TV Review: 'The Fugitive'
While it’s rarely a good idea to re-make an old TV show (anyone remember the 1980s’ New Leave It to Beaver?), the people behind the modernized version of The Fugitive have quite a few things going for them. First, there’s the fact that the original Fugitive, which ran from 1963 to ’67 and starred David Janssen as the doctor falsely accused of killing his wife, was constructed around one of the shrewdest concepts in television history, courtesy of series creator Roy Huggins and producer Quinn Martin. By having Dr. Richard Kimble scramble from town to town in search of the true killer, a one-armed man, even as Kimble is relentlessly hunted by police lieutenant Gerard, the show had the rare ability to change its scenery every week — new city, new job and identity for Kimble, plus endless opportunities to fold in interesting bit players and guest stars. (At one time or another, the original show featured everyone from Jack Klugman to Angie Dickinson to an ”Opie”-period Ron Howard.)
The new Fugitive, which stars Wings‘ Tim Daly as Kimble, also benefits, of course, from the 1993 hit Harrison Ford feature-film version of the show, since it introduced the Fugitive concept to a new generation. Then, too, the Daly version of The Fugitive is overseen by executive producer John McNamara, a guy whose two previous TV efforts — 1996’s Profit and 1998-9’s Vengeance Unlimited — were short-lived but imaginative, bursting the conventions of the hour-drama format, qualities much needed in that genre these days.
The result is that rather than being a rip-off, this Fugitive is a real grabber. Daly radiates the proper degree of wounded injustice without spilling over into crybaby territory; he has a lot of the same hurt in his eyes that made Janssen appealing to men (as a stoic hero) and women (as a sufferer with a melting gaze). It should also be noted that Daly’s ears are smaller and cuter than Janssen’s trademark jug handles.
While the Oct. 6 premiere episode set up the show’s familiar ”I didn’t kill my wife!” premise with vehemence, this week’s edition lets us see how inviting the show can be on a regular basis. Daly’s Kimble, desperate for money in Savannah, contacts his sister, played by Connie Britton, formerly of Spin City. She sends him some dough, but it’s stolen by a man whose wife suffers from Parkinson’s disease — he needs the cash to pay for her medication. Kimble becomes involved in their lives, trying to help them, even as Gerard (a fine, simmering Mykelti Williamson) gets closer to the now-distracted Kimble.
Producer-writer McNamara has retained certain elements of the old Fugitive that long-time fans will pick up on. Sometimes it’s a matter of format: McNamara divides each episode into four ”acts,” just as the old Huggins/Martin productions used to. These breaks — which are announced in title cards at the start of each segment — have the subtle effect of structuring the show like the mini-tragedy each episode becomes, for no matter how much good Kimble does as he rambles from town to town, no matter how many people he convinces he’s a ”good” man, he can’t escape his destiny — to be tracked down by Gerard, who’s as obsessed with Kimble’s guilt as Kimble is with proving his own innocence.
As you might expect, this Fugitive deploys modern technology to pursue Kimble — the Internet, cash-machine cameras, and even a Kimble cameo on America’s Most Wanted have figured in plotlines thus far — but it’s the chase that always provides the dramatic climax. And if The Fugitive has already used scenes of Daly leaping and hanging by his fingernails from some sort of precipice one too many times, the show still manages to generate lots of headlong suspense.
Back in 1964, MAD magazine in its prime did a fine Mort Drucker-drawn parody of the original, called ”The Phewgitive,” in which the episode was entitled ”Another Close Call — Or — Bet You’re Hoping He’ll Get Caught Already, Just for a Change!” ”The audience is now in the grip of unbearable suspense!” confides Kimble to the reader. ”Will I get caught? Will this be the first six-minute show in television history?” Those wacky MAD guys were, as always, on to a bit of truth: We know that Kimble can’t be caught — or himself catch the one-armed man — lest the series come to a screeching halt. But it’s a measure of how good the bedrock concept of The Fugitive is that you don’t think much about its implausibility while watching. Who among us hasn’t been accused of something — albeit on a much smaller scale, usually a sin of omission or commission — from which we wished we could escape? Therein lies our enduring identification with Dr. Richard Kimble. The longer he eludes the long arm of the law, the longer our own fantasies of escaping responsibility remain rosy possibilities. A-