TV Review: ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘MacGyver’

Lethal Weapon
Richard Foreman/FOX

Nostalgia for the semi-recent past is everywhere in television: Shows set in the ’80s and ’90s or that tweak legacy properties have become common. Networks want to break through the pop-culture clutter with known quantities, and even new series have found nuggets of thematic and aesthetic gold in the pre-millennial era. Not all of the throwback series have worked, but some inspired by the past have been among the most scintillating offerings of the present.

And then there’s Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” and CBS’ “MacGyver,” which demonstrate the limits of the reliance on older properties. These shows, both of which are based on hits from the ’80s, have no spark of their own, and add nothing of value to their respective franchises.

These plodding dramas do not evoke the past as much as they pretend that the past 30 years did not happen. Audiences are extremely familiar with the kinds of story beats that drive not just these “new” programs but the hundreds that came before them; buddy-cop and spy-guy moves have been remixed and repeated for decades, but these derivative works ignore that reality.

Both programs seem like broken relics from a time capsule; neither does much to update, add to or simply have fun with these well-regarded properties. That each ransacks its source material in search of something fresh and lively, and comes up empty, is astonishing and disappointing, given that these programs — at least one of them — could have provided a whole lot of escapist fun.

“MacGyver” should have been one of the fall’s slam-dunks; the property is known and loved by many TV fans of a certain age, and its cheerfully inventive hero could have become part of a renewed TV franchise that drew in both old-school fans and gadget-loving newcomers. How hard could it be to find a charming actor to play a smart rogue who has a string of zippy, espionage-driven adventures? Quite hard, apparently.

Lucas Till’s performance as the title character misses the mark completely; even when MacGyver explains the contraptions he builds on the fly via voiceovers, Till’s delivery is wooden and clunky. The writing doesn’t help — the pilot script is full of silly plot short-cuts and painfully cheesy lines — but there’s no getting around the fact that the new version of the character has very little appeal, and certainly won’t put the memory of Richard Dean Anderson, who originated the role, out of anyone’s mind.

CBS has a very successful procedural formula: It usually revolves around a rule-breaking lead who assembles a team willing to do whatever it takes to assist him (and it’s usually a him). Just because the Eye network (and many others) have used that format a lot doesn’t mean it can’t be highly effective and enjoyable. But whatever the new “MacGyver” is trying to do, USA’s “Burn Notice” (to cite just one example) did it much, much better. George Eads does what he can to bring a bit of energy to the MacGyver spy crew, but it’s a futile effort. MacGyver may know a lot about chemistry, but this unmemorable team has none.

“Lethal Weapon” was always going to have trouble living up to the electric pairing of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, the stars of the 1987 film. Despite the fact that the performances by Damon Wayons and Clayne Crawford are perfectly respectable, this restrained TV version of the franchise lacks the original’s unusually effective blend of cop procedural, careening action, and sweaty desperation.

In part thanks to the fact that the first Glover-Gibson film was a massive hit, the mismatched cop duo has become another TV standby, one that many old and new TV series have capitalized on to good effect. But this one goes through the motions without providing any memorable moments along the way.

Crawford’s Riggs exudes a believable combination of anguish and charm, and Wayans’ Roger Murtaugh is bemused and frustrated in mildly entertaining ways here and there. But overall, this “Lethal Weapon” feels like a regurgitation of not just the film, but of several decades’ worth of cop-show formulas. Even its chase scenes are bit tiresome, and fail to set themselves apart from the thousands that play out on large and small screens every year. Murtaugh never utters the line “I’m too old for this shit” (at least not in full), but much of “Lethal Weapon,” despite the best efforts of its cast, reflects that very sentiment: It feels tired and uninspired.

One thing the shows share is an annoying adherence to the idea that the only thing that can make their tough heroes feel anything deeply is a tragedy or trauma involving the women in their lives. Whatever you think of the sexist foundations of that particular cliché, it’s 2016 (really, it is — I checked). Not only has that device been done to death (quite literally), it carries with it a whole range of unsettling implications about the value of female lives in TV narratives. When they exist only to fuel the emotional and logistical struggles of men, especially in pilots that are already derivative in any number of ways, it raises a large red flag about the writers’ willingness to seek originality in the realms of motivation and characterization.

In any event, when it comes to their inciting incidents, both pilots not only go to predictable extremes, they exhibit strange and skewed assumptions about what it takes to make men feel or do anything. These are meant to be enjoyable, light programs, and providing that kind of weekly escape is an honorable endeavor. But more attention should have been put into the care and feeding of these old warhorses. It’s hard not to escape the conclusion that Murtaugh, Riggs and Angus MacGyver, not to mention the mostly underwritten female (and male) characters around them, deserved better than this.

TV Review: 'Lethal Weapon' and 'MacGyver'

"Lethal Weapon": Drama. 13 episodes (1 reviewed); Fox; Weds, Sept. 21, 8 p.m.

"MacGyver": Drama. 13 episodes (1 reviewed); CBS; Fri. Sept. 23, 8 p.m.


"Lethal Weapon" executive producers, Matt Miller, Dan Lin, Jennifer Gwartz, McG. "MacGyver" executive producers, Peter Lenkov, Craig O’Neill, James Wan, Henry Winkler, Lee Zlotoff, Michael Clear


"Lethal Weapon" cast: Damon Wayans, Clayne Crawford, Kevin Rahm, Jordana Brewster, Keesha Sharp, Chandler Kinney, Dante Brown, Johnathan Fernandez "MacGyver" cast: Lucas Till, George Eads, Sandrine Holt, Justin Hires, Tristin Mays

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  1. You failed. says:

    Clearly you’re not much a “TV Critic, a rat could get better reviews. You are right about Macgyver, I’ll give you that, but the remade-for-tv series of Lethal Weapon, was actually made much better than the movies. They had a great story, and each episode connected perfectly to the next, they blended in the crime show scene, and the action. Then they added the crazy and no will to live part, to someone who pulled it off much better than it was set in the movies. Both characters were blended, and remade much better than described in the movies. Whoever you are, no one like you should be allowed to criticize something, unless you’ve been on the other end. Unless you were an actor, or a director, you shouldn’t be allowed to judge the work of actors and directors, like chefs should only be allowed to be critics to other chefs.

  2. Steven Cho says:

    Lethal Weapon was an excellent series. MacGuyver on the other hand, bleurgh. This “Chief TV Critic” should rather find a new occupation, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

  3. Brandi Bailey says:

    Just want to say that this show is the best show. I am a criminal minds addict but I think this show is way better than criminal minds. This show is not only about the crimes committed. This show gets into the characters life’s. It is like that all throughout the show. On the other hand, criminal minds and other crime shows only gets into the characters lives 2 minutes into the show or something relevant to that time period. This show needs to stay on air. This show has what other shows do not. Lethal Weapon is full of crime, mystery, drama, suspense, sadness, and comedy. It is soo good and makes people laugh and it made me realize that I have a good life. Every time on Wednesday when the show is over, I can quit thinking about what had happened and how it made me laugh and realize that life is worth living. Many people think this show is unrealistic, well maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be real, that people don’t have this kind of life. This show is awesome and the directors, actors, and actresses, need to put more time into an awesome job they’re doing than just about 7 or 8 months. This is why Season 2 needs to come out and hopefully more seasons to come after that.

  4. Jean biss says:

    Love this show! Great chemistry between main characters!

  5. Betty says:

    Love Lethal Weapon. Took a bit for the chemistry to click in, but, when it did, great things happened.

  6. Gus K says:

    I like the show, Clayne Crawford is especially good and much more nuanced than Gibson was. I do thing Wayans is the weak link, I just ain’t buying his whiney performance. All the other actors/characters are quite good. I like the addition of the rather creepy mexican gang member too.

  7. les342 says:

    I absolutely disagree 100% about Lethal Weapon. I have watched every episode and can’t wait for more. The cast is great, especially Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford, who are great together, and Keesha Sharp, who plays Trish as a strong, independent, kick ass woman. I also think that the writing is good with just the right mix of drama, action, and comedy. I love this show and will watch for as long as it’s on.

  8. Catherbo says:

    The new MacGyver was awful. The digital camera-work looked like student film fodder. Boring story and horrible acting with the exception of Eads. It was more like a boring copy of Scorpions so much so I kept expecting Eads to break out the “I love you like a real son” speeches like they do on Scorpions week after week. That dark-haired hacker is obviously a “Happy” wannabe.

  9. Albert Bundy says:

    The stupid shaky camera on Macgyver to make action scenes more exciting is so annoying that I stopped watching!

  10. LC says:

    MacGyver was so disappointing. Till has no personality or acting ability, the script is predictable, even the action was boring. George Eads should have been lead. That would have been interesting.

  11. GinRNBSN says:

    I thought Lethal Weapon was great, and I’m looking forward to the next episode. Planning to check out MacGyver too.

  12. Renny says:

    Lucas Till is very handsome and he has fabulous hair, other than that – not so much good going on with his career.

  13. TC says:

    I LOVED Lethal Weapon!! It gives a great film franchise exposure to a huge younger audience who has never heard of it!!! Don’t lock it away in the 80’s where no one but old people will see it. It was too wonderful. Wayans and Crawford did an awesome job and I can’t wait to learn more about Murtaugh and Riggs!!!

  14. Martin Pal says:

    Hurry up and cancel it and put The Amazing Race back on.

  15. B.Summers says:

    idk I wasn’t going to watch MacGyver anyway. I’ll only tune in for its second episode on September 30 because I’ve head Amy Acker’s going to be the part of it as a CIA operative. Acker makes everything look better so it probably will be somewhat watchable hour of television.

    • Dave says:

      I’m legit giggling right now. Everyone and I repeat everyone I know including myself is going to try watching Mac because Amy Acker is in it. CBS should’ve cast her as MacGyver.

  16. Mel says:

    the networks are panicking bc of all the competition from cable and streaming, so they think reviving known-brands will cut through all the white noise. However, I think that the audience is sick of all the re-makes and re-boots. It’s making us cynical. “Ugh, another re-make.”

  17. DanZee says:

    Are the Wayans the only black people most of white Hollywood producers know? When I heard about a Lethal Weapon remake, I wondered, gee, which Wayan is going to be recruited for that?

  18. Amy says:

    They should have made Eads the lead, Till is virtually a nobody. Audiences are familiar with Eads and he like Anderson is not the everyday hero but you want him to be and you root for him. Mac was older and wish the networks would stop trying to make everything so young. People younger than 30 do not watch TV any more.

  19. I didn’t like ‘MacGyver’ the first time around.

  20. Gary D. says:

    You mean the great visionary director James Wan directed an awful pilot? Egads indeed.

  21. Jack says:

    This is what happens when you give egomaniacs money.

  22. Darryn says:

    I’m tired of the term “franchise”. This is not a restaurant or retail. Especially when shows or movies that are referred to that term has done NOTHING since they originally aired or shown in theaters.

  23. Not surprised. Remakes are usually just watered down and they are forced to be funny, adventurous or what ever and seldom make it.

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