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TV Review: 'Fugitive' promising, despite repeated course

Thursday, October 05, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Dr. Richard Kimble has already had a pretty good run, zipping from TV to the movies. Now he's taking off for a third time, running back to TV as "The Fugitive" finds himself on the loose again.

This latest incarnation of the story -- man is wrongly accused of killing his wife, escapes from police custody, gives chase to the one-armed man he thinks killed his wife while being pursued by an obsessed cop -- begs just one question: Why?

We've been there, watched that. Can a new "Fugitive" be entertaining in ways beyond what we saw in the David Janssen series (ABC, 1963-1967) or the Harrison Ford film (1993)?

My initial reaction to tomorrow night's CBS pilot was a distinct "no." But after watching the second episode, I'm rethinking that notion.

The premiere episode gets off to an action-packed, bang-up start, and it ends with an exciting high-rise cat and mouse game. It's just the boring 20 minutes in the middle that bog down "The Fugitive" like leg irons.

Chicago doctor Richard Kimble (Tim Daly with horribly mottled, vaguely blond hair in early scenes) finds his beloved wife (guest star Kelly Rutherford) murdered in their home, then catches one-armed man Fred Johnson (Stephen Lang) trying to get away.

A fight ensues, but later police can find no physical evidence -- hair, skin flakes -- that an intruder was ever in the Kimble home. This sets Lt. Philip Gerard on a quest to see Kimble convicted and sent to death row. That happens, but Gerard's day is ruined when Kimble escapes from a prison van during a spectacularly staged highway pile-up. The hunt is on.

"The Fugitive" pilot benefits from high production values and movie-quality action sequences (although there's a bit too much blood for my taste), but why should viewers care about Kimble's relationship with a woman whose life he saves when we know by the anthological nature of the show that she won't be back next week?

That's my biggest qualm with a revamp of "The Fugitive." Anthologies don't play today. Viewers want continuity and character development. That's why the series' second episode is so much better. It shows how executive producer John McNamara ("Profit," "Vengeance Unlimited") plans to add serial elements to the new "Fugitive."

Episode No. 2 introduces Kimble's sister and hints at a conspiracy involving the one-armed man. Structurally, it's also a more gripping episode that maintains the action scene quotient of the pilot as Kimble scrambles over a rising drawbridge. Even the guest characters whose lives Kimble stumbles into and out of within the hour are more interesting.

McNamara promises future episodes will explore the Gerard character and why he so fervently believes Kimble is guilty. There are hints at this in the second episode, but the character needs to become more multidimensional.

Daly, best known for his role on the sitcom "Wings," ably fills the role of the ultimate nice guy. Even when he has little money, Kimble shares some food with a stray dog. Awwww!

By adding a few more fluffy animals, "The Fugitive" may effectively compete with NBC's animal-filled "Providence." But to have a lasting prime-time run, "The Fugitive" must continue to add layers and depth to its slim cast of characters. With the second episode, it's on the right track.

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