“The Outsiders”: The Amish on MacGyver

MacGyver used to be one of my favorite television programs. If you don’t know the show, Angus MacGyver was the secret agent-science whiz famous for using his quick wits to escape precarious situations.

Each episode featured MacGyver working his wizardry to get out of yet another jam, using only his inventive powers and whatever resources were at hand.

As an operative for the fictional Phoenix Foundation, MacGyver was constantly thwarting bad guys and rescuing the good and innocent from harm.

Last week I was browsing through the Amazon Prime catalog when I came across the old show. I decided to watch a random episode to see how it held up nearly three decades later.

On a whim I chose Season 4, and scrolled down a few episodes. Episode #3, “The Outsiders“, immediately caught my eye with its description of an Amish plot. I was not expecting that.


As far as Amish on-screen depictions go, one of the best-known came in the 1980s with the hit feature film Witness.

And though “Amish TV” might seem like a modern-day phenomenon, the Amish were showing up on our small screens back then as well (another example: the short-lived NBC series Aaron’s Way).

Interestingly, the description of this particular Macgyver episode seemed to ring a bell:

After an Amish family nurses him back to health following a car accident, MacGyver helps them confront a construction crew about to bulldoze them off their land.

Hmmm. Sound familiar?

If you haven’t seen Witness, Harrison Ford’s police officer character John Book recuperates in a Lancaster Amish farmhouse after being wounded by bad guys. Later the bad guys come to the farm, pursuing the young Amish boy who’d witnessed a murder they’d committed.

Witness (1985) predates this MacGyver episode (1988) by a few years, though I’m sure the plot similarity is sheer coincidence 😉 .


You can watch the episode in its entirety below since CBS has uploaded it to YouTube. I’m not going to call it fantastic programming, but if you ever enjoyed MacGyver, or find Amish media depictions interesting, you might like this:

UPDATE – The full episode has been removed, but you can at least check out this clip, a fan-made trailer which gives you the gist of the episode:

A few observations:

  • The Amish approach to shunning as depicted here is…peculiar? Humorous? Simply cruel? Whatever it is they’re doing to him, I feel sorry for poor William.
  • MacGyver famously avoided using guns. The character’s Wikipedia entry describes him as “prefer[ring] non-violent resolutions”. Maybe MacGyver and the non-resistant Amish were birds of a feather all along? The two parties do come right together to peacefully resist the “evil” highway crew.
  • I don’t watch much television nowadays, but the medium, production-wise at least, has come a long way in 25 years.

By the way, MacGyver the program was about what I recalled it to be–though the opening theme certainly seems a lot more “80s” than I remembered.


Of course, when you were living in the 80s, nothing seemed “80s” about the 80s. You had to put some distance between you and the decade before “the 80s” fully took shape.

Anyone else remember MacGyver? Where else have the Amish shown up on TV?

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    1. :)

      I remember McGyver but I didnt watch TV then either… I rarely sit down to watch the tube..
      I loved the movie Witness.. It was one of my favorite movies for a long time.. I’ll have to get a copy & watch it again.. its been too long since I’ve seen it.. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder.

    2. Jessica M.

      I used to love MacGyver, but I don’t remember that episode at all. I will have to check it out.

      There is an Amish Murder, She Wrote episode. The plot is that Jessica Fletcher decides to go with her publisher to Amish country to buy a quilt. Their car gets run off the road by a high speed buggy. Jessica finds an Amish man to help pull their car out of the ditch, and discovers that her publisher was raised Amish and had been shunned by the community. While on a walk, Jessica finds an Amish man who had been murdered and she decides to solve the case. It’s not very authentic Amish, but I like the Amish culture so the bonnets and buggies are eye candy for me. 😉

      There is also a more recent episode of the 90s cartoon Arthur in which Buster the rabbit and his dad go visit Amish country. 🙂

    3. Mary Miller

      I also loved MacGyver! I will have to take the time soon to watch this episode. I don’t remember seeing it.

      1. I was surprised to see it, but then again given the popularity of Witness and interest in the Amish it makes sense.

        I believe that Jan Rubes, who played an older Amishman in Witness, is also the patriarch in this episode.

    4. Tina Kegley

      loved MacGyver!

      It was one of my favorite shows. No tv now- nothing worth watching. Haven’t seen Witness, will check it out. There is a movie of the Amish based on the true story of the slaughtering of the precious Amish children at their school. Can’t remember the name just now.

      1. Witness

        Witness does have some nudity and language as Ann notes below. It was well-reviewed and certainly financially successful. I met an Amishman in Lancaster once who’d seen the film, and I doubt he was the only one 🙂 .

      2. Marcus

        Yes, the movie you’re thinking about is titled “Amish Grace”, production year 2010. The movie is about the 2006 Nickel Mines tragedy with the Amish school shooting.


        God bless!
        Marcus, Sweden

    5. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      TV in the 80s and 90s

      I wasn’t a big fan of Angela Lansbury’s “Murder She Wrote” as a kid in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, but, there is always exceptions, one of them being the series’ Amish Episode. The one where she and the stern but reliable young publishing company employee assigned to escort her through rural Pennsylvania is involved in an accident involving an Amish buggy going a might too fast. Turns out, we eventually find, the young publishing company man is a shunned Amish and they are smack in his old backyard and amongst his family, friends and congregation. There is a murder and being a former Amish the young man is blamed, the police are called but they are incompetent (and the Amish are unwilling to co-operate and understandably are unwilling to bring murder and crime to their home), and the authoress must solve the case. She does, the banned man is proven innocent of the murder, and its hinted that his “crimes” against the community might easily be forgiven if he forgives himself, since the main instigator of the bann in this case was the heavy handed church elder who was the murder victim.
      It was certainly a different setting for an episode, certainly different than exotic places globally or within the USA (they even did a couple of Canadian episodes).
      I’m sure you can find it, somehow I think the episode was called “Murder, Plain and Simple” or something. Its funny because they even have the lead playing tourist while discovering the back story as to the motive for the crime.

    6. ann

      There was an ER episode with one of the plots being that a teenage couple was in the ER (following a car accident? Don’t remember) They say they have no phone etc to contact their parents…turns out they are Amish on Rumspringe.

      Later the parents come, in full black bonnets/shawls…

      (Don’t want to spoil too much of the plot)


      Not a TV show, but a made for TV movie in the 80s or 90s about an Amish community whose barns are getting burned down. Stars Patty Duke as Amish lady. A detective comes and lives with them to solve the mystery. Not bad, considering it was before the mainstream Amish boom came around. I think it’s on Youtube.


      I really like the plot of Witness but want to warn the conservatives- there is a nudity scene, and lots of bad language (mostly towards the end).


      I think I’d like to find that Murder she wrote!

      This was a fun one!

    7. Robin Wyatt


      I love tv always have. It is one of my escapes. MacGyver is on the cloo channel on Tuesdays I think. I still watch it. And for Murder She Wrote, it is on the Hallmark Channel in the Mornings. I dislike most reality shows. But still enjoy tv a lot.

      Robin Wyatt

    8. Sharyn

      Bones did an Amish themed episode ” The Plain In The Prodigy ” season 5 .

    9. carebear57


      I loved MacGyver! And I remember that episode very well. Another show that had an “Amish episode” was Judging Amy–the episode was called “Rumspringa.” Not very accurate, as I recall, but I did like the show a lot. I also remember the Patty Duke movie – “Harvest of Fire,” I think it was.

      1. Macgyver as a verb

        I think a lot of people remember MacGyver, he was really one of the 80s pop culture icons. “Macgyver” even became a verb due to his proficiency in always coming up with clever ways to get out of tough situations, as in “I macgyvered a new door handle with a pair of pliers after the other one broke”.

        Sometimes his solutions got a bit absurd…the character lent well to parody.

    10. Jennifer

      Not in Canada?

      Bummer, I can’t watch this video in Canada.

      1. Uh oh…don’t tell me MacGyver’s banned in Canada?! :O

        1. Jennifer

          No Amish, No Macgyver

          The youtube uploader has restricted the video in Canada. Too bad. I love Amish. I love Macgyver. A nice combo.

          Today I was thinking how nice it would be if 20-30 Amish families moved up into the valley where I live. Its a good climate for growing stuff. Please, Amish, come to Slocan Valley, BC:)

          Macgyver is welcome too.

    11. Emily

      What? MacGyver practically *was* Canadian! The mullet; the love of hockey; the hatred for handguns.

      In all seriousness, I love this show, and the episode where the viewer finds out why MacGyver doesn’t use handguns is just devastating. Excited to see this episode and relive my childhood.

      1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

        Richard Dean Anderson’s last major series was filmed almost exclusively in Canada (British Columbia) even though it is set in the USA. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his “Stargate SG-1” is credited as a huge lead in a big upswing in the Canadian film and television industry between lets say 1997 and the present.

        [the company that made SG1 and its spin off series is Canadian and seems to thrive up here]

    12. Dali Castillo

      MacGyver Memories

      Definitely remember MacGyver. It was one of the few shows I watched faithfully always in awe of how he could create something out of nothing and how he never used a gun. And who can’t remember his “cool factor.” Always cool and calm. I didn’t recall an episode with the Amish, though.
      Thanks for including the link to the episode, Erik! I’ll be watching it for sure.

      1. Even if you’re not a MacGyver enthusiast, it is a good fix of 80s nostalgia.

        Watching this also made me realize how used to HD screens I’ve gotten.

    13. W.K. Turner

      I think you are saying…..if you have seen this plot before it probably means you will see it again every other TV/Movie season for the rest of your life! I continue to be amazed that with over 200 channels on our cable, there is NOTHING to watch!

    14. Annmarie

      Thanks so much for posting link to episode. I am always looking for new things to watch in regards to the Amish. Ironically, I just added the Shunning(which I have watched numerous times) to my Netflix queue because I wanted to watch something”Amish”. I will enjoy this I am sure:)

    15. Alice Mary

      I watched MacGyver several times, but since I was “into” raising my son and daughter back then, I didn’t always catch “whole” episodes.

      But I did love the MacGyver take-offs on SNL, and some weren’t too long ago (though I rarely watch SNL now.) I think they called him “MacGruder” or something like that.

      I might go searching around for more Amish TV episodes from “way back when”—even beyond the ’80’s!

      A fun posting!

      Alice Mary

    16. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      Hehe MacGruder sounds like something out of The Simpsons, too.

      1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

        Erik and other macgyver fans, maybe you want to check out this site, this is apparently stuff made on the show, or in the style of:


    17. Char

      I just watched that McGyver episode over the weekend!
      There is also a Murder, She Wrote Amish episode.
      There is a short episode of Arthur [a children’s educational cartoon] that is Amish. It was in YouTube.
      Is there anywhere to watch Aaron’s way? i can’t find it in YouTube.
      Is it on DVD?

      1. I have not actually seen Aaron’s Way, just read about it. What I read did not suggest it was a great series, and I guess it only being on air for one season also might be a sign.

    18. A former "MacGyver" star lurks among us...

      I meant to share this sooner but have been dealing with an illness in the family and have gotten behind.

      After posting this MacGyver post Friday, I got an email from a regular reader–just a single line with an attached photo. The email subject: “Do I remember MacGyver?” The answer was in the photo.

      So what was the photo? A pay stub from 1987, with job description “GENERAL EXTRA”, for production “MACGYVER”. Yes folks, this reader who shall remain nameless (at least for now 😉 ) spent 10 hours one day in 1987 on set filming an episode of the show as an extra (including 2 hours overtime), the specifics of which are a bit foggy at this point.

      But the reader says that “You would have had to strain your eyes to see me” as he was walking away in the scene.

      1. Tom Geist

        Wow Erik! Neat! *smiles*

    19. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      That is kind of cool, Erik, thanks for sharing that tidbit from a reader!
      I was once a background actor in a made for TV movie and got to chat with the lead actor, a one time “action star”, at the craft services snack table, neat experience, I wonder if the reader met RDA.

      I hope everything is well in your family..

    20. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man


      I am having problems with the Food in Amish Country thread, I can get to the entry, but there are no comments and no comments section even thought it says that there is a certain number. The recent comment section even appears to be different. Is it just me or is anyone else experiencing this?

    21. Boy, you struck a nerve, Erik! I totally loved MacGuyver too–was in love with Richard Dean Anderson!–and watched every episode. I especially remember the one where we finally found out what his first name was, long after becoming convinced that he must not have one! And clearly he wasn’t happy about Angus. lol! For some reason I don’t remember the Amish episode at all. Must watch.

      A comment MacGuyver made in one episode, spoken to a fellow captive of the bad guys, is (approximately): “Ah, a new day full of possibilities.” I’ve always remembered it and try to keep that attitude myself. If all of us did, there’d be a lot fewer people suffering from depression.

    22. Susie Guille

      I love MacGyver, and the Amish episode has always been my favorite.

      Anyone know the season and episode of the Amish “Murder, She Wrote”? Thanks for noting the Bones episode. I am a little (lot) behind on the show.

      One more for the list is from the show Cold Case – S5E3 “Running Around”: The detectives reopen the 2006 case of a murdered Jane Doe when relatives and friends identify her as an Amish teenager who went missing in Philadelphia during her Rumspringa.

      1. Urs

        Hi Susie

        The Amish episode your looking for in “Murder, She Wrote” was “Murder, Plain and Simple” episode 20 in Season 7. I’ve watched it yesterday!

        I hope that helped!

    23. Jennifer

      The progression of ideas

      I definitely agree that the idea for “The Outsiders” on MacGyver came from the movie, “Witness.” And from the incident in 1987 where Jessica McClure Morales fell down the well. But what is also fun is that in 1996 a book, written by Penelope Williamson, was published entitled, “The Outsider.” In this book a ‘plain’ woman nurses a gunfighter back to health, etc., something like “Witness” but not entirely. The book is more similar to “Witness” than MacGyver, but the book itself was made into a movie starring Tim Daly and Naomi Watts, and I’m quite certain that the screenplay author for the movie, Jenny Wingfield, watched the MacGyver episode, “The Outsiders.” In the movie the hero faces off bad guys from the woman’s doorway, protecting her with his bravado, and then passes out as soon as the bad guys ride away. MacGyver basically does the same thing when facing down the excavation men—only he did it 13 years before the movie was made. BTW, it’s Richard Dean Anderson’s 71st birthday this Saturday. You go MacGyver!!