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I’m between Saturday morning TV series right now, and so thought I would use this opportunity to take a look at a long-forgotten (but much beloved) oddity.
As readers of the blog know, I have written sometimes about a Saturday morning series from the mid-1970’s called Run Joe Run (1974-1976).
There has still been no official DVD release for this series, but an episode or two has cropped up on YouTube recently, and this may be my only opportunity for a re-visit of the 43 year old series (pending that never-coming official release.)
So today, I am looking at the seventh episode of the first season of Run Joe Run, titled “Homecoming.”
To refresh everybody’s memory about Run Joe Run it is basically The Fugitive (1963-1967)…starring a German shepherd.
The star of the series is Joe (Heinrich), a military dog who is accused of biting his master, Sgt. Corey (Arch Whiting) during training.
Rather than be executed, Joe escapes custody and flees to the countryside, helping families and friends on his journey to clear his name.
The series ran for two seasons, and aired on NBC at 7:30 am on Saturdays in 1974. Below, you can see a print ad for the series.
In “Homecoming,” Joe is still on the run.
The episode starts with Joe being harassed by a home-owner (for entering his yard). Joe then retrieves a toy for a child in an outdoor playpen, until chased away by the child’s father. This is the life of a loner, and a rejected loner, at that.
Finally, Joe ends up at a farm, where he is taken care of by a girl named Judy (Kristy McNichol). She feeds him and gives him water, but Judy’s dad, Clyde, doesn’t like dogs around his farm animals.
Soon, Joe confronts a coyote in the hen house, but Clyde misinterprets his actions and thinks he was on the attack.
The farmer leashes the whimpering Joe, but Joe soon proves his worth to the entire family when he rescues an injured Judy. For this, he earns the family’s gratitude and respect.
After army officials tell the farmer and his family that “there’s a warrant out on the dog,” and that he’s a “time bomb,” the family sets Joe free, to continue his journey.
As the preceding summary makes plain, Run Joe Run pretty much follows The Fugitive format to the letter.
The ingenuity of the series comes in the application of that familiar, man-on-the-run format (and tropes) to a canine protagonist.
Here, intriguingly, there are three slow-motion flashbacks to Joe’s time in the military, and the day of the event that cost him his freedom.
Yes, these are Joe’s flashbacks I’m talking about. The series not only puts a dog in the role of “The Fugitive,” it gives him flashbacks too. Joe, as is plain, is suffering from PTSD.
The episode soundtrack, by Richard LaSalle, does much of the heavy lifting in “Homecoming,” understandably, since Joe cannot talk, or tell the audience, himself, precisely what he is feeling.
And yet -- with the music backing it up -- the episode is actually pretty effective, and tragic. Joe is a lonely figure, rejecting by all those he encounters; by those especially, who fear him, and his breed of dog. His existence is sad, and lonely.
It’s all very heavy for a kid’s show, airing on Saturday mornings, and yet it is a perfect fit for the 1970’s. In a powerful way, Run Joe Run encourages empathy in kids. It’s not just about taking care of a dog, but feeling his pain, as this isolated pack animal walks America alone and despised, doing good, but never being treated as if he is even capable of “good.”
There’s one more episode on YouTube, which I’ll look at here next week.