Sony // 1975 // 1260 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // September 13th, 2004
In "Starsky's Lady," after receiving a favorite stuffed bear from a deceased friend:
Hutch (reading): "To you I entrust Olly and Dave. Please love them both. Don't let either one of them change."
Starsky & Hutch is solid entertainment and a show with heart. It's a good police drama that doesn't make things too heavy, has plenty of action, and always gets its man. The two title characters ("He's Starsky, I'm Hutch") carry much of the burden of making the show work, and the incredible chemistry between the two actors who portrayed them grabbed the attention of audiences from practically the first episode -- it was hard to believe these guys hadn't been friends for years already.
Another hallmark of the show was the writing, which was a major factor in several strong episodes in Season One that helped draw in and retain an audience. Fans came to each show wanting to know how entertaining the story was, how human the drama was, and how Starsky and Hutch dealt with it. This is where Season Two derails a bit, with some surprising stinkers mixed in with otherwise excellent, compelling work.
David Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (David Soul) are two buddy cops, and their beat is Bay City. With the help of the well-connected Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) and gruff but caring Captain Dobey (Bernie Hamilton), they root out crime, defend the innocent, and punish the guilty. And they do it all in a bright red Gran Torino, dubbed "The Striped Tomato" for the bold white stripe down the side that any criminal with eyes can see a mile away. Suspend your disbelief on this point, and you'll be well on your way to enjoying a highly likable series.
Here are some of the more memorable of the 25 episodes from the Season Two, the good and the bad:
* "The Las Vegas Strangler," parts one and two
Season Two opens strongly with this Starsky-and-Hutch-go-to-Vegas thriller. Lynda Carter, looking absolutely radiant, appears as a showgirl who befriends the lucky, lucky Starsky as he and Hutch investigate a string of murders by a serial killer who has been strangling chorus girls. Unfortunately, one of the prime suspects turns out to be an old school buddy of Hutch's, and he must work through this conflict of interest while they are undercover.
Grade: B. It's a strong season opener, but it goes a little too heavy on the flash, pushing it just over the line into the "Look at us! We've got some money for location shooting!" territory.
* "Murder at Sea," parts one and two
Another two-parter finds Starsky and Hutch on a Love Boat cruise (no really, there's even a horny passenger who sleeps with all the men on board) into hell as they go undercover to bust a drug-smuggling ring. They get much more than they bargained for when they realize that a major syndicate meeting is also taking place on board. Will their thin disguises as entertainment directors Hack and Zack hold up, or will they be recognized?
Grade: D. The first hour basically sets up the cruise with its boatload of wacky passengers bent on having a good time, and we really don't get down to the story until part two. If I wanted to see the zany antics of horny singles and walking clichés, I'd watch the real Love Boat. Plus...Hack and Zack?
Starsky and Hutch investigate a series of bizarre beating incidents that lead them to a known criminal, who is too cowardly to do anything himself but wants revenge on Hutch.
Grade: A. Truly creepy, with the usually sweet Gary Sandy (WKRP in Cincinnati) playing an unbalanced sociopath. The story isn't anything special, but the acting and direction make for a very gritty and disturbing episode.
* "The Psychic"
Huggy tells Starsky and Hutch that he was tipped off by a friend with psychic powers that someone is trapped and about to be killed. When they realize there is a connection to their current case and recognize the psychic from a previous investigation, they pressure the reluctant friend to give them more details.
Grade: B+. Considering that psychics were little more than a throwaway joke at the time of this series, the writer for this episode was taking a bit of a risk by presenting them in a serious light, and the actor playing the clairvoyant convincingly sells it; his fear of being able to "see" someone who might already be dead wars with his basic impulse to help. Good drama here.
A charismatic cult leader is arrested, and his followers kidnap Starsky before he can testify in court, submitting him to a trial as "foreseen" by their master.
Grade: D. This episode came out right around the time Charles Manson and his lot were in the public eye again after the publication of Helter Skelter. The Manson doppelgänger featured in this episode is mildly creepy, but the sometimes cryptic dialogue and unintentionally funny acting by cult members doom this episode to a forgettable blip on the Starsky & Hutch radar.
* "Huggy Bear and the Turkey"
Huggy teams up with his friend Turquet ("Turkey") to go into business as private eyes. They investigate the disappearance of a woman's husband, only to find themselves in deeper than they want to be.
Grade: F. Even worse than the Love Boat episode, this one is a real stinker. Huggy's mojo goes right out the window as he teams up with white country hick Turquet to solve crimes. Packed to the gills with racial innuendo (When told to "talk like a black man" Turkey says, "When the Cadillacs coming in?"), this episode never stops shooting itself in the foot. The producers wanted to spin off a series with Huggy, which would have been a great idea if not for this ridiculous concept. The final straw was the entrance of Huggy's autistic cousin, who is beefy and good with numbers but not so good with the common sense. Talk about setup! Thank goodness this turkey never made it to series.
* "Starsky's Lady"
A criminal with a grudge against Starsky over the death of his son escapes from confinement to destroy Starsky's life. He starts with Teri, the woman Starsky has fallen in love with, setting her up to be shot in a supermarket heist and leaving her for dead.
Grade: A+. Paul Michael Glaser, who sometimes overacts in emotional scenes, hits the nail right on the head in this episode. Facing the thought of losing Teri, Starsky is wracked by grief, which shows in every line of his face, every jerky movement. In an especially moving scene, he kisses her tenderly as she passes away, and quietly breaks down, finally giving in to the despair he has been manfully trying to conceal. The story is not deliberately tear-jerking; although a likable character dies, we end up feeling good by the end of the episode, partly because we know that Hutch will be there to support Starsky through his grief.
* "Long Walk Down a Short Dirt Road"
The detectives must find the person who is phoning in repeated threats and demands for extortion money to a popular country singer.
Grade: A. With guest star Lynn Anderson, who had a popular country hit, "Rose Garden," in the early '70s, this is a treat for country-western fans and an example of how to work in popular singers the right way -- although she sings often, her scenes are not gratuitous, and there is plenty of action to keep people who aren't into the music from getting restless. This episode also features a charming solo by Soul, who sings off-key and forgets lines in his faux nervousness. In real life, Soul recorded several songs of his own, including the better-known "Don't Give Up on Us, Baby."
* "Starsky & Hutch are Guilty"
When two doppelgängers for Starsky and Hutch tool around town in a replica Gran Torino committing crimes, the real duo have to find out who the imposters are and who is behind the frame-up.
Grade: B. Although there is nothing terribly remarkable about this season ender, it is interesting to see two guys who look a lot like Starsky and Hutch going around committing crimes...these guys look better than most of the stunt men.
Season Two is the first season of episodes written specifically for Starsky & Hutch. In Season One, all but one of the episodes were recycled and adapted from unfilmed cop dramas, which is why they have such an even tone, with few highs or lows. Other changes in the second season included a new, funky, '70s-flavored theme song that remains a fan favorite and is most readily identified with the show. Glaser and Soul also perfected the personas for their characters, polishing away any remaining rough edges from Season One and providing a strong template for the characters that resonated with viewers. The childlike, impulsive Starsky and the somewhat aloof, intellectual Hutch get several moments that play their idiosyncrasies to the hilt.
Although their characters continue to develop, however, the writing was increasingly bogged down by the trends of the time. The Love Boat show and Las Vegas themes were part of it, but the big change was when black/white racial tension found its way into everyday dialogue, including the oft-repeated refrain (from both black and white characters), "You all look alike to me," a wince-worthy statement that was meant to highlight the stereotypes and prejudices of the day. This is probably what dates the show the most for contemporary audiences, who might not be able to understand why some of the black characters on the show would agree to speak some of the lines they were given (one black character, an accomplished pilot and gun expert, suddenly blurts, "Guess I'm not the tap-dancing stereotype, huh?" for seemingly no reason), but at the time any chance to bring the issue of racism and stereotyped thinking to the forefront of America's mind was taken, wince or no.
In fact, a big reason for the show's success was the way it bucked cop-show as well as racial stereotypes. Starting with an African American captain (Dobey, portrayed with gruff affection by Hamilton) who was defined not by his race but by his competency and his loyalty to his men, the show took risks that other cop shows would not or could not. Starsky and Hutch were not hero cops who always defeated the bad guys and were rewarded for their bravery. They made mistakes, they took hits, they looked the other way in order to get information from Huggy Bear and others. They were human, in other words, with all the strength and vulnerability of humans. It made for good drama.
What counted with audiences was the relationship between Starsky and Hutch. Both Glaser and Soul acknowledge in the extras from the Season One box set that they were not just unusually close, but physically demonstrative in a way that fascinated audiences as much as it confused them. Many (especially women) responded to their secure masculinity and unabashed affection (which was never sloppy or needy), while critics questioned their sexuality. Fans loved them as much as they loved each other...in a manly, slap-on-the-back kind of way. Watching Starsky gently cradle the face of his broken, bleeding friend in "Survival" is a lump-in-the-throat moment for fans, who feel Starsky's relief and happiness at having found Hutch alive. Their relationship is really the cornerstone of the show's success.
The Season Two box set omits extras this time (other than original episode preview trailers) and packages 25 episodes on five discs in a fold-out case that features portraits of Starsky and Hutch, Huggy, and Dobey. The visual quality for Season Two is very good, with the exception of one episode, the two-part "Murder at Sea," which suffers from a slightly doubled image that makes it look blurred. This kicks in approximately halfway through the first part and lasts until the end. This looks to be a problem with the source material rather than a problem with transfer, and none of the other episodes are affected. Otherwise, episodes are very clear, free from any serious age-related wear, and present deep, rich color.
The mono soundtrack is similarly robust, with very little hiss or reverberation, even at higher volumes. On Disc One, episode previews round out the set. These are original TV spots and preserve the original narration by Paul Michael Glaser that was in style at the time.
Despite the unevenness of episodes in Season Two, this is still a strong show, and this box set is a must-have for fans. As mentioned before, there are some real gems in Season Two that can't be missed, and even when the writing or direction is in the toilet, it's always a joy to watch Soul and Glaser in action, so no show is truly unwatchable. Although I was hoping for more extras along the lines of the excellent featurettes for the Season One box set (even just a gallery or biography section), I can't complain about the quality of the transfer or the packaging, so I am content with this release.
Starsky & Hutch: The Complete Second Season gives you exciting chases, unbeatable buddy-cop crime fighting, streetwise intrigue, and sexy ladies in case you get bored with the other stuff. Watch it. Drool over the Gran Torino. Entertainment bang for your buck is high with this set.
After all these guys have been through, this court doesn't have the heart to press charges. But no more Love Boat episodes, please.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 1260 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original TV Promo Spots
* Official David Soul site
* Official Paul Michael Glaser site