Join Us / Login

MacGyver 2016: Representation Matters

Shannen Murphy Shannen Murphy
Expert Contributor
January 9th, 2017

I'm a writer and blogger who's been focused on analyzing representation of LGBT and disabled folks in superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy media since 2014.

MacGyver 2016: Representation Matters

Disability and LGBT correspondent Shannen Murphy discusses the 2016 reboot of the 90s classic TV show MacGyver, and how the new show successfully orients itself straight at their demographic: young people who care about media representation.  They also talk about what the show can do to become even better in that regard.

So, the 00’s and 10’s have been defined by reboots, sequels, and adaptations, at least on TV and in the theatres.  Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Men‘s soft timeline reboot, Daredevil, Spider-Man — every time you turn around, some established property is trying to make a comeback, or maintain hold on a genre.

So it seems reasonable, then, that MacGyver should get in on the action.


For those not in the know: MacGyver was a TV show from the 90s starring Richard Dean Anderson.  You’ve probably heard someone use the name as a verb when fixing something with something that you don’t usually use to fix things; culturally, Mac has left a legacy, if not a particularly dedicated fanbase.

So, CBS decided to reboot the franchise, casting Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class, Monster Trucks, Wolves) as a younger, sexier Angus MacGyver, who goes by Mac.

This new MacGyver, I feel, is laser targeted at me as a viewer: it’s action-packed, sort of cerebral, emotionally honest, and best of all, it’s the kind of show that has the same ideals in terms of what TV could be as I do.

To start with, let’s talk about everything the show does right.

Subverting the Norms:

The first thing I have to say: this show is unusual.  In a genre that’s historically way white and way male, MacGyver chooses to subvert those sorts of expectations at pretty much every turn.

This starts with the casting.  There are as many recurring women of color as there are recurring white guys, which is something that I’ve never seen before.  Additionally, in most one-off roles where you’d expect a white guy — corporate criminals, Army officers, bomb technicians — they’re not there.

Story continues below

The show literally defaults to casting POC, and it’s amazing.

Additionally, the show chooses to kick toxic masculinity in the groin.  Within the first 11 episodes, MacGyver cries twice, most of the emotional labor in the show is performed by Jack Dalton, another white guy, and Bozer, Mac’s best friend, is about as emotionally expressive as they come.

I want to talk a little more about the emotional labor thing I mentioned.  Jack is the oldest member of the team, besides possibly the team’s boss, Patricia Thornton.  He’s funny, flirty, and basically cuts the figure of someone who, in his younger years, would have been the stereotypical action hero.

But he’s the one who comforts Thornton when Thornton loses an agent and blames herself for it.  He’s the one who, when Mac is struggling to deal with his evil ex-girlfriend’s betrayal and disappearance, both supports him emotionally and also reminds him that she’s not Mac’s problem anymore, on a number of occasions.  He also, generally, does all of the emotional labor a love interest would do for Mac, because Mac doesn’t have a female love interest at this juncture.

I love that subversion of expectation, but another one that I love even more is the way the emotional journeys and struggles of characters of color are centered just as much, or even more than, the white characters.

Riley Davis, the hacker on the team, gets to talk about her time in prison with honest frankness, and we know that she suffered.  Thornton, we find, is painfully affected by every agent she loses, and she personally goes out and seeks justice for one in one episode.  Bozer gets to learn that everyone close to him has been lying about what they do for a living for basically the whole time, and struggling to accept that makes up the emotional bulk of one episode.  Finally, in the midseason finale, we see the lengths that Riley is willing to go to to protect her mom.

I really appreciate the way that this show handles relationships in general, actually.  Mac doesn’t hesitate in his narration to use the world ‘love’ in reference to his friends, in specific Jack, during times of stress.  It’s another way the show doesn’t truck with toxic masculinity.

Another way it does this is that it actually addresses the consequences of commitment issues — Jack used to date Riley’s mom, but broke up with her and vanished.  He said it was because Riley was angry at him for fighting her abusive father.  But we come to find out that that was an excuse: he was becoming a father figure to Riley, and it scared him how much he cared about her in that respect.  Riley and Jack actually hash out this lingering emotional scar during the midseason finale, and it’s incredibly compelling television.

Overall, I really appreciate the way the show handles emotional trauma.  Like I said before, it honestly deals with Riley’s response to her time in prison, with Mac’s response to his ex’s betrayal, and with the tense dynamic between Jack and Riley because of their shared past.

Finally, something I deeply appreciate is how the show never veers into gross territory in situations where the easy thing, the lazy writing, would be to do so.  In an episode where Mac infiltrates an ‘inescapable’ prison, for example, I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for what I was afraid would be an inevitable ‘prison b—h’ joke.  It never came.

Story continues below

That’s the most obvious example of that, but there are others: Jack is very flirtatious and talks a big game about dating around a lot, but he never seems gross or creepy about it.

Anyway, this is why I freaking love MacGyver.  That said, no show is perfect, and I have a few suggestions for stuff I feel it would be easy for the show to add to make it even better.

My MacGyver Wish List, Essentially:

There are two things that MacGyver is really missing, for me, and the first of these is LGBT representation.  As a queer person, seeing LGBT rep on my favourite TV show would be a blessing — especially given that it’s a show I watch together with my partner, and she loves it for what we see as potential subtext in how we could get LGBT representation, if the writers and producers so choose.

Specifically, I would really like to see Jack Dalton be bisexual.  Jack is a Texan ex-CIA agent who listens to country music, and his role on the team is to drive cars, shoot things, and make sure Mac doesn’t get himself killed.  He flirts a lot, like I’ve said before, and he drinks beer, and Mac got him a Dallas Cowboys snuggie for Christmas this year.

It would play against the traditional ‘type’ to have him be bi.  But it would work.  It would be easy enough to work in, too: we’ve already met two of Jack’s exes, and he seems to have a lot of them.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal if another one of his exes appeared in the show, and that ex was a man, and nobody made a big deal about it because everyone he’s friends with already knew he was bi.  It would just be normal.

I would also love to see Thornton be revealed to be a lesbian, just because I get a vibe that she has a wife stashed away somewhere, and again, there’s no reason not to do it.

Finally, in the LGBT representation vein, if they could manage it, I really believe they’ve laid excellent groundwork for an endgame Mac/Jack romantic pairing.

They have scenes that narratively mirror Riley and Bozer’s — and Riley and Bozer are presently the major romantic subplot of the show.  Again, Jack does all the love interest emotional labor for Mac.  He actually points out to Mac during one episode that one of the reasons his own relationships have failed is because he’s had to lie about where he works to keep those people safe.  The implication there is that no one on the team can really have a lasting relationship with someone who isn’t in on what the Phoenix Foundation does, which, you know, kind of cuts down the dating pool to about 6.5.

Jack’s commitment issues, too, could prove to create compelling drama.  He’s clearly committed to Mac, though, saying at one point when Mac is in clear and present danger, and Jack wants him to stay behind in their secure headquarters:

“I can’t do my thing if I’m worried about losin’ you every minute.  The last thing I need is your death on my conscience.  That’d kill me.  Don’t do that to me.”

Despite this, I feel like a change in the technical nature of their relationship would freak Jack out a little, since neither of them has had great relationship experiences up til now, and I get the feeling that losing Mac to a breakup would be almost as hard for Jack as actually losing Mac.

I totally get it if the studio is nervous about taking this route, but I honestly think it would be the most compelling direction to take their relationship, and it would definitely play against the genre conventions present in action spy thrillers.

Moving on to disability representation.  As a disabled person in a relationship with another disabled person, disability is something I think about pretty often, and something I definitely don’t see enough of in media.

But there is one very easy way that MacGyver could make a huge difference, both for me and for a lot of people:

Make Mac explicitly autistic.  All the symptoms are there, and I would know — 80% of my social circle is autistic, and I’m undiagnosed but show most of the symptoms myself.

His special interests — something that an autistic person is really, almost obsessively interested in — would be science, engineering, and bombs.  He has trouble dealing with people he doesn’t know if he doesn’t have a script or a story for the situation, and he can’t fall back on talking about his special interests.  Also, nuances and grey areas, especially morally, are really hard for him to navigate in regards to his own behavior and the behavior of people he loves.

Finally, that thing he does with the paperclips?  Totally a stim.  A stim is any repetitive movement or action that is engaged in to calm someone down or let them focus.

For example, one of my stims is that when I’m standing still or waiting for something, I tend to rock back and forth.  Not a lot, just sort of swaying on my feel, like the idle animation for a video game character.  Another one is always needing to be doing something with my hands if my brain is engaged elsewhere, which is sort of what I think Mac does with the paperclips.

There’s also an episode where, when Mac visits his hometown, he meets a little girl who reacts to science and engineering the same way he does.  They get into a back and forth conversation that gets rid of Mac’s nervousness in dealing with talking to children — that’s something that I can viscerally relate to.  If I get to talk about my special interests (usually, media representation and/or superheroes) in a potentially stressful situation, I immediately start to calm down.

At the end of that episode, Mac brings the little girl, Valerie, to his old tree house from when he was a kid, bequeathing it to her, and he tells her,

“Someday you’ll understand why you think the way you do.”

That line hit me like a ton of bricks.  As someone who’s not diagnosed autistic but for whom learning about the symptoms was learning how to understand why I think the way I do, that was a massive implication that my interpretation of MacGyver is right, or at the very least, intentionally implicit in the text.

And if they take that implication and make it explicit to the show, that would be a huge deal.

Because Mac’s the protagonist of the show.  He’s the title character.  And more than that, he’s attractive, likable, compassionate, and has friends who he cares about deeply and whom care about him just as deeply.

I can’t think of a single canonically autistic character on TV who is represented this way.

Generally speaking, the narrative for autistic, or autistic-coded characters in pop media is that they’re really smart, socially incompetent, and sometimes nonverbal.  Some of them are outright a—-les, like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.

Seeing a happy, heroic, successful, socially stable autistic protagonist would mean literally everything to me and to my circle of friends.

It would be a recognition that we’re more than a stereotype.  It would fly in the face of the assumptions people make about us based on that stereotype.  And it might just be the way some autistic kid figures out why they think the way they do.

And I can say from experience, that that is life-changing.


Okay, so, to recap, because this article is longer than anticipated: I freaking love MacGyver.  It’s laser-focused on everything I love to see in action TV, basically.  It represents people and emotions in an honest, understanding way that I don’t get to see very often, and its commitment to inclusiveness and diversity is clear not just from the show itself, but from the ways the writers engage on social media.

That said, if the show stays the course and keeps adding to its commitment to diversity, it has the potential to become something truly important and completely amazing.

I hope it does.  I really do.

airs on CBS at 8pm on Fridays, and returned from hiatus on 1/6/2017


Shannen Murphy is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow them on Twitter: @_murphyleigh

(Visited 249 times, 1 visits today)


  1. visit site says:

    I just want to mention I’m beginner to blogging and site-building and seriously liked you’re blog. Almost certainly I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You certainly come with remarkable article content. Cheers for revealing your web site.

  2. I just want to mention I’m new to weblog and seriously loved your page. More than likely I’m planning to bookmark your site . You definitely have impressive writings. Thanks a lot for sharing your web site.

  3. The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.

  4. May possibly not seem to be much if you aren’t in the situation that we are. Your thinking is vital in aiding me with my study. Having more writers be part of the discussion is usually a positive thing.

  5. It¡¦s really a nice and helpful piece of info. I¡¦m satisfied that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Arts & Dance says:

    Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem with your site in web explorer, would check this¡K IE still is the market chief and a big portion of people will leave out your excellent writing due to this problem.

  7. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with valuable info to work on. You have done a formidable job and our whole community will be grateful to you.

  8. It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read even more things about it!

  9. Business says:

    certainly like your website however you have to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the reality then again I¡¦ll definitely come back again.

  10. Business says:

    I have recently started a blog, the information you provide on this website has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  11. Automotive says:

    Good website! I really love how it is easy on my eyes and the data are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a great day!

  12. Technology says:

    Hey, you used to write great, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your tremendous writings. Past several posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!

  13. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is magnificent, as well as the content!

  14. Pets says:

    Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, as well as the content!

  15. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

  16. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I am quite certain I will learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

  17. Just wanna state that this is extremely helpful, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

  18. It happens to be proper opportunity to have some preparations for the extended term. I have read this blog post and if I can, I desire to encourage you very few great recommendations.

  19. Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an email if interested. Thanks!

  20. Law & Legal says:

    Thanks for sharing excellent informations. Your site is very cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this site. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this website page, will come back for extra articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found simply the info I already searched all over the place and just could not come across. What a perfect site.

  21. Law & Legal says:

    I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike.

  22. As the admin of this web page is working, no uncertainty very soon it will be renowned, due to its feature contents.

  23. Education says:

    Definitely, what a magnificent site and illuminating posts, I definitely will bookmark your site.All the Best!

  24. Education says:

    Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is wonderful, let alone the content!

  25. First of all I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Kudos!

  26. Family says:

    Thanks for sharing superb informations. Your web-site is so cool. I am impressed by the details that you have on this blog. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this website page, will come back for more articles. You, my pal, ROCK! I found just the info I already searched everywhere and just couldn’t come across. What a perfect web site.

  27. is a online divorce resource for divorce attorney, attornies and lawyers. You will find the best divorce information online. Divorce Mind will make your divorce or separation a quick, convenient and private.

  28. Woman says:

    I’ve recently started a website, the information you offer on this site has helped me greatly. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  29. Donate Car says:

    I gotta favorite this internet site it seems invaluable handy

  30. Automotive says:

    Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was looking for! “You have to be deviant if you’re going to do anything new.” by David Lee.

  31. is a site with many hypnosis downloads. Whether you are looking for free hypnosis downloads, self hypnosis download for mp3, video and any audio files, Michael Jemery has the downloads for you. You can download hypnosis from apps, audio, mp3 and even youtube !

  32. is one of the leading crematorium services in the Sacramento area. Feel free to contact us regarding any questions on Sacramento Cremation Services or concerns you might have. Our staff will respond to you as soon as possible.

  33. This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like ‘Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of “neighbors” will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune “Social” is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

  34. is a online divorce resource for divorce attorney, attornies and lawyers. You will find the best divorce information online. Divorce Mind will make your divorce or separation a quick, convenient and private.

  35. Emery EPS says:

    Emeryeps is a SEO(Search Engine optimzation) and Internet Marketing company. They help businesses to get traffic from various search engine and online community. They have seo experts and consultants with many years of SEO Experiences. No matter where your business is located, can help your business to secure your highly convertible leads online.

  36. This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like ‘Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of “neighbors” will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune “Social” is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

  37. Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

  38. Profile says:

    It really is mostly unthinkable to see well-educated men and women on this subject, still you look like you comprehend the things you’re preaching about! Gratitude

  39. I just hope to reveal to you that I am new to blogging and totally adored your website. Likely I am most likely to bookmark your blog post . You really have fabulous article material. Be Thankful For it for sharing with us all of your site webpage

  40. Unbelievably stimulating information you’ll have mentioned, thank you so much for setting up.

  41. This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  42. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  43. Dwain Jerich says:

    “Great Blogpost! Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will_ be waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.”

  44. “Great Blogpost! Hello Admin! Thanks for this article, very good information, I will be_ forwarding this to some friends, if you’re ok with that. Greetings from Germany!”

  45. I¡¦ve been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or blog posts in this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this website. Studying this information So i¡¦m satisfied to express that I’ve a very excellent uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed. I most no doubt will make certain to do not overlook this website and give it a glance regularly.

  46. I am only commenting to let you know of the superb encounter my daughter enjoyed going through your webblog. She even learned many details, with the inclusion of what it is like to possess a marvelous teaching style to get other people with no trouble gain knowledge of specific advanced subject areas. You actually exceeded our own desires. Thank you for giving such valuable, trusted, revealing and also easy tips about your topic to Sandra.

  47. Zune and iPod: Most people compare the Zune to the Touch, but after seeing how slim and surprisingly small and light it is, I consider it to be a rather unique hybrid that combines qualities of both the Touch and the Nano. It’s very colorful and lovely OLED screen is slightly smaller than the touch screen, but the player itself feels quite a bit smaller and lighter. It weighs about 2/3 as much, and is noticeably smaller in width and height, while being just a hair thicker.

  48. Chin says:

    Hi! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thank you

  49. Education says:

    I have read several excellent stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much attempt you place to create this kind of fantastic informative site.

  50. Hey very nice site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Wonderful .. I will bookmark your site and take the feeds also¡KI am satisfied to search out so many helpful information here within the submit, we’d like develop more strategies in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  51. Dog says:

    I haven¡¦t checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are good quality so I guess I¡¦ll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  52. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our entire community will be grateful to you.

  53. Business says:

    Awsome website! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am taking your feeds also

  54. Woman says:

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

  55. You completed a number of nice points there. I did a search on the subject matter and found most persons will have the same opinion with your blog.

  56. Technology says:

    Thanks , I’ve recently been looking for info about this subject for a long time and yours is the best I’ve found out till now. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you positive about the supply?

  57. Automotive says:

    Hello. remarkable job. I did not anticipate this. This is a fantastic story. Thanks!

  58. Technology says:

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful information specially the last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was seeking this certain info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  59. I was just searching for this information for some time. After six hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your site. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative websites in top of the list. Normally the top web sites are full of garbage.

  60. “Great Blogpost! Hello mates, nice post and good arguments commented here, I am in fact_ enjoying by these.”

  61. Havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of copyright violation? My website has lots of unique material I’ve authored myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help protect against content from being stolen? I’d truly appreciate it.

  62. Business says:

    I have been checking out a few of your articles and i can state pretty good stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your site.

  63. Real Estate says:

    Great remarkable issues here. I am very satisfied to see your post. Thanks so much and i’m looking ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  64. Technology says:

    Hello.This article was really interesting, particularly since I was searching for thoughts on this matter last week.

  65. I really enjoy examining on this website , it has great blog posts. “Dream no small dreams. They have no power to stir the souls of men.” by Victor Hugo.

  66. Stacy says:

    I do trust all the concepts you have presented for your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for starters. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

  67. Merlin says:

    It’s best to participate in a contest for among the finest blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

  68. I love it when people come together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!

ComiConverse with us...

Yes No