancient reruns of 80s action shows on TVLand nonetheless provided the same level of TV comfort food. In an age when my parents were too cheap to spring for DVR services, I could count on coming home from class juuuust in time to catch a full hour of classic MacGuyver or A-Team. There's something of a lost art when it comes to 80s action shows - the technology and narrative techniques available back then, even with the advances 80s television had made compared to just the decade prior, were nowhere near as refined as they are today, but at the same time I think it forced the showrunners to adapt and do with the best they had. In many cases they knew they didn't have the budget to come up with anything not-cheesy, so they decided, why not just go full-tilt and make something so cheesy it's at least enjoyable if not all the way to instant classic-dom? You achieve this by making the show now only fun, but in somewhat memorable. A-Team did this entirely through its cast - not only the real-life character that is Mr. T, but in George Peppard's Colonel Hannibal Smith; Dirk Benedict's (then fresh off Battlestar Galactica)'s Faceman, master of disguises; and Dwight Schultz's "Mad Dog" Murdoch, the ace pilot (who would later go on to have a recurring role on not one by two 90s Star Trek series). And yes, they had a really cool van too. MacGuyver only had one guy - MacGuyver, of course (he also had a handler, played by the very much physically-unfit Dana Elcar who passed away a decade ago due to cancer, of which in this series that role has essentially been split into Mr. I'm From CSI-Guy and Sandrine Holt who you can read a little bit more about in the Episode MVP section also review spoiler alert), so you couldn't have a whole cast of memorable characters, but you can make what this guy does memorable thanks to his ability to improvise anything out of anything. All you need is a paper clip and some duck tape, and you have meme-fodder for whole decades to come, well before the whole concept of internet memes was even physically possible to invent.

This type of narrative seems to have died nearly completely somewhere by the late 90s as action dramas shifted to being more gritty and serious - or at least faux-gritty and serious as it was really the exact same type of show, explosions and face-punching and all, just minus the deliberately goofy parts. The goofiness that 80s shows do so well seems to be a completely lost art by now. 

Yeah, maybe it's a lost art for a reason.

This new MacGuyver is just barely good enough to not be called "completely awful." Let's address the biggest issue first - it's simply not nearly as fun as the original series. In the original series, you got the sense that Mac was actually on an adventure, the type of classic adventure action Disney Channel and Nick shows and elementary and middle school books try to plot around, only (hopefully) not have to feel embarrassed enjoying them as an adult. There was a real sense of urgency Mac had to everything he did, usually involving his own life, but that's one of the things that makes adventures, well, adventurous.. You know that thing where in some tween shows they have the girl who wants to break gender barriers by going on some adventure that's too dangerous for anyone, let alone "her," to go on, but she goes on it anyway? Yeah, that's exactly the type of adventure and sense I'm talking about. That's exactly the type of adventure and sense a show of this ilk and genre needs to pull it off.

Yeah, this new Mac doesn't pull it off. There's all the sense and urgency of when Mr. I Was On CSI-Guy actually was on CSI which, for this type of show, is pretty much none.All the high stakes, all the sense of possibility of failure, is delivered pretty much entirely through dialogue and that "telling, not showing" thing people warn creatives about. In fact, for a show that almost needs the be entirely about action, there isn't a lot of it, period.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that original-flavor Mac was pretty much a one-guy team? Did you catch the hints about how this new Mac actually has a team now? He now has not one but two handlers, plus a hacker chick to help him out. Actually he has two hacker chicks, one who happens to be his girlfriend who he's boinging (more on that below) and when she turns on Mac and becomes the series' main villain (spoiler alert) he gets an upgrade in the form of, well, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in Miller Ultra-Lite flavor. Speaking of Miller Ultra-Lite, this pretty much dilutes the flavor completely here - much of the appeal and urgency from the original flavor came from seeing how Mac's going to get himself out of this one, but with a whole team backing him up that sucks out a lot of the urgency right then and there. He's got up to potentially two people available at all times that can help him simply muscle his way out of a situation, and he's got someone on call 24/7 to help him cyber-hack his way out as opposed to physically hacking his way out (as Mac himself says to Girl With Full Dragon Tattoo, Half the Calories, "I hack everything else.") If CBS's own Scorpion is the show with a whole team of MacGuyvers, then this actual MacGuyver reboot is just Scorpion but using the actual MacGuyver name slapped on it. 

Of course a huge chunk of original flavor Mac's action was through MacGuyver MacGuyver-ing stuff (BTW that's a real actual word now, look it up) out of any dire situation. The MacGuyvering in this first episode is...pretty damn lame. He blows dust to get fingerprints, which is what Sidney on Alias does for breakfast. He uses a serving platter as a bullet-proof shield and then as a melee/throwing weapon, which is what Jason Borne does for warm-up exercises. There's nothing clever here. There's no real MacGuyvering to speak of. I don't remember him actually using anything to make something explode - the closest we get to that here is in the credit sequence. The most "MacGuyver-y" thing he does is yank a bunch of wires on a plane while he's hanging from it to make it come back to the airport, and then he yanks a bunch of wires to unsuccessfully defuse a bomb. If that's "MacGuyvering" then that's the most generic form of MacGuyvering possible. I'm pretty sure multiple episodes of CSI have done something similar. Real MacGuyvering is making stuff out of other stuff, not pretending you're Jason Borne for television. 

The show does a lame attempt with Mac's narration to point out and "enhance" the MacGuyvering effect, further supplemented and enhanced by what I'm going to call a "viewer HUD" effect where objects on the actual screen are highlighted and captioned mainly to visually make up for what's just not there in the narrative. It's kind of lazy, and it shows here. Not only that but it's not even necessary - it's just telling what the show is already showing, and at a certain point it's just insulting to the intelligence.

Oh, and the plot. Yeah, original-flavor Mac wasn't exactly known for plot, but just like when say Lab Rats Elite Force or KC Undercover try for a complex plot, it just ends up falling on its face, and that's exactly what happens here. The big plot twist of the episode is predictable literally during the first commercial break, right after the credits sequence. Yeah I might as well spoil it: Mac works for a government agency, he's boinging the hot blonde woman who's doing the Ernie Cooper thing in the van, mission goes south, bio-weapon goes missing and it turns out hot blonde woman gets killed except she didn't get killed and she's behind it all along, at the end of the episode she escapes custody and Mac's former girlfriend is now the big nemesis of the whole series. If that sounds lame, then good because I accurately conveyed exactly what is was then. The remainder 34 minutes of commercial-less run-time is spent just trying to track her down and yeah it's pretty boring. Then there's the bomb and an explosion and it's not very impressive in the least. 

Mac should've stayed in the 80s where he belongs.

Episode Grade: D. More generous than Minority Report because it's legitimately better than Minority Report, but still not nearly good enough to come back to. If television was in such a bad state that this becomes one of the best things to watch, then I'll watch it, but otherwise, there's too many good stuff on TV to watch, thankfully. Yes, even including on Disney Channel (Lab Rats or KC Undercover is basically better at it, while being a multi-cam kidcom no less). With stuff like MiB 23 (yes this is a real thing - at least maybe) it's easy to write off creativity in Hollywood as being dead, and rebooting a show that lived and died in the 80s certainly helps cement that sentiment, but with premieres like ABC's Designated Survivor and Notorious, and NBC's This Is Us (which I guess is about Us...?) it shows that creativity is hardly dead in Hollywood, and neither are ultra-cynical, ultra-lazy straight-line attempts to just grab attention.
Episode MVP: Yeah...very honestly, the acting here is just...serviceable and bland all across the board to the point where it'd be a disservice to start handing out awards for actual talent. So I'm going to pull a very controversial, pig-headed, chauvinistic and misogynist move here and just give the MVP award to Sandrine Holt here for just being who I think is the hottest actress in this episode. 

Extra Thoughts

 - and now to straight off make myself look like a massive hypocrite, I found the whole way they introduce blonde computer chick as Mac's girlfriend highly distasteful. How do they do it? By showing Mac boinging her right on top of her computer equipment (with the line she's really good on computers no less -_-). The next material character scene with her, Mac handcuffs her to exercise equipment, shows her how to pick the handcuffs, and then she says to leave them on.

Oh God This Is So Bad.

Yeah, there's introducing the fact that two characters have a sexual relationship, and then there's just screaming and begging for people to watch the show and thinking your sexual humor is far more clever than it actually is. 

 - I'm coming in several months after the fact now just to bump the grade up from a D- to...a flat-D. Doesn't really change anything though, but after having my DVR's auto-record feature drown me in Lifetime Original Drama Movies and a new round of midseason crap I've relearned what really horrible television is.

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