The titular protagonist and handyman, and an escape artist virtuoso by way of his MacGyverisms. He has confirmed backgrounds in military service, bomb disposal, covert ops and at the latest as a field agent for the Phoenix Foundation.
- '80s Hair: You'll be hard-pressed to find many other TV heroes that rock the mullet like MacGyver does.
- Adventures in Comaland: "Passages" saw Mac get taken down, and then he found himself on a cruise ship piloted by someone claiming to be Anubis, and he got to talk to his deceased parents and grandfather. "Good Knight, MacGyver" repeated this with an Arthurian twist, with the major characters played by familiar faces.
- Badass Bookworm: He regularly makes chumps out of anyone threatening him with guns, whether by improvised tactical distraction devices like a hot water bottle full of homemade CS or just plain decking them in the face with good old fists, or a metal rod with a map rolled around it for concealment.
- Berserk Button: He's really good at restraining his temper, but confirmed topics of strong dislike are all forms of crime like drugs, child abuse, firearms, senseless wars, anything paranormal (he doesn't show any outward religiosity for being a subscriber to a Darwin magazine). The one single moment in all 7 seasons where he almost lost it completely was when an anti-drug activist friend of his, Booker, was murdered by way of the "Columbian Necktie" and he came this close to killing the murderer, with a gun no less!
- Death by Origin Story: His parents and his grandparents were picked off one by one as he grew up. His mother went first from illness, then his grandmother and father went off the road and drowned in a lake. But saddest of all, his grandfather, the only one who survived to see him grow up, died in the present.
- Does Not Like Guns: A flashback reveals that Mac and his childhood friends were messing around with a handgun, but by some freak accident it went off and killed one of the kids. The man has since denounced all firearms and consistently refuses to use them for their intended purpose. They do frequently come in handy for his trademark solutions to problems though, usually by way of the gunpowder or some other lateral thinking.
- This was written in later, though, as the pilot episode showed Mac blatantly firing an AK on-screen. The decision was made to change this and explicitly make the character a gun-hating pacifist. One supposes there were just too many gun-toting heroes on TV at the time anyway, and this probably helped MacGyver stand out among them.
- Embarrassing First Name: So much that it took four seasons for The Reveal to happen, and was summarily lampshaded.
- Expansion Pack Past: He has done plenty of odd jobs in his life, not only his major jobs working for the DSX and Phoenix Foundation, but also could have had a career in ice hockey, race car driving and a dozen or so different scientific fields.
- MacGyvering: Trope namer. You name it, he'll build it out of the most unassuming everyday objects. The frame of a revolver makes a nice make-shift wrench, chocolate bars can plug acid leaks and slipping paper under a locked door before pushing out the key then pulling the paper back to retrieve the key, all marks of a genius who excels under pressure.
- Nature Hero: He's a highly skilled outdoorsman, capable of surviving anywhere in the wilderness with the least amount of modern help.
- Nice Guy: Chipper as a chipmunk, jokes and not lacking in charisma.
- Retcon: His original backstory was a bomb disposal technician in Vietnam. All references to his military service were gone by the second season, with a greater focus on his college career and past jobs and hobbies.
- Science Hero: Has an acute affinity for chemistry and physics, both of which he consistently puts to good use for every situation, from the mundane to the dangerous. He officially has several advanced degrees as well.
- Technical Pacifist: Under no circumstances will he take a life. Not even his worst enemies. One or two times it actually paid off as an accidental gambit (sparing a Soviet soldier ended up with him coming back and then deciding not to pursue MacGyver further during a botched recovery mission in Afghanistan). But he'll punch your lights out all the same if you present a threat to him and/or his friends.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: He's afraid of heights, suffering vertigo whenever he is in a precarious position. He regularly has to overcome it, as he is also an avid mountain climber.
Major supporting character and best friend of MacGyver, ex-member of the Department of External Security (DSX) and CEO of the corporate think-tank and white knight, the Phoenix Foundation. He regularly assigns MacGyver to many missions both in and out of the country as much as he frequently collaborates with his best friend for charitable causes.
- Actor Allusion: One episode involves Mac and Pete pulling off a big con in order to help a friend who was swindled. Elcar had a small but important role in The Sting.
- Ascended Extra: Pete showed up a few times late in the first season as a friend and colleague of Mac's. He was Promoted to Opening Credits in the second season and appeared in near every episode.
- Bald of Awesome: Does have a receding hairline, and in earlier appearances he wore a Dodgy Toupee, but eventually settled on just the occasional hat.
- Cool Old Guy: Is not as young as he would like, but is more than willing to jump in with the problem of the episode. But the lamenting of his age gets played for drama in one episode where he tries for recertification as a field operative.
- Honest Corporate Executive: One episode saw him get promoted to CEO of the Phoenix Foundation. While not above utilizing covert ops to achieve what needs be done, you can always depend on Mr. Thornton to do the right thing.
- Very Special Episode/Real Life Writes the Plot: A rare case where it's justified; an episode centering around Pete going blind was prompted by the actor himself going blind.
- You Look Familiar/Recast as a Regular: Elcar played a minor character in the pilot episode as an employee at the research facility that was bombed.
Recurring character as an old friend of MacGyver. He is always involved in a get-rich-quick scheme, often by taking on shady clients for his private airline Dalton Air. In between bankruptcy he takes on any job he can get, marketing himself as a "Jack of All Trades." His personality is a combination of scam artist, prankster and wacky best friend.
- Ace Pilot: He is not just a good pilot, but knows his plane forwards and backwards in order to play off cons.
- Anti-Hero: He's on Mac's side, despite being a con artist.
- New Job as the Plot Demands: He is always looking for a big payday, and will do almost any type of job to get it. In a smaller sense, a flashback episode has him running a cab.
- The Trickster: Loves playing pranks just for the surprise. His first episode he invites MacGyver to his plane hanger and pretends to fall from the rafters and freaks him out as his feet were securely tied into the ceiling by a rope.
World-class assassin, leading member of HIT (Homicide International Trust) and most recurring villain in the series in a total of 9 episodes. He has the uncanny ability to escape certain death, not unlike MacGyver.
- An Arm and a Leg: His second defeat, where he fell off a mountain, apparently cost him one of his legs, as when he inevitably reappears, one of the things that gives him away is the shambling and clanking noise of a metal left leg.
- Affably Evil: He's on less hostile terms with MacGyver during and after the incident with Homicide International Trust.
- Assassin: He became a career killer to survive after the sudden death of his parents. More specifically, a member of HIT - Homicide International Trust. That is, until they betray him. As for his sister, he shielded her from that life by going as far as to hide their family ties from her so that she grew up without knowing him. Unfortunately, HIT took her hostage, leading to his siege on the organization.
- Dark and Troubled Past: The loss of both parents drove him to the life he leads now.
- Enemy Mine: Had to persuade MacGyver to team up with him to rescue his sister, Ashton.
- Evil Is Hammy: Oh, boy, does this guy love to belt out his evil laughter and poetic quips.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Was disfigured in one episode by a fire. He's basically vowed revenge for it since. He eventually got himself a good plastic surgeon, though, removing his scars.
- Hitman with a Heart: Zig-Zagged. When Murdoc traps MacGyver in his own boathouse (with an ostentatious dinner and everything for "bait") he spared his target as his way of settling his debt to MacGyver for rescuing his sister (see above). He goes straight back to business as usual moments after.Murdoc: "Now I can hunt you with a clear conscience!"
- Joker Immunity: He always survives his defeats, no matter how ridiculous they are, from falling down mountains to blown up.
- Master of Disguise: His specialty. He even has his own speech synthesizer to lure his would-be victims into his trap. Taken to an art form in "Cleo Rocks".
- Never Found the Body: Every. Single. Time.
A beautiful, but silly lady Mac meets more than once. Her quirkiness often leads them both to trouble.
- '80s Hair: Big and bushy.
- Alliterative Name: Pleased to meet you, P.P.
- Brainless Beauty: Young and beautiful, but silly and leads to a lot of trouble.
- Captain Obvious: She tends to state what Mac is going to do, as if they weren't obvious enough already.
- Cute, but Cacophonic: An absolute knockout, but with a voice that would make one pine for fingernails on blackboard.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Has little grasp on how the world works.
- Establishing Character Moment: He first scene shows she isn't the sharpest tool in the box.Penny: (At a bulgarian airport) American? Oh it's so good to see another American in this place. They're all foreigners here.Mac: Foreigners?