Starsky & Hutch - The Complete First Season Review
In 1975 Starsky & Hutch appeared on network television in a "pilot" film episode. It quickly gained a huge response from audiences and a series was immediately commissioned. There was no doubt about the series’ potential to become the iconic show it is today - just take a look at the premise. In a time when there were already a few successful cop shows, Starsky & Hutch was drafted in to shake things up a little.
The show would take two unconventional police officers that patrol the streets in a bright red and white striped Ford Gran Torino, sporting casual clothes, which would get them mistaken for a pair of criminals rather than officers of the law. You had to suspend some disbelief if you were to enjoy the adventures of David Starsky and his partner, Ken Hutchinson. Oh and there was more, much more that I shall discuss in the course of this review.
Starsky & Hutch almost never happened. Originally the show, under the working title of "Nightside", was pitched and would be about two cops who only ever worked in the evening. Budget constraints forced the conceptualists to shelve the idea and it was back to the drawing board. After trying several networks, the creators were greeted with enthusiasm by ABC who asked that the script be tweaked slightly, to take out the night time aspect and condense it into a 90-minute feature pilot.
Under the new title of Starsky & Hutch the show was finally green lit and the search for two leads began. After seeing a film called Magnum Force producer Aaron Spelling contacted star David Soul and offered him the role of Ken Hutchinson; he would be the perfect choice to counter balance Paul Michael Glaser's hot headed, David Starsky, despite initial thoughts from Soul that Hutch wasn't a gritty enough character.
Paul Glaser had been cast already, there was no doubt that he was Starsky. Glaser toyed with Starsky's character; he is boyish and sometimes naive but also tough and genuinly sincere. It was this bringing together of personalities that would go on to make the series as memorable today, for while both Starsky and Hutch are different - Starsky is headstrong and gung-ho, Hutch is more level headed but no less intimidating when he needs to be - they both share an amazing chemistry and affection for one another. They follow the rulebook most of the time and hate paperwork. Soul and Glaser had moulded two of the most likeable characters on TV, whose relationship would continue to develop over the course of the series' four-year run.
With the two leads set it was time to bring in two more characters that would finally give the series that extra boost. Starsky and Hutch always report to their Captain in each episode. Dobey (played by Bernie Hamilton) is a seemingly tough as nails, couldn't give a damn guy, who always shouts at his officers, but deep down cares for each and every one of them; perhaps something of a cliche these days, but Dobey was undeniably a blueprint for future crime oriented series. And Starsky & Hutch wouldn't be complete without perhaps its most loved character, Huggy Bear (played by Antonio Fargas). Serving as an informant for the two officers the reason for why he does this is never revealed, but more importantly the friendship he shares with Starsky and Hutch is believable. Fargas' character originally prompted many questions as viewers were unsure of what to make of him. Contrary to more public belief, Huggy Bear is never referred to as a pimp; he is simply a guy who comes up with scams, works underground and makes money with his small restaurant. Because of Huggy's reputation he can get the info that Starsky and Hutch cannot, so in return for it they look after his interests. Huggy is essential to the series, providing comedy and a sense of mystery as to what his character is all about but is always considered one of the good guys.
And who can forget the car? The classic Ford Gran Torino that Starsky loved like a child became a pop culture icon. When criminals saw that car they knew it was the cops, yet it still worked. It didn't matter that these two officers would drive around undercover in a bright red, white "striped tomato" (as it was affectionately known by cast and crew) - it simply looked cool as it raced around the streets after criminals. Everyone wanted this car and so popular was demand that Ford built one thousand replica models after the first season's run. Meanwhile, Hutch would drive his old smashed up heap of junk, which he loved but always gave him hassle. Instead he would be seen sitting alongside Starsky in the Torino for most of the series.
As popularity grew for the show it would draw further discussion that would divide many viewers’ opinions. Were Starsky and Hutch gay? For all the talk suggesting the show had homoerotic undertones the true facts dispute this. Often those who didn't pay enough attention to the show or simply misunderstood it ended up confusing themselves as to what these characters were about. Starsky and Hutch are simply two men, partners who care a great deal for each other. It's not uncommon for men to have strong bonds but the way in which the character's relationship together was explored and dealt with somehow suggested to some that something wasn't quite right.
Starsky and Hutch are best friends, they have been partners for a few years and they do exactly what anyone else would do in their situation. The series provided many a memorable scene in which Starsky had to comfort Hutch or vice versa and I really don't see how or why their sexuality should even be questioned, further to the point they did get the girls from time to time, even if you didn't always see it. At the time it wasn't really that important, neither Starsky nor Hutch are married, they play the field and would have their arm over a different girl's shoulder in occasional episodes. Later on in the series some of their past relationships would be explored.
Chemistry is the key to this series' success. The way in which Soul and Glaser interact with each other is brilliant. You would be forgiven for thinking that these characters were real people and in many ways it's true. Off set, both stars were good friends and remain so to this day. So passionate about the characters they portrayed that they would often discuss in detail about where they wanted to take them next. The casting was inspired and no one could have pulled it off better. Starsky & Hutch featured a cast that was so special that you could remember all the characters and talk about them with enthusiasm.
Watching the series again on DVD after all these years brings back many nice memories, even though I caught the show later in re-runs I find myself hard pressed to pick out a favourite character of the four main leads, or should I say five, counting the car?
The writers for the show had a lot of work ahead of them. Starsky & Hutch, the first season ran for 23 episodes and it had to be fresh. For all intents and purposes each episode would be about Starsky and Hutch chasing a bad guy. Each episode would continually follow a set structure. Starsky and Hutch get called to a crime scene, they look for clues, they go to see Huggy Bear, Captain Dobey shouts at them a lot, they solve the case.
The writing for each episode varies, a few are standard fares that entertain mostly because of the stars but then I'm being a little unfair because even if the occasional plot is a little weak, each episode at least has some great dialogue and banter between the leads, and with plenty of comic relief you can't help but smile and be entertained through each 50 minute episode. Adding even more fun to the proceedings are episodes like "The Bait" which see Starsky and Hutch undercover, dressed up as funky heroin dealers.
There are also plenty of famous guest stars on the series. Season 1 boasts Robert Loggia, Roz Kelly, Kristy McNichol, Richard Kiel, Jim Smithers and Three's Company Faves, Norman Fell, John Ritter and Suzanne Somers before they set off to star in the much loved sitcom. A lot of these guest actors have to mumble the odd cheesy line but nevertheless they all do fine jobs in delivering them.
The first season does have some remarkable episodes that are no doubt fan favourites. The first stand out one would be Episode 5 - "The Fix", written by Robert I.Holt. The premise is that Hutch is visiting his girlfriend and is soon abducted by a mob, led by a jealous boss (Robert Loggia). In order to make him give up the information required they inject heroin into Hutch's veins, who unwillingly becomes addicted to the substance and only his partner and Huggy Bear can help him out.
This episode would be the first time we see Starsky and Hutch's relationship take a new turn. Now we can see just how much they care about each other and the lengths they go to ensure the other's safety. For the entire first season this episode remains one of the best. Later on we see more of their close relationship develop, also along with Huggy Bear and Dobey in episodes such as "Kill Huggy Bear", "Captain Dobey...You're Dead", "Shoot-out", "Pariah" and "A Coffin for Starsky" to name but a few.
Starsky & Hutch was a gritty show for its time. While it remains funny, smart and dramatic it can at times be pretty violent. The pair often found themselves in difficult situations and would be forced to use excessive means if necessary, and when they’re not shooting bad guys they are physically beating the hell out of them.
Again, the tone of the violence differs between episodes. Sometimes Starsky will shoot a criminal in the arm, disarming before arresting him. Other times he'll be forced to kill and some episodes even have Starsky or Hutch on the receiving end of a bullet. The show is never overly bloody though and you'll only see blood stains some of the time. This makes some scenes a little less impacting than others. If someone gets shot you expect to see something come from the wound. Often you see this but it seems that if they could, the producers would try and keep the levels of blood and violence down.
It's not hard to understand the reputation the show gained upon its debut in 1975. These two cops weren't scared to break rules if they had to. There are times when Starsky flies off the rails whilst interrogating a suspect at the station or causes excessive bodily harm to whichever bad guy he's beating up. Often the frustrations of Starsky and Hutch would come through at times when they realise following the code won't help them solve a case, if it's a matter of life and death then they do what they can in order to ensure they carry out their duty, no matter who's toes they step on.
As soon as the movie version starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson was announced it was inevitable that we would finally see the original series make it onto DVD and it's a series I've longed for.
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment presents the entire first season of Starsky & Hutch in a 5 disc set. Each disc is pictured to look like the Ford Torino's tires. The discs come in a fold out 'digi-pack', dressed up in the Torino colours which is hosed in an eye-catching slip case featuring Starsky and Hutch standing by the Torino. Also included is a small episode guide booklet.
Starsky & Hutch is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The quality tends to vary from each episode, mostly in colour reproduction. For example: The opening credits see the Torino in slightly different shades of red. But this is also how the series looked on TV so likely comes down to film stock. Only one episode stands out as being poor compared to all the others and that is Episode 2 - Savage Sunday, looking very soft. Thankfully the standard is high for the rest of the DVD's. Each episode is detailed enough and exhibits some grain; again the original broadcasts were also grainy. Overall, the show has been transferred over well to DVD, considering how many episodes are on each disc.
As with most TV shows up until more recent times we have the original 2.0 track. Admittedly it's not perfect and you will need to turn up the volume levels to get the most out of this. The show sounds fine though so tune in, turn up and enjoy the opening theme. Also available is a Spanish 2.0 track.
Columbia Tristar have put together a nice little set of extras to please fans.
Disc 1 has every original TV promo spot for each episode that run back to back in a 17-minute segment. Also present are trailers for Bad Boys 2 and S.W.A.T.
Disc 3 contains the main bulk of goodies. First up is Behind The Badge, as 27 minute feature that details the tale of Starsky & Hutch from its conception through to its TV debut. Featuring newly recorded interviews with stars David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Antonio Fargas, creator William Blinn and producers Leonard Goldberg and Joseph T. Narr, this is a very informative piece with plenty of background information and insightful comments from all involved.
It's Harder Than It Looks - A 6-minute look at continuity errors which arose due to a rushed schedule. It's all very tongue in cheek with comments from over the top American voice-over man.
The Third Star - A 5-minute look at the classic Ford Gran Torino used in the production of the series. Doug Stevenson, owner of two of the actual cars used in filming takes us through the ins and outs of this car, where we can also see much of its battle damage. Watching this makes me jealous. Can FORD please send me one?
Starsky & Hutch: The Movie - Included as a cash in on the film's release we have this 3-minute preview.
Many people say that Starsky & Hutch hasn't aged well. I completely disagree. It doesn’t look dated, it just looks funky! The fashion is great, the episodes are well produced, and the chemistry between the cast is second to none. In retrospect, Starsky & Hutch served as a template for many future cop shows and films but still manages to hold it's head up high after nearly 30 years as being one of the best.