Mac built that missile out of some PVC pipe, potting soil, and an old sprinkler head.
Blow an opening. With what? Don't tell me you know how to make a bomb out of a stick of chewing gum? MacGyver: Why, you got some?
— Pilot episode
Adventure TV series, running from 1985 to 1992, starring Richard Dean Anderson. The title character didn't like guns
(after a friend of his died in a revolver accident when he was a child), preferring to solve problems with his intelligence, resourcefulness and improvised gadgets. He often created some device worthy of Rube Goldberg out of whatever odds and ends were at hand, which is why MacGyvering
is named after him.
In the first season, he was an agent for the "Department of External Security", after which he left in favor of a philanthropic Heroes "R" Us
organisation called the Phoenix Foundation for Research, an organization that, if not a front for the CIA, is almost certainly on its speed-dial, where his boss was one Pete Thornton (played by Dana Elcar).
Mac would travel all over the world performing missions for good ol' Uncle Sam, retrieving spy satellite information and helping defectors from Commie Land
get to the United States, but spent most of his time in California. He seems to have had several Busman's Holidays
The man seems to have had a plethora of ex-girlfriends and "old friends", who would turn up every so often, usually in need of help, though more often than not they would get killed in the first few minutes of the episode. As the show went on, an increasing percentage of episodes were devoted to Mac's attempts to help an old friend out of trouble.
Among the show's cast of recurring characters were Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar), Mac's boss
and friend at the Phoenix Foundation, Jack Dalton (played by veteran character actor Bruce McGill), airplane pilot, part time spy, and con artist, who was constantly embroiling Mac in backfiring get-rich-quick schemes, and Murdoc (played by British Rock Singer Michael Des Barres), an assassin for "Homicide International Trust
", reputed Master of Disguise
, or so we're told. He had a penchant for leaving every episode by falling off of something very high
while shouting an enraged
!" Mac's most featured love interest was the scatter-brained Penny Parker, played by Teri Hatcher before Lois and Clark
or Desperate Housewives
It is however, probably true that later seasons had a few too many Very Special Episodes
, an indulgence that likely led to its declining popularity.
Still, the show remains hugely memorable in the US (it was heavily referenced in the The Simpsons
as a favorite show of Marge's sisters, Patty and Selma, and is parodied in the regular Saturday Night Live
where Richard Dean Anderson once made an appearance
). It shows in prime-time in Indonesia and Ukraine. According to TV Cream
, it didn't really work in the UK - but then it doesn't like the show (and CBS Action in, well, the UK began airing the series in February 2015).The Film of the Series
was set to be released in 2011, and then 2013, with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. Following the death of De Laurentiis in November 2010 it remains to be seen if the production will continue.
Not to be confused with Guyver
, an Affectionate Parody
. Not to be confused with the trope of the same name
, either.Trope Namer
and Trope Codifier
This show provides examples of:
- Accidental Kidnapping: In "Hearts of Steel", kidnappers accidentally kidnap the housekeeper's daughter rather than the daughter of a business magnate because the two girls have swapped jackets.
- Adventures in Comaland: "Passages" had Mac put in a coma by assassins. He found himself on a cruise ship piloted by a guy claiming to be Anubis where he managed to talk one last time to his dead parents and just deceased grandfather before escaping.
- All Crimes Are Equal: "Jack in the Box" combines this with the Corrupt Hick trope to create a plot wherein a town in the Deep South uses their "justice" system to recruit workers for a mine said to contain treasure.
- All Just a Dream: With a touch of '...or was it?' in the two-part episode "Good Knight, MacGyver".
- Alliterative Name: Penny Parker, Lampshaded
- The Amazon: In "Trumbo's World", Mac and a wildlife photographer friend must uncover the reason for the strange happenings in the Amazon rainforest. Then, in a story based on "Leiningen Versus the Ants", Mac helps a man in the Amazon jungle defend his plantation against billions of ants.
- Amnesia Danger: Occurs in at least three episodes, where Mac loses his memory due to being drugged, shot in the head, etc.
- And Some Other Stuff: When describing his solutions, Mac always leaves out some steps when dealing with anything explosive.
- Angry Guard Dog: In "Good Knight, MacGyver", Morganna uses an angry guard dog (unconvincingly disguised as a demon) as part of her defences. Mac defeats it by MacGyvering up a dog whistle.
- Bounty Hunter: Mac frequently crossed paths with the Coltons, an entire family of bounty hunters. They only all appeared together in the Poorly Disguised Pilot for an aborted Spin-Off.
- The Boxing Episode: In "Split Decision", Earl Dent is out of money and wants go to boxing as a pro. He enlists Mac as his coach.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: jack is made into an unwilling assassin and programmed to kill mac at an awards ceremony in "Brainwashed"
- Breakout Villain: Murdoc became popular enough to have one episode per season after his first appearance, one of them even had him teaming up with Mac to save someone else.
- Buffy Speak: Penny Parker tends to lapse into this whenever she shows signs of intelligence.
- Bullet Proof Vest: In "The Coltons" we learn that both Frank and Jesse wear these: a fact that saves their lives.
- The episode featuring Kambezi was unusual in that the country was actually indicated on a map (specifically, as being in the vicinity of South Africa).
- The name Sambaka from "Early Retirement" suggests this, but a line of dialogue implies it to be Qurac. Making matters worse, there's evidence it may be a Banana Republic.
- Burn the Witch!: In "Good Knight, MacGyver'', Sir Duncan attempts to burn Merlin at the stake after framing him for attempting to murder King Arthur.
- But You Were There, and You, and You: The Old West dream episodes: "Serenity" and "MacGyver's Women", and the King Arthur/Camelot episode "Good Knight, MacGyver".
- By Wall That Is Holey: Done on purpose when Mac and the old movie guy he was with use a prop wall to take out some armed assailants, in conjunction with a fake surrender in "Deadly Silents".
- Cable-Car Action Sequence: "Cease Fire" has MacGyver dispose of a bomb on a gondola.
- The Caper: In "The Heist", a Virgin Islands casino owner steals $60 million in diamonds. Mac and an American senator's daughter plot to steal them back from the casino's impregnable vault.
- Captain Obvious: Dear Damsel of the Week, I'm sure Mac knows what he's doing. There's no need to remind him.
- Catch Phrase: "When I was a kid..."
- Cattle Baron: Pete Thornton in "Serenity".
- Chained Heat: MacGyver spends much of the episode "The Lost Amadeus" chained to a very eighties Manic Pixie Dream Girl who also turned out to be a brilliant classical violinist.
- Chained to a Railway: In "Deadly Silents", MacGyver and an old man he is protecting are knocked out and tied to a railroad track by the villain; however, the railroad track is just a film studio prop, and the purpose is to scare the old man (who suffers from a heart condition) into having a heart attack.
- Characterization Marches On: In the pilot episode, MacGyver actually uses an assault rifle. Also, his first name was originally meant to be "Stace" according to the pilot's script.
- Also in the pilot, he has a woman standing on his shoulders at one point and appears to look up her skirt. The perfect gentleman we will later come to know would no sooner do that than he would fire a gun.
- The Charmer: MacGyver.
- Chewing the Scenery: Murdoc again. In his second episode, he smashes through a window with a flamethrower manically yelling "time to die, MacGyver!"
- Clip Show: "Friends", "Unfinished Business", "Hind-Sight"
- Cold War (including episodes set in Afghanistan, East Germany and Czechoslovakia)
- Commie Nazis: Played straight in "The Enemy Within" which began with Mac on a mission behind the Iron Curtain narrowly escaping from East German troops dressed in World War Two era Wehrmacht uniforms.
- The Commies Made Me Do It: In "Deathlock", the girl of the week turns out to be acting as a mole for the bad guys because they have her brother hostage.
- Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: In "The Black Corsage", Mac and this other guy are saved from being "processed" on a conveyor belt by being shunted... into a container of fish. The man's response? "Oh no! Fish! I hate fish!"
- Complexity Addiction: Karl, the bad guy in "Deadly Silents", seems to suffer from this; concocting several elaborate death traps to kill Mac and Pinky, even as his partner keeps urging him to just shoot them.
- The Con:
- In "Twice Stung", a friend of Mac's becomes suicidal after being swindled out of his life savings. Mac orchestrates a reverse scam to get the money back.
- In "Jenny's Chance", Mac organizes a gambling sting operation in order to catch the murderer of a horse trainer, a money launderer for a Cuban drug lord.
- Conveyor Belt-O-Doom: In "The Black Corsage", Mac and Frank Colton are captured in a fish processing plant, tied up and placed on a conveyor belt that will feed them into a fish grinder.
- Cool Car: Mac's 1957 Chevy Nomad, left to him by his grandfather. Also his Jeep.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: One of the stock villain types employed by the series, Corrupt Corporate Executives appeared in multiple stories.
- Corrupt Hick: In "Jack in the Box", Mac and Jack Dalton are arrested in Arkansas by a corrupt sheriff who puts the convicts to work in the nearby zinc mine.
- Counterfeit Cash: "Three for the Road", "Rock the Cradle"
- Courtroom Episode: "The Spoilers" spends much time on MacGyver and the Phoenix Foundation building a case against the villains.
- Cowboy Episode: the series has two Wild West dream episodes, "MacGyver's Women", when MacGyver dreams that he's in the Wild West and has to defend three women from outlaws , and "Serenity".
- CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): In "The Enemy Within", MacGyver and a friend apply CPR to the victim of an induced heart attack, demonstrating technique that would make a first aid teacher fail them on the spot, and keeping at it only long enough to show they tried before giving up and saying "He's dead" in a suitably dramatic voice. Later in the same episode, there's also a dodgy scene involving a defibrillator.
- Criminal Amnesiac: In "D.O.A. MacGyver" MacGyver, the Villain of the Week takes advantage of MacGyver's amnesia to convince him that Peter Thornton is actually a terrorist to be apprehended, and even supplies him with a gun to do the job. Since Mac's memory has started to come back, though, and since he and Pete are such good friends, it doesn't take long for Pete to talk him out of it.
- In that same episode, the writers play around a bit. Since all the flashes of memory (played by clips from other episodes) he gets are of explosions or other violent acts with him in the middle, Mac almost convinces himself that's he's really a Criminal Amnesiac.
- Criminal Mind Games: Mac had an escaped criminal foe in "Lesson in Evil", who went as far as to call him with math equations that would yield a clue when solved.
- Cryptid Episode: In "Ghost Ship", Mac encounters Bigfoot.
- Cunning Linguist: He is proficient to a greater or lesser extent in Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and American Sign Language, and knows how to use International maritime signal flags and Morse code.
- Cut the Safety Rope: A character does this in "Two Times Trouble".
- Death of a Thousand Cuts: Two characters are eaten alive by ants in "Trumbo's World".
- Death Trap: Murdoc is entirely too fond of these.
- Defector from Commie Land: A common plot in early seasons. Notably in an early episode when Mac smuggles himself out hidden in a casket that transforms into a jet ski.
- Defictionalization: In "Friends," a woman Mac used to know introduces him to her husband, who plays football for The Titans. There was no such team in 1987, but there is now. (Somewhat more problematically, Mac congratulates the guy on "having a great season" in the present tense in an episode that takes place in March...perhaps they were a USFL team?)
- Destination Defenestration: In "Phoenix Under Siege", the villain of the week happens to be a martial arts expert and makes a jump-kick at our hero in a high-rise building, but misses and ends up crashing through the window instead.
- The Diaper Change: Happens when Mac and Jack Dalton have a baby dumped on them in "Rock the Cradle". Mac's solution to a unsatisfactory makeshift diaper is duct tape(obviously).
- Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: "Collision Course" involved a stock car race between the title character and an old rival. The rival had nitrous oxide installed in his car without his permission ("That's illegal"), but even though he was already ahead of MacGyver and would have won had he just kept the course, he decides to use the nitrous oxide he criticized anyway and ends up spinning out on the shoulder.
- Die Hard on an X: "Phoenix Under Siege", where the headquarters of the Phoenix Foundation is taken over by criminals, trapping Mac and his grandfather (who had returned to the building to retrieve some hockey tickets) inside. And yes, the hockey tickets play a role in the ultimate resolution.
- Diplomatic Impunity: In "Fire and Ice", a murderer and jewel thief has diplomatic immunity as a cultural attaché. Mac and his team prove said attaché's criminality to the ambassador, who insists the attaché be returned to their home country to stand trial. The attaché pleads unsuccessfully to be allowed to face American justice instead.
- Disney Villain Death: Murdoc, repeatedly.
- Distressed Dude: Especially in the later seasons; however, Mac usually freed himself, often with a Conveniently-Placed Sharp Thing.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Due to a childhood friend being accidentally killed by one
- Duct Tape for Everything: Many of Mac's little creations involve the use of duct tape.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the first few episodes MacGyver charms ladies he happens to end up working with at the rate of James Bond. In the pilot episode he also is shown living in a very nice house surrounded with gardens and fences that would fit right into Beverly Hills. His living conditions were quickly downgraded as well as his intimacy with girl of the week.
- Education Mama: Ma Colton when it comes to the education of her youngest son Billy. She seems to have given up on the older two.
- '80s Hair: MacGyver himself.
- Electrified Bathtub: In "Lesson in Evil", the Hannibal Lecter-esque Dr. Zito sets a trap for Mac by restraining a hapless victim (his own therapist, who he had succeeded in convincing he was "cured") in a bathtub, attaching an electric heater on top and leaving the water running.
- Elevator Floor Announcement: Jack Dalton issues one of these in the season two episode, "Dalton, Jack of Spies", when showing Mac where he runs his business.
- Embarrassing First Name: Angus MacGyver
- Enemy Mine: Murdoc and MacGyver work together to rescue Murdoc's sister in "Halloween Knights"
- Enhance Button: Coupled with some superficially realistic-sounding Techno Babble: "Create a bitmap. Now increase the Z-axis while holding the X and Y axis steady." While this sounds ludicrous, it's basically the 1980's equivalent of getting a high resolution image file from a film negative ("Create a bitmap."), and using the zoom function on your computer ("Increase the Z-axis...").
- Every Car Is a Pinto: and some boats, too
- Everyone Knows Morse:
- In "The Widowmaker", where Murdoc is hot on his trail in an off-season backwoods cabin location, MacGyver climbs a telephone pole and uses a copper bracelet to tap SOS directly into a phone line to summon help. The owner of the general store who hears the interference is retired military, and knows Morse from his military training.
- A more unique example in "Birth Day", Everyone Knows Marine Signal Flags. Mac uses some of these he steals off a docked boat in combination with a makeshift hot-air balloon to spell out "Help". The floating message is seen by a policeman, who is also a Navy veteran.
- Evil Laugh: One of the Murdoc-centric episodes ends with MacGyver answering the phone to hear Murdoc's laughter.
- Evil Poacher: Mac clashes with evil poachers in "Eagles", "The Endangered", and "Black Rhino".
- Exact Time to Failure: In "Nightmares", an interrogator gives MacGyver a slow-acting poison, and tells him that if he doesn't get the antidote within six hours, his death will be inevitable. There is a prominently-displayed countdown timer. MacGyver gets the antidote with two and a half minutes to spare, and makes a full recovery. That's some poison.
- Expansion Pack Past: MacGyver has a college degree in physics, comprehensive knowledge of mechanics, chemistry, and any other specialty required by a given plot, worked as a deck hand on a tramp steamer, was a bomb disposal expert for the Special Forces in Vietnam, was a professional racing car driver, played Olympic-calibre ice hockey but had a tragic accident that kept him out of the Olympics, worked as an apprentice and assistant to a noted archaeologist, trained as a pilot, worked as a backwoodsman in the Rockies, a lumberjack and a taxi driver, all before becoming a secret agent. Adding to the confusion, the first and second seasons gave two incompatible versions of his initial meeting with Pete Thornton. Furthermore, the final episode reveals he has a long-lost son.
- Explosive Leash: In "Lost Love" part 1, the Russians place an explosive leash around the neck of Mac's ex-girlfriend of the week, to coerce him to steal one of China's national treasures. This plot twist serves as the episode's cliffhanger, unusual since almost all of the adventures were limited to single episodes.
- Expospeak Gag: In "Last Stand", Mac is holding some piece of equipment that he's supposedly going to use to fix up a plane so the bad guys can escape. When asked by his guard what the item is, he replies "Lateral... cranial... impact... enhancer", and smacks the guard across the head with it.
- Extended Disarming:
- In the Season 1 finale, "The Assassin", MacGyver is pitted against a master assassin. Confronting him relatively early in the episode, Mac is able to best him in hand-to-hand combat despite his numerous concealed blades. After the assassin is arrested, it is shown that he had many other knives and weapons on his person. And they still missed a poisoned needle he concealed behind a fake scar.
- Recurring villain Murdoc, in "Strictly Business", is meeting with his superiors at HIT, and has to pass through a metal detector first, which reveals that he's carrying multiple weapons on his person that he has to remove. Being as good as he is, he manages to slip a knife though just to prove that he doesn't play by the rules.
- Fake in the Hole: In "For Love or Money", Mac removes the explosive core from a grenade and then tosses it at a group of border guards to distract them while he makes a run across the border.
- Fake-Out Make-Out: Mac and his female partner pull this trick when they are caught by a motorcycle cop while scoping out the hospital they are planning to break into in "For Love or Money".
- Falling Chandelier of Doom: In "The Coltons", Jesse Colton takes out a gunman who has taken cover behind a table by shooting out the chandelier above him so that it falls on him.
- The Farmer and the Viper: In one episode the female antagonist is hanging from a ledge. Mac is all Take My Hand, but the woman stabs him, causing him to drop her to her death. Pete tells Mac the tale of "The Scorpion and The Frog" to calm him when he questions why she would do that.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Mac tests a suspected drug sample this way in "Black Rhino", only to find out that it's keratin (powdered rhino horn).
- Flashed Badge Hijack: Done in "The Prodigal".
- Flock of Wolves: In "Honest Abe", Mac gets shanghaied by his CIA agent friend Abe to take down a South American dictator and a corrupt Army Major supplying the former with weapons. Eventually, one of the Major's lackeys reveals to the other he's a Federal agent... and the other lackey reveals he's one as well. And via background checks they find the real identities of Mac and Abe. Naturally they are dumbfounded at the revelation that they are involved in an operation involving four secret agents of different agencies while they previously thought they were acting alone.
- Friend to All Living Things: Shown in "Eagles", when Mac fights some poachers who shot down a mother eagle, than at the end of the episode, saves its three babies still in their eggs.
- Fright Death Trap: "Deadly Silents" used the 'Scared Stiff' version. The villains set up several stunts (a suitcase full of snakes, leaving him Chained to a Railway, etc.) to attempt to trigger a fatal heart attack in an elderly silent movie star.
- Fun with Acronyms: Murdoc works for the Homocide International Trust... making him a literal "HIT man".
- Fur and Loathing: When he helps a runaway turned hooker, she wears a rabbit fur jacket, until she's saved.
- Gadgeteer Genius: mac was one of the most famous gadgeteers of TV, although he was more of a tinkerer. The series that spawned the term "MacGyvering." Usually worked alone, without a sidekick. Oddly enough, though, there was an episode where he teamed up with a classic Gadgeteer Genius girl — an ultra-intelligent schoolgirl who could match him move-for-move.
- Gas Cylinder Rocket: In "The Odd Triple", Mac is locked up in the cellar of a winery. Needing to escape, he attaches several oxygen tanks to a large wheeled wine cask. Knocking the heads off the cylinders, he turns them into juryrigged rockets that propel the cask through the wall like a battering ram.
- Ghost Ship: the episode was even titled "Ghost Ship"
- Gilligan Cut: "The Gauntlet", when the Girl of the Week declares she's not going to eat the lizard MacGyver is cooking for dinner
- Girl of the Week: In the early seasons, Mac seemed to get involved with a different every week. It was toned down in later seasons.
- God Guise: In "Walking Dead", Mac pretends to be Baron Samedi (or, more accurately, he takes the place of a Hollywood Voodoo priest who is pretending to be Baron Samedi).
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: MacGyver's clean-cut behaviour extended to sometimes ridiculously mild cussing, including a very close, "Gosh darn it!" in the pilot episode. An occasional "damn" or "crap" sometimes slipped through. Other characters were allowed to swear, subject to the limitations of the era's TV language restrictions.
- Government Agency of Fiction: The DXS (Department of External Security) was a U.S. intelligence agency where MacGyver and Peter Thornton are employed during the first season.
- GPS Evidence: In "Walking Dead", Mac is able to identify that the cult is using an abandoned dam as their base from the mixture of dried river silt and machine oil on a voodoo doll.
- Great Escape: In "The Escape", Mac cooks up an elaborate plot to break a medical missionary out of a prison in French North Africa.
- The Gunslinger: Murdoc appears a stereotypical black clad gunslinger (seemingly a Type D) in the Western All Just a Dream episode "Serenity".
- Hall of Mirrors: When Mac is chased by a brainwashed friend, he uses this to trick the friend into running out of ammo so he can approach and subdue him.
- A Handful for an Eye:
- Murdoc blinds MacGyver with a handful of dirt during a fight in a mine in the episode "Strictly Business".
- Mac himself blinds a bruiser with a bucket of ashes in "The Escape".
- Heroes "R" Us: The Phoenix Foundation, Mac's employer from the second season onward, though the DXS (a government department) also fits the type.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: "The Wall" featured some criminals trying to get an East German expatriate to reveal where he had hidden some gold bullion they had him smuggle out when they got him through the Berlin Wall. The gold had been melted down and reshaped as figurines, which were then painted over and prominently displayed in the window of the man's toyshop. Everyone who looked at the painted toy soldiers made of a heavy metal assumed they were lead.
- High Heel-Face Turn: Karen in "Deathlock", Sara in "The Escape" and Holly in "Twenty Questions".
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The assassin Pierta, whose assassination methods of choice involved sharp poisoned objects. He tries to assassinate a priest, but scuffles with Mac, drops the pin, and ends up getting his hand pricked with it when he falls.
- Hollywood Hacking: In "Ugly Duckling", Kate somehow hacks a building's systems and makes elevators go to the wrong floor, alarms go off, printers start printing out things people haven't sent to the printer, photocopiers shoot paper out all over place,etc. Then she turns the lights off and escapes.
- Hollywood Spelling: Somehow, MacGyver apparently knows the correct letter case for and space in the password in "Ugly Duckling", though this may be justified thanks to the particulars of the system in question (Mac canonically knows his way around computers) and basic logic regarding English, respectively.
- Hollywood Voodoo: Features heavily "Walking Dead". The episode at least pays lip service to voudon being a genuine religion and that what the villains are doing is a perversion of it. Also, in "The Hood", a character mimics many of the hollywood aspects, but when the villain of the week gives in to his superstitious fear, she remarks, "Voudon is my religion. That was saturday morning cartoons."
- Houseboat Hero: MacGyver lived on a houseboat for several seasons.
- Hungry Jungle: The eponymous place in "Trumbo's World" threatens to be engulfed by army ants.
- Hypocritical Humor: Penny Parker in a foreign country: "Oh, you don't know how good it is to see someone from back home. They're all foreigners here".
- Identical Grandson: MacGyver's identical ancestor (played by Richard Dean Anderson) in "Good Knight MacGyver".
- I Have Your Wife: In "Hearts of Steel", disgruntled steel mill workers attempt to kidnap the daughter of the industrialist who put them out of work, but end up abducting his housekeeper's daughter instead.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: In a flashback during the "Blood Brothers" episode, MacGyver accidentally shoots and kills Jesse, a childhood friend. This why Mac Does Not Like Guns.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Mac is often shot at. The few times they hit is for plot purposes.
- Improbable Antidote: "Fraternity of Thieves" had Pete poisoned by prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) gas in a mall. Mac recognizes the poison by its distinctive almond smell and dashes toward a photo developer booth, whose printing machine contains sodium thiosulfate, an antidote for cyanide poisoning.
- Incredibly Obvious Bomb: The early episodes have bombs everywhere. The intro sequence for the first season or so has one with a nice big digital timer. The pilot has a missile with a timer inside it. Just about every explosive device (there are lots of them) has a timer, unless Mac made it himself. Of course, those are usually highly visible, but rarely incredibly obvious. One whole episode revolves around bombs actually well-disguised as electrical panels... which are nevertheless quickly identified as bombs by Mac.
- Subverted in one of the earlier episodes. Mac spends most of the episode disarming the bomb, and when he finally disarms it a set of blinking LEDs switch off and the apparatus falls silent... but the real bomb is underneath the entire rig (which was merely a detonator) and still ticking.
- Indy Hat Roll: The show has one moment of the hat roll when they are trapped in an Ancient Indian Death Trap and Dalton reaches back to grab his pilot hat, much to Mac's irritation.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: MacGyver catches a cheating contestant in a physics competition. The object of the competition is to create a barricade to a room with some unorthodox way to "unlock" the door. The good guy creates an optical illusion using a periscope to make the door look locked when it's really unlocked and vice versa. The villain eavesdrops on a conversation between his rival and a friend, and thus "wins" the competition...but he never actually looks into the room to see the periscope. Naturally, our hero notices this and...
Jeffrey (the cheater) :You all saw it. The door was opened; it was an optical illusion. He used that periscope.
That's right, he did. That's exactly what he did. But you had no way of knowing that. Jeffrey, you opened the door, but you never looked inside. You never saw a periscope - at least, not this afternoon.
- Inner Monologue: MacGyver, providing linking narration or relating a folksy anecdote about something in his childhood that the onscreen action reminds him of
- Intimate Healing: Mac finds himself as a recipient of one from Natalia in "Trail To Doomsday" after he is caught in a poisoned boobytrap and loses consciousness.
- Invincible Hero: Subverted, he feels pain from attacks and punches, he expresses fear in perilous situation, and he's caught often, but he always jimmies a non-violent way to solve his problem. Which, admittedly, was the expected and entertaining part.
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: "MacGyver, something's not right. It's a little too quiet out here" - Charles Alden, "Trumbo's World"
- It Works Better with Bullets: Murdoc removes the shells from a shotgun and takes the person who later tries to use it on him hostage.
- Jailbird of Panama: In "The Escape", a woman asks MacGyver to break out her missionary brother who's been unjustly thrown into a harsh prison in North Africa. Partway through the episode, MacGyver discovers he's being played: the woman is a KGB agent, and the "missionary" is a gunrunner whose skills she wishes to make use of.
- Joker Immunity: Murdoc "dies" in almost every episode he's in, but he always manages to come back.
- Jury Duty: "Rush to Judgement": Mac gets called up for jury duty on a murder case in "Rush to Judgement" and, naturally, can't resist investigating the case on his own - which is illegal.
- Karmic Death: Sandra in "Kill Zone" dies because of the research project she flagrantly violated protocol for.
- Killer Cop: Manny Lopez in "Tough Boys", who uses the local youth centre to recruit the eponymous gang to act as vigilantes in destroying crack houses.
- King Arthur: In "Good Knight MacGyver", mac gets hit on the head and either dreams he is back in the court of King Arthur, or actually psychically time travels there. (The Or Was It ending means both are fair interpretations.)
- Knockout Gas: An instantly sedating knockout gas was one of the weapon systems on the attack helicopter in "Honest Abe".
- Landing Gear Shot: MacGyver did this one when a villain went to Paris.
- Land Mine Goes Click:
- Mac once finds himself with a foot on a mine, and manages a daring escape, but, in jumping free, he's landed on another mine (which turns out to be a dud). There's also a slight variation in one episode where Mac finds himself having to prop up a rickety shelf that's holding several cases of unstable old dynamite. If he lets go, he'll go boom.
- And there was another episode where Murdoc was first introduced: Though the device wasn't explicitly called a mine, it worked on the Bouncing Betty principle. Mac sat down on his bed and that armed the bomb planted in it. Pete told him that it would only detonate when he got off the bed but the blast would be directed mainly upwards so if he jumped away fast enough he'd be safe.
- Yet another one took place in a snowy cave in which all Mac had to do was dig the snow out from the side and shove a metal bar into conveniently sized holes to stop the "platform" from springing up.
- Large Ham:
- The coach in "Legend of the Holy Rose". "RYAN!!! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU!!!"
- Murdoc, in pretty much every appearance.
- Laser Hallway: deadly version in the pilot; detector version in "The Heist"
- MacGyvering: The Trope Namer, of course. Special mention has to be made of MacGyver's ability to make aircraft: on separate occasions, he's built a hang glider, a two-seat fan-powered glider, a hot air balloon, and a Fan Man-type parachute-and-fan combo, all basically from scraps and duct tape. All four flew. And he patched the balloon up with a map when it got a hole in it.
- Mad Bomber: In "The Prometheus Syndrome", Mac helps the arson squad invesigate a series of fires, all caused by a bomber calling himself Prometheus who thinks he's purifying the world.
- Madwoman in the Attic: "The Secret of Parker House" had one of these. He turned out to be a nice guy.
- Magical Defibrillator: In "The Enemy Within", Mac juryrigs a defibrillator out of two candlesticks, a floor mat, and an electrical power cord. The idea was not to reverse fibrillation, but to counteract some kind of magnetic field that was causing bubbles to form in the victim's blood... somehow. Whatever that meant, it worked.
- Magic Brakes:
- "Hellfire" does a good job of setting up the sequence — there's a steep gradient, a reason for the brakes to fail just at that moment, and an actual danger from the load of unstable explosives on the back of the truck — but still falls inside the trope because the people in the truck, one of whom is the famously ingenious MacGyver, can't think of anything that might slow the truck down.
- "The Enemy Within" has a car with a punctured brake fluid cable accelerate out of control down a gentle slope for several miles while MacGyver climbs out onto the front of the car and does emergency repairs. (The driver does actually think to try the handbrake, but it's not working either.)
- Make It Look Like an Accident: The bad guy in "Deadly Silents" goes to great lengths to make his attempts to kill Pinky and MacGyver look like an accident.
- Manchurian Agent: Jack Dalton in "Brainwashed"
- Master of Disguise: Murdoc was said to be a master of disguise. But his disguises were so bad that viewers only fell for them because his appearances were spread out enough that the audience had forgotten what he looked like. This was also the M.O. of the eponymous assassin in "The Assassin".
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Vacuum cleaner salesman Phil Sternweis in "The Visitor". He gets MacGyver out of trouble several times in very unlikely fashion, and at one point can only be seen by MacGyver. The ending leaves the possibility open that he is a Human Alien.
- Mental Time Travel: This might be what happens to Mac in "Good Knight, MacGyver". Or it might be All Just a Dream.
- Midair Repair: Mac uses a map to patch a hole in his hot air balloon after it is shot.
- Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Jack Dalton is moving around relatively freely in his barrack in prison in "Jack in the Box", is plotting his schemes, and is eating decent food.
- The Mole: In "The Enemy Within", Mac must discover the identity of a mole within the DXS who has caused the death of four agents.
- Mountain Man: Earthquake from "The Spoilers" is a modern day version of this.
- Mugging the Monster: A bunch of thugs try to mug the Woobie of the Week, a mentally unstable veteran with a wrestler's physique. Lampshaded by the would-be victim: "Are you crazy? I could have torn your head off!"
- Near Misses:
- "The Golden Triangle" features a shot of MacGyver ducking for cover as twin lines of gunfire from a helicopter pass either side of him, which was used in the opening titles.
- "The Enemy Within" has a good example of bullets kicking up dust always just behind the running hero.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: In "Lost Love", Mac is carrying a valuable Chinese artifact which he needs to get rid of in a hurry — so he finds a shop selling cheap replicas of the thing and puts it on the back of the shelf.
- Never Found the Body: Murdoc
- Never Mess with Granny: In "The Madonna", an elderly bag lady whom Mac and Peter Thornton are helping turns out to be not only a fount of wisdom, but also turns around a troubled youth by hustling him at pool.
- New Old Flame: "Flame's End", "The Endangered", "Jerico Games"
- Nitro Express:
- In "Hellfire". Mac has to transport old, sweating dynamite cross-country from an abandoned mine to extinguish an oilwell fire on a friend's claim.
- In "Hell Week", a college student snaps and builds a bomb intending to blow himself and the school to kingdom come (and just to make it even more dramatic, he happened to place it in the same building as the nuclear physics lab, meaning it would cause radiation to spread). Said bomb has a "mercury switch", which consists of a drop of mercury placed in the very middle of a precariously balanced Petri dish with wires along the edges set to trigger the bomb if the mercury touches them. With no way to get inside the bomb's mechanism without triggering it (at least for the moment), Mac and the kid's emotionally abusive professor father who started the whole mess have to move the bomb very carefully to an elevator so that the explosion is sufficiently contained underground.
- No Name Given: MacGyver spends almost the entire series being known only as "MacGyver"; his Embarrassing First Name is eventually revealed in the final season.
- No One Could Survive That: Murdoc
- No One Should Survive That: His first two presumed deaths (from his first episode) were realistically survivable. His subsequent deaths through the rest of the show... not so much.
- No OSHA Compliance: In "Flame's End", there is a room into which radioactive waste is dumped after 10 minutes of activation, with a door that can be pushed shut from the outside and has a timed lock that cannot be opened for 60 minutes after it is shut. And there is no emergency shutoff, handle or opening mechanism inside the room.
- Not the Intended Use: The entire premise of the series.
- Obfuscating Disability: One of the many tricks of "The Assassin".
- Oktoberfest: In "The Wall", a bar in East (Eastern at the time of the airing) Berlin has Bavarian music playing and waitresses in traditional Bavarian dresses.
- The Old Convict: Francois Villars in "The Escape".
- One-Dimensional Thinking: "Fire and Ice" almost suggests that there is a mystical force that compels people to run in a straight line in front of oncoming objects. A man hit by a truck at the beginning of the episode would have been perfectly safe if he had not gone out of his way to run in front of the truck.
- Operation Game of Doom: Attempting to move the bomb with the mercury switch in "Hell Week".
- And again in the Season 7 episode "The Prometheus Syndrome".
- Out-of-Character Alert: In "Countdown", Mac cues Pete in on the fact that he needs to speak to him on a private channel by 'reminding' him that they are due to play golf when he gets back. Mac has never played a round of golf in his life.
- Parents for a Day: In "Rock the Cradle," Jack Dalton's ex-girlfriend, on the run from criminals, leaves her son "Jack Jr." in Jack's airplane hangar, with a note asking Jack to take care of him. Jack and MacGyver have to look after the kid while trying to track down Mama.
- Pilot: Which did air as the first episode of the series, although it contained a couple of elements that were not continued — such as MacGyver actually pointing and firing a gun at an enemy.
- Pinocchio Nose: Jack Dalton's left eye twitches whenever he lies. It's mentioned in his first scene with Mac.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: "The Coltons"
- Powder Trail: Mac improvises a powder trail - using the black powder charge from an antique grenade - to blow up an arms shipment in "The Escape".
- Praetorian Guard: In "Humanity", MacGyver tangles with the K-Force, a group of Praetorian Guard still loyal to Romania's dead tyrant.
- Prison Episode:
- In "Jack in the Box", Jack Dalton is sent to a prison farm by a Corrupt Hick who is using the prisoners as a workforce for his mine. Mac ends up in the same prison when he goes looking for Jack.
- In "The Escape", mac infiltrates a prison in French North Africa in order to break out an unjustly imprisoned missonary.
- The Professor: MacGyver
- Protagonist Title
- Put on a Bus: In a case of Shoo Out the New Guy, Pete Thornton casually comments at the start of one episode that Nikki Carpenter is on assignment in South America. She is never heard from or mentioned again in the show.
- Qurac: Sambaka from "Early Retirement" is implied to be this in a line spoken by Webber, though otherwise it seems like a Banana Republic. Making matters worse, its name suggests a Bulungi.
- Race Against the Clock: See Exact Time to Failure above.
- Ransacked Room: Happens in "Trail to Doomsday" when MacGyver and Natalia find the door to her apartment busted open, and the whole place ransacked.
- Real After All: Seen in "Ghost Ship", and strongly implied in "The Visitors".
- Reckless Gun Usage: This caused the death of one of MacGyver's childhood friends, as shown during a flashback in "Blood Brothers".
- Recycled In Space: "Thief of Budapest" is The Italian Job in Budapest with a list of KGB spies as the MacGuffin, and the plot of "Trumbo's World" is Leiningen Versus the Ants on a cocoa plantation.
- Red Scare: in this case, actually called Soviets, but in later episodes, Soviet hardliners.
- Remember the New Guy: Many, many episodes involved an old friend or girlfriend showing up in need of MacGyver's help, but it was never someone he saw fit to mention before or ever again.
- The Remnant: In "Humanity", MacGyver tangles with the K-Force, a group of Praetorian Guard still loyal to Romania's dead tyrant Ceauşescu.
- Rock Bottom: casually averted in "The Gauntlet": the Girl of the Week proclaims that nothing more could go wrong, MacGyver admits she's probably right, and the scene ends without anything happening to either of them
- Rouge Angles of Satin: In one Clip Show episode, Murdoc tries to off Mac, Pete, and Jack by luring them to a junkyard. An obituary in the newspaper, which Murdoc planted, reads "In Memorium".
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: In "Pirates", an archaeologist is kidnapped by pirates to help them find $60 million in sunken treasure at the bottom of the sea, and Mac must attempt a rescue on the isolated ocean.
- Sawed-Off Shotgun: Jesse Colton's Weapon of Choice.
- Scary Black Man: Axminster, the hit man from "Target MacGyver, can come off as this.
- Scary Surprise Party: Taking this to rather an extreme level, in "friends" Mac gets taken at knife-point by a disguised Jack Dalton to a birthday party.
- Science Hero: MacGyver, despite the jury-rigged nature of his devices, qualifies.
- Shooting Gallery: "Halloween Knights" featured a shooting gallery called 'Death Row' used by Murder, Inc. organisation H.I.T. to test new recruits.
- "The Heist" has a sequence where MacGyver confronts the villain in a casino in a tuxedo; when he first appears in the tux, the background music starts with the same four notes as the James Bond theme.
- In another episode, he introduces himself to a female character with "Bond, James Bond".
- "Target MacGyver" has a scene where MacGyver builds a trap out of stuff he finds in the bad guys' kitchen; the first thing he finds is a bag of carrots, from which he carefully selects a single carrot that he then proceeds to not use in the trap in any way — but when the trap is ready, he picks up the carrot again and takes a bite of it Bugs Bunny style.
- Skepticism Failure: In "GX-1", MacGyver helps a Russian psychic who is portrayed as real, despite Mac's skepticism.
- The Snack Is More Interesting: The Bugs Bunny Shout Out in "Target MacGyver".
- Songs in the Key of Lock: "The Heist" features an ultra-high-tech (for the time) lock which requires four tones emitted by a remote control. This being MacGyver, he improvises by playing some wineglasses.
- Spexico: Take a band of Zapatistas. The more indigenous the better. Then drop them in the Rockies, dress them with the clothes left over by the Sicilian scenes of The Godfather and make them live in wooden barracks with bananas in the porch. According to MacGyver, this is the Basque Country.
- Spider-Sense: Frank Colton's eye twitches when something isn't right about a situation.
- Stalker with a Crush: "Cleo Rocks" is a riff on The Phantom of the Opera, with Penny Parker and Murdoc(!) in the lead roles.
- Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: Demonstrated in "The Golden Triangle", in a shot that was also used in the opening titles.
- Stating the Simple Solution: In "Deadly Silents", Karl's partner Neil keeps urging to just shoot Mac and Pinky and dump their bodies somewhere. After multiple attempts to Make It Look Like an Accident fail, Karl gives in and agrees to just shoot them. It fails.
- Stock Footage: many times in many episodes, but particularly noticeable in the following two episodes:
- "The Thief of Budapest", in which violent handwaving is applied to justify reusing the entire car chase from The Italian Job.
- "Trumbo's World", where maybe a third of the episode consists of footage from The Naked Jungle, both of which were based on the short story Leiningen Versus the Ants.
- Also the second season episode "GX-1", which stole the footage for its opening aircraft sequence from another Paramount property: Top Gun. It is never explained why the secret stealth spy plane looks exactly like an F-14.
- Can also see it in the episode "Out in the Cold" with a painfully obvious stock-footage avalanche.
- Storybook Episode: "Good Knight, MacGyver" transports Mac back to the court of King Arthur.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: early episodes would often kill off the newly introduced old friend to set up the rest of the episode, then never again mention the character in the series
- This very thing was lampshaded in the Kid Radd web comic. Bogie is watching what's probably Read or Die, flips the channel to see what else is on — and comes across "Radd", complete with a MacGyver opening parody. "Also starring a bunch of people who are supposedly old friends of the guy yet only ever show up in one episode."
- Surprisingly Good Foreign Language: Several episodes set in East Germany
- Swamps Are Evil: MacGyver must rescue Pete and his family from a Louisiana swamp in "Family Matter".
- Tap on the Head: This happens all the time, what with MacGyver's no-guns policy. The likelihood of knocking a bad guy out with a single blow is inversely proportional to his position on the bad guy ladder. Mac himself has also received enough knocks on the head that he's lucky never to have got anything worse than the occasional bout of Easy Amnesia.
- The Teaser: At least initially, each episode began with a mini-episode called the "Opening Gambit", which — unlike the teasers in most series — was unconnected to the rest of the episode, and often created by a different writer and director. Later episodes either had a standard teaser or went straight to the opening credits.
- Technical Pacifist: MacGyver vocally and obviously hates guns, but isn't averse to hitting people (with fists, or with a variety of heavy things), and for a "pacifist", he's awfully fond of creating explosives. He also doesn't hesitate to put people in what would, in reality, be very dangerous situations: shocking them with high voltage, suspending them high up in the air by flimsy cords, driving towards them at high speeds, slamming them headfirst into heavy objects, blinding drivers of fast-moving vehicles, hiding unconscious bodies inside heavy machinery, and so on. Probably the most egregious example of this is when he set up a trap that shot a bunch of automatic weapons at cars full of people... but aimed them at the tires.
- Television Geography: the show was primarily set in Los Angeles. Production moved to British Columbia from the third through the sixth seasons, then returned to LA. As a result, Southern California looked very much like Canada for four years.
- Temporary Blindness: "The Negotiator", "Blind Faith"
- Ten Little Murder Victims: "The Invisible Killer" - Just as Mac determines which of the Phoenix employees on his wilderness stress-relief retreat is an imposter, we find out that not one but two of them are really escaped convicts.
- The Thing That Would Not Leave: Jack Dalton is this to MacGyver on occasion.
- This Is My Boomstick: In "Good Knight, MacGyver", Mac convinces King Arthur's court that he is a powerful wizard by lighting a match.
- Those Wacky Nazis: In "The Ten Percent Solution", a massive neo-Nazi movement within the American political system is uncovered by MacGyver after investigating the claims by a Holocaust survivor.
- Thrown from the Zeppelin: In "Legend of the Holy Rose", the bad guy has his advisor with a niggling conscience thrown from a helicopter when he is of no further use.
- Title Drop: "Every Time She Smiles."
- Too Dumb to Live: At the start of "Target MacGyver", MacGyver takes his ski mask off in the middle of a covert raid for no in-story reason, just so the people he's raiding can get a look at his face and spend the rest of the episode trying to kill him.
- Toxic, Inc.: In "The Spoilers", Mac and and a hermit from the mountains work to try and stop a group from illegally dumping radioactive and toxic waste into a stream.
- Training the Peaceful Villagers: Mac has to train a peaceful village in a Republica del Platano to fight their drug lord oppressors, in the episode "The Golden Triangle."
- Translation Convention: wherever MacGyver goes, everyone apparently speaks English, albeit with a range of funny accents
- Trapped in Containment: In "Kill Zone" a scientist creates a chemical for maturing plants. When her dog knocks over the vial, she is trapped with it and ages to death.
- Trash Landing: In "The Coltons", Frank and Jesse tackle a pair of bad guys out throw a second storey window and land in a dumpster which is miraculously full of bags of shredded paper.
- Tree Buchet: When he needs to throw off some pursuers in the jungle in "The Road Not taken", MacGyver builds a tree-based catapult to throw stones, and puts a light-based fuse on it. First he pulls four flimsy trees together and bends them down to the ground. He routes them under a solid tree branch and ties them together with a thin vine. Then he sets down his friend's rosary to refract sunlight onto the thin vine, creating a fuse. He stakes the thin vine into the ground with a good knot on a pointed stick, and attaches the pockets from his jacket (filled with rocks) to the tree trunks.
- Trigger Phrase: In one episode, Pete gets brainwashed into shooting whoever utters the trigger phrase "From the bottom of my heart, I salute you". The villain of the episode wanted to use him to kill a visiting dignitary (who was scheduled to give a speech containing that phrase at a dinner Pete would be attending).
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Jack Dalton and his father, Jack Sr., in "Ma Dalton".
- Underside Ride: Mac clings underneath a truck to escape the cops in the episode "Jerico Games".
- Unnecessary Combat Roll: One of the assassins in "Target MacGyver", entering the house where Mac is staying—and very silly he looks, too.
- Unwilling Suspension: Happens to Frank and Jesse in "The Coltons".
- Vehicle Vanish: In "For Love or Money", Mac and Pete are watching a pair of defectors at the zoo who disappear when a crowd of pedestrians temporarily obscures their view.
- Vehicular Sabotage: One episode of MacGyver featured the tampering with brakes version as an excuse for the title character to repair a moving vehicle.
- Very Special Episode: every other episode from around the third or fourth season onwards was one.
- Viking Funeral: In "Deadly Dreams", Dr. Zito convinces one of his clients to give himself a Viking funeral... And he takes a friend of Mac's to play the part of the slave.
- Villain Decay: Played with. Murdoc starts out as a one-dimensional villain who would return once per season, try to kill MacGyver in progressively crazier ways, and fail miserably. However, these repeated failures convince him that he's "over the hill" and that it's time to retire... but his employers won't let him, kicking off his next cycle where he's trying to find a way out first by allying with MacGyver to take down his employers, then by asking them to take him back in exchange for MacGyver's head, and then by seeking another protector/employer.
- Vision Quest: Mac experience one while being cared for by an old Indian after being Left for Dead in "Trail of Tears".
- Voodoo Zombie: The 'living person in a deathlike trance' variety appear in "Walking Dead". The villain attempts to do it to Mac, but he is able to hold the effect at bay long enough to find the antidote.
- We Are Everywhere: In "The Ten Percent Solution", MacGyver uncovers a massive Neo-Nazi conspiracy that has infiltrated a sizeable portion of America.
- We Help the Helpless
- When She Smiles: Penny Parker made her debut in an episode called... "Every Time She Smiles."
- When the Planets Align: "Lost Treasure Of Atlantis" features this. For some reason, the planets are visible, to the point where they would actually collide with each other.
- Whole Plot Reference: Several episodes are either rare examples of a Whole Plot Reference played entirely straight, or a cynical attempt to rip off the plot of a film most of MacGyver's audience wouldn't have seen — these include "Countdown" (Juggernaut), "Trumbo's World" (The Naked Jungle, which as noted above it even uses actual footage from), and "Kill Zone" (The Andromeda Strain).
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
- Mac is afraid of heights, more so in the early seasons than than the later ones.
- Murdoc himself was afraid of snakes, which became a problem when he and Mac were trapped in a snake pit during the Enemy Mine episode.
- Wig, Dress, Accent: Mac in his nerd alias of Dexter Filmore, which simply consists tying his mullet back, throwing on a jacket and some glasses and slightly changing his voice.
- The Wildcats: The Wildcats was the name of the Pee Wee Hockey League team MacGyver belonged to as a boy, as seen in the episode "Harry's Will".
- The Wild West: The two dream episodes set in the town of Serenity.
- Witness Protection: Mac helped get someone into witness protection. Two episodes deal with this character, "The Eraser" and "Back from the Dead".
- Writers Cannot Do Math: "Ugly Duckling" shows a pretty accurate example of how triangulation works, with one little problem: the two base points they were taking readings off of were so close together, and the two angles they found were so different, that the third point would have had to be so close they could already see it. To get useful triangulation readings, they would have had to be a significant distance further apart.
- You Look Familiar: Dana Elcar played a one-off character in the pilot before being cast as Pete Thornton in the ongoing series. Numerous other actors appeared in multiple roles over the course of seven years.
- Zorro Mark: In one episode Murdoc blowtorches "R.I.P. MacGyver" onto the wall of Mac's home.