Character Studies 8: The Supporters

Starsky and Hutch made the world a whole lot better, but they didn’t do it single-handed. Throughout the series they were bookended by two fascinating characters – someone to help from street level, someone to help from administration. Huggy and Dobey are wonderful creations, variable enough to maintain our interest, fully fledged people with complex private lives. The fact that both are black in this often racially-aware series is important, more so in the beginning when the characters are new to us, less so as we grow to know and love them as people. In fact at this stage of the game I have to keep reminding myself of this crucial detail and how it relates to the ugly realities of American culture where African-Americans have been relegated to supporting roles throughout history, never deemed either heroic enough or relatable enough to claim center stage (it’s better now, but barely). Ignoring this or forgetting it may hurt these wonderful characters more than help them. They are, after all, a product of their environment. You could argue both Huggy and Dobey perfectly encompass the issues and problems of black America, the endless cycle of poverty and injustice that can inspire an intelligent, entrepreneurial man like Huggy to aspire to success while at the same time playing the system that so cruelly keeps him down. And Dobey too, more conventionally successful but always looking for ways to circumvent the rigid hierarchy that both defines and constricts him. Its because of the perceived disadvantages of race and culture that make these men – so different from each other, chalk and cheese – behave in similar ways that are so helpful to Starsky and Hutch. In short, they’re provisional radicals. They will do what’s right in the moment,using both wiles and imagination to get the job done. Dobey may be behind a desk and Huggy on the street, but they both ignite, direct, protect, and aid Starsky and Hutch. Huggy is the combustible powder here, Dobey the careful trigger.

Dobey: You could say Dobey is an amalgam of contradictions. He is at once smart, methodical, ambitious, easily swayed and canny. He never shirks from duty, can be reactionary and prone to temper tantrums. He is also adaptable, carrying the shyness of a perennial outsider, the smart guy who hung on the margins of the cool kids. A befuddled, possibly ineffective father and food addict. He stands, somewhat uncomfortably, in the no-man’s-land between institutional power and rough justice, longing to be part of the golf-playing social elite yet fully conscious of his ethnic and cultural roots, and proud of the time he spent on the street. His determination to succeed may explain the elaborate three-piece suits he wears at all times. Big-hearted and generous, he is capable of great humor, and quick to shame. Not a multitasker, and easily discouraged. You sometimes get the feeling Dobey is like the beetle pushing the dung ball that just keeps bigger and more unmanageable the more he pushes – that ball is his responsibility to superiors, to rules, to the bottom line, as well as his responsibility as a family man, a father, a provider. He can be short-sighted and oblivious, two aspects of his personality that reveal themselves most strongly in his deficiencies as a father. Of the two unruly, charismatic detectives in his squad, he may trust and maybe believe he understands Hutch more than Starsky, because he sees Hutch more as assimilated into police culture and more likely to follow procedure, while Starsky, he believes, is volatile and unpredictable. He is more likely to shout at Starsky and attempt to man-handle him, and he is more likely to confide in Hutch and leave him alone. Ironically, while he seems uncomfortable with big emotion, he’s the one most likely to demonstrate it (probably the thing he most dislikes about himself); faced with unexpected events, he flusters, which makes him a bit of a liability when it comes to political correctness. He’s one of those people who have low self-esteem coupled with an easily roused vanity: you can always flatter him into getting what you want. In short, Dobey is a free-thinking, adaptable, creative man whose allegiances never waver, despite being constrained by a vast bureaucracy.

Huggy: Principled, brave, loyal to a fault but with no genuine or lasting ties. One could make a guess he is the middle of a child in a large chaotic Caribbean family, although there is something about Huggy – something emotionally adrift about him, the cautious refusals of someone who has been betrayed in the past – makes it clear there was no father or father-figure in the house. “Huggy Can’t Go Home” is an episode that deals with this issue, a well-written and much-needed foray into his complicated familial ties. He can have a slippery relationship with truth and authenticity, and while he’s not easily angered, he is capable of great and lasting grudges. Huggy is an entrepreneur, resourceful and determined, with an understandable us-and-them complex. We learn something of his hard-scrabble early life and his relationship with an older male mentor whom he continues to help despite growing disillusionment. He understands family dynamics and the imperatives of kinship in a society that is deeply troubled by racial divide, sees the jealousy of those among his group who have not “made it” as well as the selfish expectations of those who expect a handout. In this way he is always pressured in a way that Starsky and Hutch, or any white character, may not be. He is capable of tremendous perseverance, and, despite a casual, slangy, laid-back blasé, is intensely watchful and calculating. His fascination with Starsky and Hutch’s partnership may result from his own feeling of alienation, his sense that he has no anchor to keep him steady. His willingness to associate with cops despite the danger is a complicated question having something to with justice bordering on vigilantism, as well as a certain curiosity about their stable and productive relationship. He is not, despite a throwaway Hutch insult, a pimp. Rather, he is a live-and-let-live guy, turning a blind eye to anyone who needs to make a buck. A survivor, a nonconformist, whose bravado is part pride, part necessity. By the way, where did Huggy Bear get his name from, anyway? There couldn’t be a more paradoxical name for a tall skinny hustler who is as far from a cuddly toy as is possible to be. Is it like calling wrestlers “Tiny”, or bald hit-men “Curly”? Huggy explains to Nick Starsky “Huggy’s the name and my game is the same. The ladies they love me ’cause they all want to hug me.” This is either a boastful lie or he has quite the secret life, as we never see anything remotely like this. Still, we don’t know everything, do we?

To end this somewhat inadequate summation, Huggy and Dobey do not like each other. This is a wonderfully unexpected dividend to this unlikely pairing. Dobey is derisive of what he sees as Huggy’s jive-talkin’ persona, which he sees as both ethnically troublesome and possibly felonious, and Huggy – bewildered, always optimistic – sees Dobey as an uptight dude who treats him like garbage. Maybe, just maybe, beneath the festive shower of the emergency sprinkler system, drunk on champagne, they may start to feel differently.

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One Response to “Character Studies 8: The Supporters”

  1. Dianna Says:

    I think Dobey is also very loyal, and he is willing to stand up for Starsky and Hutch against the bureaucracy. I wonder what effect the death of his own partner had on his attitudes and style.

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