Crime makes a TV comeback

Two 1980s series - MacGyver and Lethal Weapon - join the slew of remakes Hollywood is cranking out this year

Clayne Crawford (top) as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon and Lucas Till (above) as MacGyver.
Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs in Lethal WeaponPHOTOS: WARNER TV, CBS
Clayne Crawford (top) as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon and Lucas Till (above) as MacGyver.
Lucas Till as MacGyver.PHOTOS: WARNER TV, CBS

Debuting this week are two crime series attempting to revive hits from the 1980s: MacGyver, a remake of the iconic television show starring Richard Dean Anderson; and Lethal Weapon, a new take on the buddy-cop movies of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

They join the already-crowded bandwagon of reboots and remakes Hollywood is cranking out this year, with several more to hit TV screens in the coming months - including new versions of Gilmore Girls, The Exorcist, Westworld and Prison Break.

While reboots may be easier to market because of their ready-made fanbases, the directors recruited to helm the pilot episodes of MacGyver and Lethal Weapon admit that the original stars of these properties left big shoes to fill.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, James Wan, who directed The Conjuring movies (2013-2016), says of MacGyver: "Going into it, one of the hardest things was just knowing that we were under the shadow of Richard Dean Anderson."

In a separate press conference, McG, director of Terminator Salvation (2009), says the same of helming the new Lethal Weapon. "We're dealing with that gigantic shadow of Mel Gibson and, obviously, Danny Glover."

Wan admits he and the producers had trouble casting the titular character given the pop-culture icon he had become.

There was a protracted audition process where "we looked at so many people and it was like, 'This guy's not cool', or 'This guy is too pretty.'"

Finally, they picked Lucas Till, 26, to be the secret agent and improviser extraordinaire.

Wan says: "There was that certain something Lucas brought to the table. He embodied what we felt today's version of MacGyver would be or should be - charming and charismatic and just sort of carefree."

With the emphasis being on contemporising the character, a balance had to be struck between acknowledging the modern world and keeping true to MacGyver's signature low-tech problem-solving.

Till, who played the mutant superhero Havok in the last three X-Men films (2011-2016), says: "You have to address the fact that we do live in the 21st century and there's a lot of technology around.

"But we have a character for that - Tristin Mays, who plays Riley, does a lot of tech stuff. Which compartmentalises all of that and leaves me able to do stuff that is still low-tech."

He says that the point is not to make "MacGyver: Cyber", referring to CSI: Cyber, the popular procedural's spin-off dealing with computer crimes.

Wan, 39, agrees. "There is a great line in the pilot where MacGyver talks to a hacker and says, 'You know how you hack computers? Well, I hack everything else.' So that kind of sums up the spirit of this."

Nevertheless he promises that MacGyver will pay homage to the original 1985 to 1992 series in spirit and with small Easter egg-type references, including the hero's ever- present Swiss army knife.

Till's co-star, George Eads, best known for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-2015), points out that the younger actor's take on the role is a lot more physical too.

"It's not a criticism, but I never saw the original MacGyver running like this guy runs. He's like a deer. There's a lot of action and I think his stuntman is the highest-paid stuntman that doesn't do much - (Till) won't let him in there," says Eads, 49.

Yet, some things cannot be changed too much before the role becomes something altogether different.

Wan says: "Keep in mind that when MacGyver hits someone, his hand hurts - because he's not Jason Bourne or James Bond. So, we've kept the spirit of this guy who is physical, but not necessarily the best fighter."

The creators of Lethal Weapon, meanwhile, opted for a shift in tone to make their reboot more character-driven and less action-oriented than the original, four high-octane screwball buddy-cop movies starring Gibson and Glover (1987-1998).

Executive producer Matt Miller says the backstories of Martin Riggs, played in this version by Clayne Crawford, and Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), have been tweaked to make the story much darker, partly because he and the other creators knew there was no replicating the chemistry of the original stars.

"In order to do something that had legs, you have to have some depth," says Miller. "So we rebooted the story with their backstories. It's really about two guys who are broken and need each other."

But while the character Riggs also suffers a personal tragedy just like he does in the films, Crawford, 38, best known for the series, Rectify (2013-2015), says he will not be portraying him with a hint of insanity as Gibson did.

"In the films, I believe the character was doing cocaine, which jacked things up a bit. This is (the TV network) Fox. It's family hour and there's no cocaine," he quips.

"I was playing more to the sadness (of the character), to ground him in an honest place. What Mel Gibson did was so incredible in 1987, but I think that character has to be more grounded today."

• MacGvyer, which debuts today, airs on AXN (StarHub TV Channel 511, Singtel TV Channel 304) on Saturdays at 8.55pm.

• Lethal Weapon airs on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515, Singtel TV Channel 306) on Thursdays at 9.50pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Crime makes a TV comeback'. Print Edition | Subscribe