Starsky & Hutch is one the most beloved of double-lead cop shows in television history. It’s a polished product of Aaron Spelling’s ’70s t.v. production factory, offering a pair of different yet complementary cop partners – street-savvy, Brooklyn-born wisecracker Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and the dryly witty Midwesterner health nut Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (David Soul) that offered a hipper, more charming alternative to the usual taciturn or straitlaced cop heroes. It navigated the proper middle path between gritty action and an audience-charming “pop” approach, becoming a quick hit that went on the end of the decade with an additional three seasons.
It’s interesting to note that all but one of the scripts for the show’s first season were drawn from existing scripts for other shows and rewritten to fit the new show’s needs. That said, the show never feels like a Frankenstein affair, quickly finding its footing as it builds things around the quip-happy but emotionally intense bond between the two protagonists. Here’s the first half of Schlockmania’s rundown of the best episodes from the debut season…
Pilot: This offers an interesting glimpse into the development of the Starsky & Hutch concept. The premise involves the two investigating a double-homicide that leads them in surprising, lethal directions. It’s a bit more hard-boiled than the show would be – notice the rougher attitude that Starsky sports here – but it also shows off the chemistry of the two stars, the snappy dialogue and the blend of humor and action that would fuel the show. Even better, you get a formidable pair of villains in Michael Conrad and Richard Lynch plus tight direction from Barry Shear, a t.v. regular who also made great features like Wild In The Streets and Across 110th Street. Unexpected moment of surrealism: the heroes are summoned to a meeting by a local mobster in his steam room, leading them to enter wearing just towels and gun holsters.
Texas Longhorn: This early writing credit for Michael Mann is one of the grittiest episodes from the first season. The premise revolves around Starsky and Hutch trying to apprehend a pair of rapist/murderers, not knowing that the Texan car dealer (Med Flory) whose wife was killed by the sinister duo is now hunting for them on his own. Mann’s smart, well-structured storyline mixes solid policework details with a noirish air of melancholy and some interesting vignettes for texture: the best in the latter category is a visit to the skid row apartment of a singer-turned-addict for info. The cast features a scary turn from Charles Napier as one of the killers and Michael Lerner as a fence. The suitably hard-hitting direction here was supplied by exploitation movie pro Jack Starrett under his real name Claude Ennis Starrett – a trend of b-movie pros directing episodes is a running theme though season 1.
Death Ride: Starsky and Hutch are tasked with escorting a mobster’s daughter (Kathleen Miller) to a trial in another town, only to find themselves under constant attack due to a mole in the authorities. One of the more obvious examples of a script rewritten for the show, as it’s a familiar plot that could fit into any cop show of the era, but that doesn’t stop it from being tons of fun. This puts an accent on the duo’s teamwork and camaraderie and delivers plentiful action from start to finish, including a fun car chase using a cab and a clever “smoke the spy out” showdown in a hospital hallway. Look out for veteran character actor Jeff Corey as the mobster. Random trivia: the tidy direction on this episode is from Gene Nelson, who previously directed camp classic Elvis vehicles like Kissin’ Cousins and Harem Scarem!
The Fix: this episode is a big fan favorite because it was the first to convey the intensity of the emotional bond between the two heroes. The plot revolves around Hutch getting in trouble when his new girlfriend’s jealous ex, a mobster (Robert Loggia), kidnaps Hutch and hooks him on heroin so he can steal her away. Starsky has to help his pal kick the habit while simultaneously hunting down the mobster before he can flee with the girlfriend. Excellent work from Soul and Glaser in this one, with the former essaying a convincing portrait of addiction while the latter gets to show off his dramatic chops at their most fiery. This episode also makes good use of Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas), displaying both his street smarts and his friendship with the heroes. Tough, tight direction from Blacula director William Crain makes the proceedings compelling and strong turns from Loggia and Geoffrey Lewis as his right-hand man seal the deal.
Pariah: Another tough outing here, this one including one of the great villains of the series run. Starsky shoots a hold-up artist during a standoff, only to discover his would-be assailant was a teen. As he grapples with guilt over this, vengeful crook George Prudholm (Stephen McNally) begins gunning down cops in retaliation, thus making Starsky an outcast and forcing him to ponder resigning. Only Hutch is willing to stand up for his friend as they search for the sniper. The script offers an ace blend of melodrama, action, suspense and some commentary on how cops struggle with the life-and-death responsibilities of the job. Glaser does well with the intense dramatic material he gets here and Soul matches his efforts, plus McNally makes a vivid impression as a bitter villain who would return more than once in the show’s run. To top it off, it’s all tautly directed by Bob Kelljan, the man behind the Count Yorga movies and Scream Blacula Scream.