'Fugitive' hits ground running

by Steve Kantor | 10/11/00 5:00am

"It was the one-armed man."

Everyone who saw the 1993 movie "The Fugitive" remembers these words, and so do the few people who didn't. These six words of now-clich dialogue have joined such phrases as "Luke, I am your father" and "Run, Forrest, run!" in the pantheon of instantly recognizable -- and often overused -- movie lines.

With that one extremely memorable line, "The Fugitive" became an unforgettable part of '90s entertainment. And now, CBS wants to take "The Fugitive" a step further. Or, to be more accurate, a step backward.

CBS has taken a big risk with this season's highly anticipated Friday night thriller, "The Fugitive." It may seem as if the network is attempting a big-budget rehash of the 1963-1967 television series, while capitalizing off of the highly successful and applauded 1993 movie that starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, and this is most probably true. "The Fugitive" has a built-in audience -- those who saw the film and liked it, which makes just about everybody. The show then faces a difficult challenge: can it live up to the standard set by its big-screen counterpart?

The answer is as yet unclear. The basic premise of the show is the same as that of the movie. Dr. Richard Kimble, played on TV by Tim Daly, is falsely accused and convicted of the murder of his wife. In a stroke of fortune, Kimble makes a daring escape and is pursued by U.S. Marshals while attempting to find the real killer. Along the way, the accident-prone Dr. Kimble can't help but use his medical skills to help others at the expense of blowing his own cover.

The plot is tried and true; decades ago, it made for a successful TV series, and the legacy of the film remains intact. The same concept of traveling fugitives from the law who lend a hand to those in need was the backbone of another memorable TV series, "The A-Team."

The reincarnation of this scenario, however, runs the risk of being too similar to the movie. Audiences remember the search for the one-armed man, but there is a viewer saturation point for limbless villains -- after a while, the search for one-armed felons might get a bit stale. If the writers don't throw a little variety in the mix, "The Fugitive" will have a very brief shelf life.

One surprising aspect of the show is the casting of Mykelti Williamson as Lieutenant Sam Gerard, the Marshal running the manhunt for Kimble. Viewers familiar with the movie will remember Tommy Lee Jones' superb performance as the determined sleuth. Both Jones and Barry Morse, who played the Lieutenant in the original series, are white, so it is an interesting twist to see an African-American filling a role "traditionally held by white males."

Williamson's portrayal of Lt. Gerard is decidedly different from Jones'. "There are certain cultural differences between us [Kimble and Lt. Gerard], and when you see us trying to outthink one another from a black man's perspective and a white man's perspective, you're going to see a lot of interesting things happening," said Williamson in an interview on CBS's website. The first episode was primarily dedicated to exposition, and this new dimension to the familiar story has not yet become evident, but this could be the factor that makes the new series stand out from its predecessors.

Tim Daly does a nice job as Kimble, but on the whole his performance in the first episode is unremarkable. Perhaps as the show continues, he will have more opportunity to develop his character. Harrison Ford's memorable performance has left Daly big shoes to fill, and such a feat simply cannot be performed for television completely within the first show. It will prove interesting to see how Daly and the show's writing staff experiment with Kimble.

Two aspects of the show are genuinely impressive. First, the show will be shot on location for each episode. Kimble will move from city to city around the country, chasing the one-armed man and searching for justice, so this will be no easy task. The first episode takes place in Miami; the second takes Kimble to Savannah, Georgia. Production of the show will be a challenge on the entire staff.

Secondly, the cast members each do their own stunts, another formidable task. In the first episode alone, Daly jumps onto a moving truck, and later, off of an urban high-rise construction site. With stunts like this slated for each weekly show, Daly and cast will be faced with more than the average television actor's share of physical rigors.

"The Fugitive," if nothing else, is an ambitious attempt by CBS to reinvigorate a classic concept. It's worth tuning in on Fridays at 8 to see where the show goes -- and if it ends up a flop, blame it on the one-armed man.

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