first glance, Starsky and Hutch (1975-79, ABC) seems of a
piece with Baretta, The Streets of San Francisco, or even
producer Aaron Spelling's own Charlie's Angels--one more
post-1960s police series with street smarts and social cognizance,
that expresses at least a passing familiarity with youth culture.
Yet on closer inspection, swarthy Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser)
and surfer/sensitive Ken Hutchinson (David Soul), confirmed bachelors
and disco-era prettyboys, seem to have taken the cop show maxim
"Always watch your partner's back" well past their own private Rubicon.
series was originally part of a logical progression by Spelling
(with and without partner Leonard Goldberg) that traced the thread
of the detective drama through the fraying social fabric at the
end of the 1960s. Beginning with The Mod Squad (cops as hippies),
this took him in logical sequence to The Rookies (cops as
hippie commune), S.W.A.T. (cops as hippie commune turned
collectivist cell/paramilitary cadre), and finally Charlie's Angels
(ex-cops as burgeoning feminists/Manson Family pinups). This was
before jettisoning the cop show altogether and simply leaching the
raw hedonism out of 1960s liberalism--with The Love Boat, Fantasy
Island, Family (sauteed in hubris), and ultimately, the neo-Sirkian
Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.
In this context, the freewheeling duo might seem the perfect bisecting
point on a straight line between Adam-12's Reed and Malloy
and Miami Vice's Crockett and Tubbs. Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid (1969) had ushered in the "buddy film"
cycle, just then reaching its culmination with All the President's
Men, and in fact, the pair physically resemble no one so much
as the high-gloss Redford and Hoffman assaying the golden boys of
broadsheet expose, Woodward and Bernstein.
viewed in retrospect, their bond seems at very least a curious one.
Putting aside the ubiquitous costumes and leather, or Starsky's
Coca-Cola-striped Ford Torino and Hutch's immense .357 Magnum handgun,
which McLuhan or Freud might well have had a field day with, the
drama always seems built around the specific gravity of their friendship.
There is much of what can only be termed flirting--compliments,
mutual admiration, sly winks, sidelong glances, knowing smiles.
They are constantly touching each other or indulging in excruciating
cheek and banter--or else going "undercover" in various fey disguises.
All of the women who pass between them--and their number is considerable,
including significant ones from their past--are revealed by the
final commercial break as liars or users or criminals or fatal attractions.
And should one wind up alone with a woman, the other invariably
retreats to a bar and drowns his sorrows. Following the inevitable
betrayal, it is not uncommon for the boys to collapse sobbing into
each other's arms.
apparent secret agenda is perhaps best demonstrated in the opening
credits themselves. Initially, these merely comprised interchangeable
action sequences--Hutch on the prowl, Starsky flashing his badge.
But by the second season, the action footage had been collapsed
into a few quick images, followed by split-screen for the titles.
To the left are three vertically stacked images: Hutch in a cowboy
hat, both in construction outfits, and Starsky as Chaplin and Hutch
in whiteface. Meanwhile, to the right, Starsky takes Hutch down
in a full romantic clinch, the looks on their faces notably pained.
follows a series of quick clips: Starsky waits patiently while Hutch
stops to ogle a bikini-clad dancer, and finally only gets his attention
by blowing lightly on his cheek. Both gamble in a casino decked
out in pinstripe Gatsby suits and fedoras, a la The Sting. Starsky,
in an apron, fastidiously combs out a woman's wig, while Hutch sits
dejectedly, shoulders squared, a dress pattern pinned around him.
Hutch watches straight-faced while Starsky attempts the samba, festooned
in thick bangles, flowing robes, and a Carmen Miranda headpiece.
Each is then introduced individually--Soul shouting into the camera
in freeze-frame, his mouth swollen in an enormous yawning oval,
and Glaser as he ties a scarf foppishly to one side, frozen randily
in mid-twinkle. Finally, a boiler-room explosion blows Starsky into
entire sequence takes exactly one minute, with no single image longer
than five seconds. And each scene is entirely explained away in
context. Yet in the space of 60 seconds, these two gentlemen are
depicted in at least four cases of literal or figurative transvestism,
four cases of masculine hyperbole (encompassing at least two of
the Village People), several prominent homosexual cliches (hairdresser,
Carnival bacchanalian), a sendup of one of filmdom's most famous
all-male couples, a wealth of Freudian imagery (including the pointed
metaphor of fruit), two full-body embraces, two freeze-frames defining
them in both homoerotic deed and dress, and one clearcut instance
where the oral stimulation of a man prevails over the visual stimulation
of a woman. This would seem to indicate a preoccupation on the part
of someone with something. (And this doesn't even begin to address
their dubiously named informant Huggy Bear--a flamboyant and markedly
Starsky and Hutch
tone of all this is uniformly playful, almost a parlor game for
those in the know (not unlike Dirty Harry, whose most famous sequence--the
bank robbery--is bookended on one side by Clint Eastwood biting
into a hot dog, and on the other by a fire hydrant ejaculating over
the attendant carnage). Meanwhile, the rather generic storylines
consistently play fast and loose with gender.
a fascinating digression for episodic television--especially considering
that it was conducted apparently entirely beneath the pervasive
radar of network censors.
Detective Dave Starsky ...................Paul Michael Glaser
Ken Hutchinson ("Hutch")............... David Soul
Captain Harold Dobey ............................Bernie Hamilton
Huggy Bear ............................................Antonio
Aaron Spelling, Leonard Goldberg, Joseph T. Naar
HISTORY 92 Episodes
September 1975-September 1976
September 1976-January 1978 Saturday
January 1978-August 1978 Wednesday
September 1978-May 1979
August 1979 Tuesday
Max Allen. The Best of Crime & Detective TV: Perry Mason to Hill
Street Blues, The Rockford Files to Murder She Wrote. New York:
Harmony Books, 1989.
B. Keith. " Acting Like Cops: The Social Reality of Crime and Law
on TV Police Dramas." In Sanders, Clinton R., editor. Marginal
Conventions: Popular Culture, Mass Media and Social Deviance.
Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Culture Press, 1990.
Grant, Judith. "Prime Time Crime: Television Portrayals of Law Enforcement."
Journal of American Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring
Hurd, Geoffrey. "The Television Presentation of the Police." In
Bennett, Tony, Susan Boyd-Bowman, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woollacott,
editors. Popular Television and Film. London: British Film
Inciardi, James A., and Juliet L. Dee. "From the Keystone Cops to
Miami Vice: Images of Policing in American Popular Culture." Journal
of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Fall 1987.
Kaminsky, Stuart, and Jeffrey H. Mahan, editors. American Television
Genres. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1985.
Marc, David. Demographic Vistas: Television in American Culture.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
See also Police