Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Fugitive: Season One, Volume One

In a recent "Ask The Critic" column in Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman called the 1993 movie version of The Fugitive one of the best small-screen-to-big-screen adaptations ever, noting his surprise that "a show that seemed a comfy relic of an older America begat such a hip, intense chase thriller." Gleiberman is right about the excellence of The Fugitive, the movie, but if he thinks of the TV show as a "comfy relic," he clearly hasn't watched it in a while. The 15 episodes on the DVD set The Fugitive: Season One, Volume One are all about discomfort, starting with an opening title sequence which lays out the premise in one gripping minute. David Janssen plays a doctor falsely accused of murdering his wife; on the way to prison, his train crashes, freeing him to roam America's back roads, picking up odd jobs while trying to find the real killer. Episode after episode, Janssen reluctantly gets involved with the lives of the people he meets, all while looking over his shoulder, endlessly paranoid.


The Fugitive's reflects Janssen's anxiety. The standard punchy Quinn Martin Productions format, with its clearly defined act structure and stentorian narrator, takes on an air of inexorability with The Fugitive, as each commercial break brings Janssen closer to being discovered. The series' directors frequently relied on subjective shots and forced angles, getting into Janssen's panicked, distracted headspace. And Janssen and his police-lieutenant pursuer Barry Morse regularly wax philosophical about the differences between law and justice, and how devotion to one often gets in the way of the other. The Fugitive was a heavy show.

In fact, it was a little too heavy at times. These installments touch on themes of mass hysteria, sexual assault, blinding envy, the ostracizing of the unique, and so forth. It seems Janssen can't go anywhere in this country without encountering some deeply messed-up folks. But aside from assuring there'd be a story each week, the parade of American dysfunction also advanced The Fugitive's key theme. To remain anonymous, Janssen has to ignore all cries for help, and thereby let go of his humanity. Week after week, in town after town, he finds that he can't escape his own compassion.

Key features: None.