Thursday, February 21, 2008

There actually was good TV once! The Fugitive, Season One Volume Two. Out this coming Tuesday. (********8/10)

I have requested a few TV DVDs from Paramount, because I know very little about TV before I was born. I could name actors, directors, screenwriters and cinematographers on movies from before when my father was born, but as far as TV goes, I barely know a single thing before 1995. So when Doc talks about the TV shows of his youth, I am usually in the dark. So to that end, I ordered The Love Boat Season One Volume One and The Fugitive Season One Volume Two. Now, I have yet to get to The Love Boat, mostly because Doc has told me how terrible it was and I need to steel myself for the viewing experience. Or, break it out some night when a bunch of us have beer in us and are in the mood for something truly awful. But I watched the first episode of The Fugitive, and I was hooked. Each episode of this old 60s TV show is like a mini - B-film noir from the same era. And I love the B-movie film noir of the 60s. Not only that, but the acting and the stories are actually good!

David Janssen stars as The Fugitive, a role we now associate almost exclusively with Harrison Ford. Janssen was, like Harrison Ford I guess, handsome in his time. I figured that out because in several episodes, women fall for his charms without hearing him speak. And Janssen barely speaks in any of these episodes. He's like the Clint Eastwood western prototype hero, the one whose actions speak louder than his words and who needs very little dialogue to make himself understood. Of course, he also likes to keep a low profile, so it's understandable that he would speak little, in order to not be noticed. Of course, he is on the run from the law because he is convicted of murder, a crime for which he is not guilty. We all know about the one-armed man who killed his wife, and the subsequent escape during a train derailment. Mostly, again, because of the Harrison Ford movie. Janssen was a serviceable actor, and the guests on each episode are quite good as well.

Some major stars appear here, including (I am positive it's him, although he was unbilled and I can't find anything about it on Google) Jason Robards, who later did a wonderful star turn in the brilliant film Once Upon A Time In The West, and then received three Oscar nominations. (Winning for his supporting role in All The President's Men.) So the basic premise of the show is that Richard Kimble wanders around the land, staying one step ahead of the law, helping people and getting into adventures. Like Kane in Kung-Fu. Or like MacGyver. Or the A-Team. Or any number of other shows about peripatetic drifters who are somehow just better than other men. However, The Fugitive stands apart from all these other shows on the strength of it's writing. Every show is different. They don't all involve damsels in distress, often the guy you think is innocent turns out to be guilty, and the outcome is not always satisfactory. Unlike Kane, there are guys who may well be able to beat Kimble up. Unlike MacGyver, Kimble will use a gun when he has to. Unlike the A-Team, when guns fire bullets, they often hit people. Some of the episodes of The Fugitive are throw-away episodes, like bad Roy Rogers moments, but most of them are excellent.

Only now, after a long and painful run of sit-coms and Melrose Places and A-Teams, are shows actually becoming dark and well-written again. Thanks to The Sopranos, we now get shows like Dexter and The Wire and Californication, all of which are smart and interesting and, definitely, dark. Apparently those shows existed before, and one of them was The Fugitive. Paramount releases Season One, Volume Two this coming Tuesday.

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