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MacGyver (1985) Review - Introduction

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Name of Show: MacGyver

Genre: Action and Adventure

Executive Producer: Henry Wrinkler, John Rich

Created by: Lee David Zlotoff

Number of Seasons (ABC): 7 (September 29th, 1985 to May 21st, 1992) + 2 Movies (May 14th, 1994 and November 24th, 1994)


This year sparked a rebirth of the MacGyver franchise with the new MacGyver series. This got me thinking about the original. So I went on Amazon to see how much the series would cost. Amazon never disappoints as the complete series was about 50$. That is a bargain in my mind. Also got next day shipping to boot.

We have all said at one time in our lives, "hey, your pulling a MacGyver!!". What does that mean? It means getting out of a tough spot with almost nothing or with sheer intelligence.

I thought that at this point in time it is as good of a time as any to review this classic 80's series. I will go through the seasons and give my opinions about what I thought were the strongest and weaker shows. I also wanted to provide my overall rating of the show. So let us start with the essentials. What is MacGyver and who are the main characters of the show?

What is MacGyver?

MacGyver is an Action / Adventure show played by Richard Dean Anderson. You follow him in his various assignments at the Phoenix Foundation. He is a person that can get out of seemingly impossible situations, just by using his ability to think fast and applying his knowledge of the sciences.

The episodes of the series are standalone episodes. There is no real continuation other than basic friendships.

Main Characters

There are 3 main characters in the series. They are as follows:

MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson)

MacGyver is a charismatic and principled man that values the environment and does not like guns. There is an episode that explains this and I will get to it in the season's reviews. He does not have much family, other than his grandfather Harry. He dies in season 5. His mom passed away of a stroke but MacGyver was never able to make it home on time to say goodbye to her. James MacGyver, his father, died in a car crash when he was very young. In the last episode of the series it is revealed that MacGyver has a long lost son. Also a very important fact, since I am a Canadian from Montreal, he is a very big hockey fan. :)

Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar)

Pete is MacGyver's best friend and colleague at the Phoenix Foundation. He used to be an agent for the DXS (Department of External Affairs). He is now the Director of Operations at The Phoenix Foundation. While at the DXS, he met MacGyver working on a case to catch a ruthless assassin named Murdoc. Towards the latter end of the series, Dana Elcar, who played the character of Pete, developed glaucoma. At first the writers of the show wanted to write him out. However Richard Dean Anderson had other plans. He convinced the writers to write his condition into the show.

Fun Fact: in the pilot of the series, Dana Elcar stars in the show but as a completely different character. He was named Andy Colson as Chief of Operations at the KIVA Laboratories. This would not be the last time that an actor appears numerous times in the series, as different characters.

Jack Dalton (Bruce McGill)

I was on the fence about writing him in the main characters section. He does appear in a number of episodes but I would call him more of a recurring character, than a main character. He is one of MacGyver's friends. He is a soldier that served in the military with MacGyver. He is always looking for a get rich quick scheme. Of course that always lands MacGyver in trouble and having to bail him out somehow.

You can see that he values his friendship with MacGyver and no matter what happens MacGyver will always bail him out, even though he gets frustrated very often at Jack.


Murdoc (Michael Des Barres)

This is one of the only villains that keeps appearing throughout the show. He is MacGyver's Arch Nemesis. He is an international assassin and also a master of disguise. Ever since Pete and MacGyver foiled his plan once, he has been after MacGyver trying to kill him. He also seems to have 9 lives as he is always thought to be dead but he always comes back in some way.

The part is very well played by Machael Des Barres. One of the best television villains in the 80's.

Recurring Characters

Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher)

In one of her earliest roles, Teri Hatcher plays the character of Penny Parker. She is an aspiring actress that always manages to get herself into trouble. She has a very bubbly personality. MacGyver is like of a big brother to her.

Harry Jackson (John Anderson)

Harry is MacGyvers grandfather. He did not speak to MacGyver for a very long time. Then in an episode in season 1, they reconnect and Harry appears from time to time. He is a very blunt and reserved man. He passes away of a heart attack in the season finale of season 5. He would appear in one more episode in Season 6, called Harry's Will in a flashback sequence.

Nikki Carpenter (Elyssa Davalos)

Nikki is a character that buds heads with MacGyver whenever they meet. Starting in season 3 she works as an agent for the Phoenix Foundation. During the time working together, Nikki and MacGyver grow to respect each other a great deal. She is a very independent woman and needs a lot of convincing to work with others. May be I missed it but I never saw the reason why we never saw her again on the show. She was present in 1 or 2 seasons and then vanished. They never explained it. I guess she was added on for a love angle but it never really worked.

Lisa Woodman (Mayim Bialik)

This is a very young Mayim Bialik playing a young student by the name of Lisa. She meets MacGyver during the episode Cease Fire. She would appear in 2 more episodes. In the last one that she appears, he acknowledges that she has a drinking problem and macGyver helps her to get help.

There are quite a few others like the Coltons that rotate a series of characters but I believe the ones above are the most memorable in my eyes.


There you have it. The introduction to one of the most beloved series on ABC. One of the reason's that the show did so well is because of the actors that they picked to play in the show. It all starts with Richard Dean Anderson. He has played other memorable characters such as Jack O'Neil on Stargate SG-1. He has that presence on screen. The supporting cast was good as well. Jack Dalton was good at bringing comedy relief after a few hard episodes. I was not a big fan of shows that he was in, but many fans do like him. You also truly believe the friendship between Pete and MacGyver. It feels genuine.

Stay tuned for my review of Season 1, 2 and 3 in the next part. Leave your comments below on how you liked the characters of the original series.

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