As the first season of Starsky & Hutch progressed, the show tightened up its blend of cop show thrills and audience-charming humor, learning how to make the most of its two distinctive heroes as it put them through their paces. Stars David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser bring a lot of charisma to the proceedings, making it easy to understand why the show made them into stars. Add in the slick production and healthy budgets of the Aaron Spelling production approach and you’ve got classic mid-’70s pop t.v.
Here’s an additional five favorite episodes from season 1, including a few revered by fans as the show’s all-time best…
Lady Blue: Another noir-ish gem from the pen of future Miami Vice producer, Michael Mann. Starsky is shocked when a murdered go-go dancer is revealed to be his ex-girlfriend, a former cop. When he learns she was working undercover, he has to fight off the brass’s accusations that he’s too involved so he can solve the crime with Hutch’s support. There’s a lot of attention to the quirks of personality and the playful, teasing rapport between the two detectives here, mixed in with interesting characterizations for the supporting players: the final reveal of the killer and the strange compulsions that drive this person to murder are particularly memorable. The direction by ex-beach movie helmer Don Weis is focused, letting Mann’s script and the performances carry the day, and he creates a suspenseful finale involving a tower. The supporting cast is pretty interesting here, as well: James Keach, Elisha Cook Jr. and Victor Argo all pop up.
The Deadly Impostor: Michael Fisher, who became the series’ story editor, had a hand in writing this unique, twisty episode that takes the series into paranoid thriller territory. Our heroes’ sense of reality gets bent when an old friend (Art Hindle) from the police academy turns up on leave from the military, looking for his ex-wife. They don’t know he’s a resourceful hit man who won’t hesitate to ruin their lives to finish his job. This episode plays for keeps – even Huggy Bear catches a brutal beating – and even the usual comedy bits can’t distract from how this episode tests Starsky and Hutch’s faith in both their job and how they perceive others. Hindle makes a resourceful and duplicitous foe and the beach-set finale is tense stuff. The end result lays the groundwork for future, more ambitious outings that would delve into a distinctly ’70s sense of paranoia.
Shootout: Starsky and Hutch visit an Italian restaurant, not knowing that a pair of hitmen (Albert Paulsen and Steven Keats) are there to whack a mobster. Starsky is wounded in a skirmish with the killers and Hutch has to keep him alive as everyone trapped in the restaurant waits for the target to arrive. This one’s a big personal fave for Schlockmania, playing out like a mini-movie thanks to a tight script by t.v. vet David P. Harmon and excellent casting. There’s tension not only between the villains and the heroes but between the villains themselves: one is cold-blooded, the other a hothead who enjoys power-tripping. You also get psychodramas playing out between the patrons trapped in the restaurant, all of whom try to cope in different ways that add dramatic complication (look out for Norman Fell as a hard-luck entertainer plus nice work from Jess Walton as a waitress with a secret). Soul skillfully carries the dramatic load here and Paulsen and Keats are fun to watch as the villains, with Keats really digging into his giggling psychopath role. Better yet, actor-turned-director Fernando Lamas does a great job maintaining the tension of the episode’s real-time premise and delivers some tough action.
Jojo: Yet another well-crafted episode from the typewriter of Michael Mann. The detectives are doing their best to put away psychotic rapist Jojo Forentic (a supremely creepy Stephen Davies), only to run afoul of Federal agents who want to protect him for use as an informant in a sting operation. This episode shows impressive sensitivity in how it deals with the topic of rape, including a couple of searing scenes depicting what rape survivors go through, and it also offers an intriguing early version of the “cops versus Feds” theme that would be so important to Mann years later with Miami Vice. Davies makes an excellent foil for both Starsky and Hutch, bringing out the anger in both, as does Alan Fudge as a cold-blooded Fed. This episode also makes good use of Bernie Hamilton as Captain Dobey, who backs up his detectives nicely here against the Feds. This episode was directed by George McGowan, one of the show’s most reliable helmers.
A Coffin For Starsky: This is notable as the first episode written specifically for the show. It’s a tense affair that begins with Starsky being attacked and poisoned by a masked man in his apartment. Hutch has to help his ever-weakening partner track down the culprit from an array of suspects and find an antidote in 24 hours. This one’s a crackerjack blend of action, mystery and tearjerker drama, carefully structured by scripter Arthur Rowe in a plot filled with twists and colorful locales (a t.v.-safe visit to a porn set is eyebrow-raising). Excellent work from both Glaser and Soul here, both displaying their range as the episode leans on their rapport. The rock-solid direction here comes from the reliable McGowan.