MacGyver in popular culture

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MacGyver is an American television series that ran from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.


MacGyver employs his resourcefulness and his knowledge of chemistry, physics,[1] technology, and outdoorsmanship to resolve what are often life-or-death crises. He creates inventions from simple items to solve these problems. These inventions became synonymous with the character and were called MacGyverisms by fans.[2] MacGyver was unlike secret agents in other television series and films because, instead of relying on high-tech weapons and tools, he carried only a Swiss Army knife and duct tape.[1] This also led to the verb 'to MacGyver' or 'to MacGyver-ize' (the latter being introduced by Gregory Shockley in his training manuscripts published for the Boy Scouts of America). 'MacGyverism' was first used by Joanne Remmings (played by Pamela Bowen) in the third episode of Season 2. When MacGyver introduces himself to her, she uses the term in a manner that suggests other people had used it before:[3]

"Oh I've heard about you! You're the guy who does the whatchamacallits, you know, MacGyverisms; turns one thing into another?"

In the media[edit]

Parodies on the MacGyver character and references to the MacGyver name appear frequently in mainstream media, and in some instances, references or direct attempts at MacGyvering are done. A few of these references and appearances include:

  • The series is referenced in many episodes of The Simpsons, primarily detailing Marge Simpson's sisters Patty and Selma's obsession with the show and their crush on the titular character. The sisters' regular viewing of the show is an unalterable element of their daily schedule to the point of death as demonstrated in the episode "Black Widower." The episode featured a fictional scene of MacGyver where he downplays his role in saving a village ("Don't thank me. Thank the moon's gravitational pull").[4] In another episode, "A Star is Burns," Homer tricks Jay Sherman into insulting MacGyver in front of Patty and Selma; Sherman ends up being hung from the rain gutter by his underpants, and Bart asks "You badmouthed MacGyver, didn't you?"[5]
  • In the season one episode titled "Brian: Portrait of a Dog" from Family Guy, Peter writes a letter to Richard Dean Anderson asking him to save his dog using the enclosed items from the envelope: a rubber band, a paper clip and a straw. Anderson puts these together and hits himself in the eye with the rubber band.
  • The New Zealand sporting skit show Pulp Sport had a running gag called "McIvor" in which the MacGyver theme is played, and a prank involving Sky TV sports presenter Steven McIvor is played out. This gag, instead, now targets TV3 sports news presenter Hamish McKay (dubbed "McKay-ver").
  • G4 aired a small series of MacGyver parodies about a young corporate cubicle worker known as MacGunner. He would construct ridiculous items out of cubicle materials, such as several dozen markers hooked end to end in order to reach over to his arch-enemy's cubicle and type a scathing email to the boss.
  • In the bonus footage to Stargate SG-1, "Inside SG-1," a prank is played on Richard Dean Anderson where he is berated for not being able to figure out how to use "belt buckles, shoelaces, and a piece of gum" get them out of a situation despite having played MacGyver for 7 years.[6]
  • In the song The Million Dead by the British band of the same name MacGyver is killed after being mugged by a group of kids. Some MacGyverisms are also referenced but MacGyver is unable to help himself and dies as a result of the attack.
  • Ja Rule's song "How Many Wanna" from the soundtrack of the 1999 film Light It Up samples the MacGyver theme song. [8]
  • In the episode of A Gifted Man (2012) entitled "In Case Of Letting Go", Dr. Zeke Barnes explains that he can "MacGyver" a splint for a friend's broken hand using duct tape and a plastic knife.
  • Author George R. Khouri has made references to MacGyver in at least two of his short stories. In "Back Home to Slavery," Tim Sternblat "MacGyvered the Deplanetizer in place using duct tape." In "Out of the Blue," "Frustrated with the humans' lack of mental capability, the Pretties made quick MacGyver-style fixes that allowed the weapons to be fired by the press of a button."
  • The XKCD webcomic #444 from August 2, 2008, "Macgyver Gets Lazy", portrays MacGyver providing an elaborate, MacGyver-like explanation for the act of simply shooting a guard with a handgun.[9]
  • In the movie Half-Baked, they describe a type of pothead called a "MacGyver smoker", who can make a bong out of an avocado, ice-pick, and a snorkel.
  • Japanese pro wrestler Yuji Yasuraoka used the MacGyver theme song as his entrance theme.
  • The Lego character of Jack Stone has similarities to MacGyver, as he uses inspiration to turn ordinary vehicles and objects into new things in order to solve solutions. Plus, his face has few identical features to MacGyver's face.
  • In the "Star Trek: Enterprise" season four episode "Observer Effect", Ensign Hoshi Sato confides in Lieutenant Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III that she has always envied his ability to fix a warp engine with duct tape and a pocket knife.

Saturday Night Live parody - MacGruber[edit]

Main article: MacGruber

In 2007, the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Live featured a parody of MacGyver called "MacGruber" with Will Forte as the title character. The intros for these skits featured scenes from the MacGyver series. MacGruber and cohorts are always locked in a control room of some type with a bomb set to go off in 15-20 seconds. MacGruber has his costars hand him components to defuse the device, but something inevitably gets in the way (either situational, because MacGruber himself interferes, or because no one wants to touch what he has asked for) and the bomb detonates.

In one episode where Richard Dean Anderson guest starred, it was revealed that MacGruber is actually MacGyver's son.


In February 2008, the popular science show Mythbusters featured a MacGyver special which tested several of MacGyver's tactics. The first test examined MacGyver's famous cold capsule bomb, which utilized the explosive reaction of alkali metals with water. Supposedly, dropping 1 gram of sodium metal into water will cause an explosive reaction powerful enough to blow a hole through a cinderblock wall. However, despite using 100 grams of sodium metal, the wall remained completely intact.

However, some of MacGyver's tactics were confirmed. The Mythbusters were able to pick a lock using the filament of an incandescent lightbulb, although it took the Mythbusters considerably longer to do than it took MacGyver (50 minutes as opposed to 56 seconds). Another "confirmed" MacGyver tactic was building an electromagnet using ordinary household batteries, tape and insulated wire (the insulated rubber surrounding the wire was removed with a cheese grater.)

It was also implied, although it was not successfully tested, that it is possible to develop a roll of film using orange juice as an acid and ammonia as an alkaline fixer while holding a garbage bag over the setup to create a darkroom. Another implied, but not tested, tactic was creating a potato cannon using hairspray as a fuel, a camp stove as the ignition, and PVC pipe as the mortar.

Also, in Episode 15, in July 2004, a portion of the episode titled "Car Capers" featured the Mythbusters testing if an egg placed into a radiator of a car would subsequently cook and plug holes in said radiator. This was featured in an episode of MacGyver titled "Bushmaster", and was originally an idea sent in by a fan. The myth was deemed plausible by MacGyver and Mythbusters alike.

Grant Imahara humorously referred to MacGyver as 'the second greatest TV series of all time' in the 2006 season MythBusters episode 'Crimes and Myth-Demeanors 1'.


  1. ^ a b Britton, Wesley, Spy Television, Praeger/Greenwood, ISBN 0-275-98163-0, p. 212.
  2. ^ Rich, John, 2006, Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir, ISBN 0-472-11578-2, p. 167.
  3. ^ Season 2, Episode 3 - "Twice Strung". Her phrasing suggests it's a popular term to those who know of MacGyver's track record, although MacGyver himself was unaware of the term.
  4. ^ "Black Widower". The Simpsons. Season 3. Episode 21. 1992-04-09. 
  5. ^ "A Star Is Burns". The Simpsons. Season 6. Episode 18. 1995-03-05. 
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