Judge Sandra Dozier has handcuffs and she knows how to use them—to collar criminals! Wait, what did you guys think we meant?
Our reviews of Starsky And Hutch: The Complete Second Season (published September 13th, 2004), Starsky And Hutch: The Complete Third Season (published March 16th, 2005), Starsky And Hutch: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 25th, 2006), and Starsky And Hutch (2004) (published July 20th, 2004) are also available.
Hutch: "You know something, Starsk, he's right…we can't go
on in there without probable cause…like stupid here taking a swing at
Starsky & Hutch is a standout among crime series from the 1970s. The title alone is key to the appeal of the series, which lies with the strong characters and the relationships they have. Seeing how well the lead actors clicked, it was hard to believe they hadn't been working together for years already, possibly as real-life cops. They played their roles with enthusiasm and brought an approachable reality to the characters that resonated with the audience.
Facts of the Case
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 the 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.
Season One has 23 episodes in all, including the two-hour pilot, spread out over five discs. The pilot has a slightly different look and feel from the rest of the series, but it establishes the strong relationship between Starsky and Hutch right away, and has a very theatrical feel as far as the pacing, action, and production value. It's directed by Barry Shear, who also directed Across 110th Street and was responsible for many other influential '70s crime flicks. It's a little more of a traditional cop show than the episodes that follow.
Here are some of my favorites from this collection:
•"Captain Dobey…You're Dead"
•"The Deadly Imposter"
•"A Coffin For Starsky"
Starsky & Hutch is a cult classic for an interesting reason. Although it is essentially a fairly straightforward cop show, fans love it for anything but its crime-fighting chops. Case in point: The best-known episode of Season One is "The Fix," where Hutch is abducted and forcibly addicted to heroin (see summary, above). Why do we care? Because Hutch ends up an addict, and Starsky has to nurse him back to health. We want to see them both come through.
Fortunately, the creators realized where the strength of the show was early on, and they found ways to develop the buddy relationship in every episode. Part of this was The Car—Starsky's Ford Gran Torino, the red one with the white stripe. Practically a character in its own right, the car captivated audiences from the beginning. Everyone wanted that car, or wanted at least a ride in it. Alone, with Starsky. (Hey, lots of girls had a crush on Starsky!)
The writing did not always fare as well as the strong characterization, but it did well for the time, and the pilot, also written by creator William Blinn, was excellent. I had never seen it before, and I appreciated seeing it here. What mattered to the audience was the interaction between Hutch and Starsky, and the wry humor of the show. There was also plenty of action—the specialty was chase scenes, both on foot and in vehicles. Glaser and Soul, both very physical actors, helped to pump up the action whenever they could.
For the time, Starsky & Hutch pushed the envelope for cop shows. Two of the main characters were African American, and Captain Dobey presented a strong, authoritative character that was not boxed in or stereotyped by his ethnicity, as was typical of shows at the time. It also bucked the "hero cop" image by placing Starsky and Hutch in unsavory situations. Instead of embodying the formulaic infallable cop persona, who demonstrated that law enforcement was always just and right, these cops made mistakes, got in trouble, and doubted themselves. They lost control and went outside the lines sometimes. Then there was their friendship with the lawfully (and perhaps morally) ambiguous Huggy Bear on top of all of that. In other words, good stuff—better than one would expect from a circa-1975 cop drama.
Season One features some interesting cameos. Three's Company alums John Ritter and Suzanne Somers both appear in pre-Company roles, Robert Loggia shows up as (what else?) a crime boss, and Kristy McNichol appears as a street-wise kid.
Columbia TriStar has put together an excellent boxed set that should please fans. Episode image transfer is very good for a series that premiered in 1975, with deep colors and a clean print for most of the episodes. The exceptions are the two-hour pilot and the first part of Episode Two, "Savage Sunday," both of which show additional age-related wear. Episode Two isn't so bad, but the pilot is grainy and washed out, with a poor depth of color and shadow. It is overly dark for night scenes, a little too bright for day scenes. But this is to be expected—the pilot was shelved and not picked up for another year, so it was probably not preserved well.
For a mono track (in both Spanish and English), the sound quality is surprisingly robust and has very little hiss or reverberation, even at higher volumes.
The extras, found on Discs One and Five, really complete this set. There are several episode previews that originally ran as TV spots, four featurettes, and a photo gallery from the feature film with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. The featurettes are excellent—aside from a short promotional piece about the feature film, the three lengthy series featurettes talk about the genesis for the series, the action and acting, and (of course) the Gran Torino. These three segments have recent interviews with principal cast members, the creators, and crew for Season One. Each is comprehensive and entertaining, with trivia and back story that even die-hard fans may not know.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is not so much a problem as a surprise, but the most jarring thing about Season One is the absence of the better-known version of the Starsky & Hutch theme music. While I like the Season One theme a lot (the sound of tires grinding on pavement is followed by a gritty, guttural theme and scenes from the pilot and "Savage Sunday"), it is unremarkable and pretty "formula cop show." Of course, those who believe the disco-flavored theme that came later (which is better known and loved among fans) left something to be desired will find this traditional theme more soothing.
Starsky & Hutch: The Complete First Season is a love letter to fans. Beautifully packaged in striking red and white Gran Torino colors and stuffed with extras, it's like a chili dog with the works that you actually get to eat before being called away to investigate a new crime.
Starsky and Hutch are cleared of all charges—now get outta my office before I change my mind!
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Scales of Justice
• "It's Harder Than It Looks" Featurette
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