Friday, August 29, 2014

Old Endings

I recently watched, on MeTV, the final episodes of two major 60s dramas, The Fugitive and Route 66.  The series had similarities--both lasted four seasons and both had the lead or leads traveling around the country, creating a new story in each place.  Route 66, however, was shot on location, while The Fugitive tried to make southern California look like every place.

Both finales were two-parters. The Fugitive's is famous--Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run so long for a crime he did not commit, is finally caught by Lt. Philip Gerard, but has enough time to find the one-armed man and discover who really killed his wife.  People had been waiting four years for this, and it was the most-watched TV series episode up to that point. It also effectively killed the reruns, because now everyone knew how things turned out.

The funny thing is, I didn't really watch the earlier episodes, so I wasn't particularly invested in the drama.  Yeah, yeah, big shoot-out at the amusement park.  Great.  It was in color, by the way, though the earlier seasons were in black and white, so Dr. Kimble got an upgrade.

Route 66 interested me more, even though the finale was incredibly silly.  The show fascinates me and I watched quite a few episodes (all in glorious black and white).  The two guys--first Tod and Buz, later Tod and Linc--start out each episode pulling into some new town in their snazzy Corvette.  Before you know it, they're involved in some local adventure (and getting into fights surprisingly often--these guys should be fugitives).

Most of the scripts are written by famed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, though, to be honest, they're often pretty slipshod.  But, at its best, the show had an intensity, and also expressed a Jack Kerouac rootlessness and sense of searching that was unusual for TV.

By the fourth season, Buz--played by the intense George Maharis--is long gone and has been replaced by Linc, played by the lethargic Glenn Corbett.  In fact, Martin Milner's Tod has somehow become the more exciting character.

Anyway, the final two-parter, shot in Tampa, goes more for comedy--always a mistake on this show.  I won't go into the whole thing, but essentially it's a fight over a will, where a young woman, played by the beautiful Barbara Eden, marries Tod, while her aunt and uncles, fighting for their inheritance, try to kill him.  Don't ask why, but each of them have an accent--French, Spanish, Russian and British--even though they're all Americans. At the end of the first hour, Milner and Eden are on their way to their honeymoon when the taxi driver, in on the scheme, knocks Tod out with a wrench and throws him off a bridge into the river. The second hour has Tod secretly return and, with the help of Linc--not to mention costumes, makeup and accents that would embarrass a second-rate theatrical road company--get his revenge on each of the plotters.  Tod gets the girl and, believe it or not, no one gets the inheritance, even though the executor (played by Chill Wills) was required to give it to someone, I thought. Well, who cares.  Tod has found what he's looking for, which is what the series is about, and Linc will hitchhike back to Texas, where he's from, where he can reminisce about his years in Vietnam, and perhaps go back for another tour.

Not much of a send-off for the show. Certainly nothing compared to The Fugitive. But really the show ended somewhere in season three when Buz left.


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