Episode 38: Huggy Bear and the Turkey

Huggy Bear and his friend, Turkey, go into the private detective business.

JD “Turkey” Turquet: Dale Robinette, Foxy Baker: Emily Yancy, “Scorchy”: Carole Cook, Sonny: Richard Romanus, Lady Bessie: LaWanda Page, Walter T Baker: Fuddle Bagley, “Dad” Watson: RG Armstrong, Yank: Joe La Due, Sugar: Blackie Dammett, Moon: Mickey Morton, Man: Darryl Zwerling, Doc Rafferty: Eddie Lo Russo, Milo: Titus Napoleon, Leotis: Stan Shaw. Written By: Ron Friedman, Directed By: Claude Ennis Starrett Jr.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

This episode was a pilot-to-be for a spinoff series starring Huggy and Turkey, but the fans didn’t care for it, and it remains one of the least-liked episodes, mostly because Starsky and Hutch have only three scenes in it, at the beginning, middle and end. Their parts are fun: undercover as an old couple (Starsky hides his handcuffs in his bra, and presumably Hutch later has to root around in there for them) and then as hairdressers Tyrone and Mr. Marlene (Hutch is Tyrone in this one; they switch names in Season Four’s “Dandruff”).

Turkey comes from nowhere and is never seen again. It’s a little difficult to imagine how Huggy would get to be so friendly with this good ol’ boy, with his folksy ways and wide-eyed innocence. There’s no way he could be from the old neighborhood (“Huggy Can’t Go Home”) and it’s unlikely he’d be a regular at The Pits. So where does he come from? Imagine how cool it would be if Huggy had teamed up with Collandra the Psychic to solve crimes.

Sonny tells his two henchmen to terrorize an elderly couple who owe his father money. Hilariously, he’s reading a typical 70s self-help book called “How to Like Yourself”.

Foxy Baker comes running into the street to beg Starsky and Hutch for help while they’re wrestling with one of the henchmen. How did she know it was them, considering how dark it is, how few street lights there are, and the fact that they’re still in undercover costumes as the elderly tailor and his wife (disheveled, sure, but not when Foxy was looking out the window a minute earlier)?

The sassy secretary/bartender lady comes out of nowhere with the same proprietary attitude the Turkey has, as if she’s been in the series since day one. Wearing a memorable paisley muumuu thing and waving a fan, she’s something else. But she represents a major problem with this episode. Namely, we’ve never seen any of these people before. And yet they’re making themselves right at home with the expectation we already like and trust them. It’s like Huggy has been plopped into an alternative universe with a bunch of strangers.

Turquet introduces Huggy as “my partner, Huggy Bear Brown.” This is the first and only time his last name is used. It should come as a minor revelation, but instead it emphasizes the feeling that something is slightly off-kilter here. One’s impulse is to think – hey, that’s not right.

“Foxy Brown” is an in-joke on a movie by the same name that Fargas starred in ’74.

When Turquet balks at the beginning of the case, Huggy protests that they badly need the money, indicating that the phone company is about to cut them off after a bouncy check. Later, we see they already have an office set up, fully furnished with plants and art and all very expensive-looking. Why all the preparation before their first case? Isn’t that a huge waste of money, especially since Huggy is, at best, a reluctant partner?

The scene with Turquet trying to sound “blacker” and Huggy doing his terrible Laurence Olivier impression (ostensibly the epitome of “white”) is either in horribly cringe-worthy or very funny in a pre-PC sort of way. Frankly, it’s a toss-up. Which explains why this episode is so weird – the feeling you ought to laugh when you shouldn’t, and roll your eyes when you should.

Caught out, responding to Bessie’s barking demand he say something, Turkey bellows that awful but strangely unforgettable line “when do the new Cadillacs come in”. What the? What purpose does that serve, other than making Turkey look and sound stupider than he already does? At least Lady Bessie gets it right when she sneers, “well that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

The two leave Bessie’s apartment, going down the same rickety stairs we’ll see later in “The Collector”. The bad sets are one of the infuriating “cheap” aspects to the series as a whole. In this show in particular the quality seems especially cut-rate: the direction is lackluster, the acting shruggingly indifferent, and the props look like they were purchased at a dollar store. The only saving grace is the occasionally cheeky script by Ron Friedman.

Huggy seems particularly upset at being called “skinny”. Why? Doesn’t he know how skinny he is?

Set problems again: the guys are escorted at gun-point through two offices, but as the camera follows them, it looks as if the office walls are fake. Here’s the same big henchman again, the one busted not long ago by Strsky and Hutch at the tailor’s shop. They probably would have charged him with assault with a deadly weapon, extortion, resisting arrest, possibly robbery. And yet, he’s out on bail, and quickly too. The Watson family lawyers must be very good.

Huggy refers to Bad Dad Watson as a “hood” right in his face – usually something that any self-respecting suit-and-tie-wearing gangster would shoot you for. But this guy lets the slight pass.

Turquet blithely names the two guys who threatened them earlier as “Sugar and Milo” – how in hell did he learn their names?

Watson tells Huggy that because he’s black he’ll have a better chance at tracking Walter T. Baker. This makes the fifth or sixth overt race comment in the show.

Leotis (packed tightly into slightly too-small clothes) doesn’t lack “basic logic” so much as he is gullible and takes things literally. He thinks a gun is a hot water heater. He also spills the beans to Sugar and Milo when they say they are FBI. He thinks pizza is a good breakfast. None of these three “goofs” are his fault, and the way in which he’s presented, as a simpleton in poor man’s overalls  – really grates. Turquet should not have called a gun a “heater”. In such a race-conscious episode as this, was he again trying to sound black again?

Leotis does a little parlor trick involving addition that puts him firmly in the mathematical genius category. It seems sad that both Huggy and Turquet find his talent simply amusing rather than mind-boggling.

Foxy tells the team they have to negotiate a settlement between her husband and the gangsters, delivering money from the terrified Walter T. to Bad Daddy. This is the exact plot of Huggy’s earlier starring role in “Kill Huggy Bear”, season one. Could they not think of anything else to do with him?

Cousin Leotis tells the guys there are two “mean-lookin’ dudes” watching the building, they rush to the window and look out. So does the camera … onto an anonymous street scene. No mean dudes. Not that I can see. And yet both Huggy and Turquet look frightened. “We’re in a heap of trouble here!” Turquet says. Later, we see the dudes waiting patiently in a van. How can you make out two people inside a van from the 4 th or 5th floor of an office building?

Why, if Sonny’s in on Foxy’s game, does he cry out, “I’ve got you, Walter T!” when she comes through the door in disguise? Who’s he kidding? Speculate on the thought that Sonny Watson and Foxy Baker are lovers as well as co-conspirators. One clue may be his taking off her glasses at the amusement park, a particularly intimate gesture.

Huggy tries to make up a reason “Walter T” took off when they came looking for him. “Maybe he doesn’t like interracial couples,” he muses. Okay, at this point in the show you want to say, I get it. You and Turkey. Ebony and Ivory. I get it.

Bad Dialogue Moment: “I don’t know about you,” Turquet says as they’re walking at gunpoint, “but I get the feeling these guys aren’t here on a mission of mercy”. Huggy replies that Sugar “is definitely unrefined.” Please make them stop.

The guys then get out of their predicament using a traditional Starsky and Hutch maneuver: they fake a fight to distract their captors.

Biographical note about Sugar, played by a rather sparkling Blackie Dammett, who will appear several more times in the series as various hoods and heavies: Dammett is the father of Anthony Keidis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Huggy gets Starsky and Hutch to pick up “a coupla hunks of garbage”, Sugar and Milo. Oh yeah? On what charge? They can’t prove anything. An unregistered handgun, perhaps, but that’s a stretch.

Cut to Starsky and Hutch undercover at the beauty salon. Hutch as Tyrone is typically all in: hilarious heart-shaped shades, salmon-pink overalls and gauzy blouse. Mr. Marlene, his partner, is almost low-key in his stripey shirt and gold chains. The two guys really seem to relish their roles, include the quasi-flirting line by Starsky, “you know your eyes flash when you get angry?” Of course, he would know, having been “flashed” many, many times. They are also working the same protection-racket case as Huggy and Turkey ostensibly are. But how, one wonders, are Starsky and Hutch able to pass as hair-dressers over an extended period of time (later, they will adopt the same guise in the equally fascinating and terrible “Dandruff”)? They would have to cut and style hair convincingly. Do they know how to do this? Also, how does a beauty shop fit into Watson’s extortion scheme? Is it the next small business to be hit up by the two henchmen? Does Mrs Watson come in for a wash and set, and is she an indiscreet chatterbox?

Cut to Huggy and Turquet at the dentist’s office (in a useless, meandering scene), and a really vulgar exchange with a porn actress– er, nurse. The grossness is amplified when Huggy remarks that her body should be registered as a dangerous weapon. She later– shockingly– refers to Turquet, whom she believes is French, as “Froggy”. More racial epithets in a show replete with them.

At this point, with Huggy and Turquet back at the office going over the details of the case, the plot, always slow, grinds to a preposterous halt. Even the wonderful Fuddle Bagley, with all his twitchy energy, can’t save the episode at this point.

Leotis ventures across a narrow I-beam across two buildings (with a what, hundred-foot drop?) as a short-cut to deliver pizza? “All the neighborhood kids” use it? Give me a break.

After a brief stand-off, the guys are rescued by the sudden appearance of Starsky and Hutch, who descend on the rooftop with their customary no-nonsense grace and power, and the relief is palpable. Even the actors seem to be thankful this is nearly over.

Tag: Here’s Darryl Zwerling, reappearing from “The Set-up”, this time as a mustachioed victim of a robbery. What is everybody thinking? That a week later, we’ve forgotten all about him? Incredible. The final question, “uh, which one of you is Turkey?” can be answered thus: THIS ENTIRE EPISODE.

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8 Responses to “Episode 38: Huggy Bear and the Turkey”

  1. Dianna Says:

    I knew before watching this episode that people consider it a dud, so I began with rather low expectations, and yet it still managed to be worse than I thought it would be. Who are these people, and why are they acting like they own the place? Merl’s comment about the alternate universe pegged it exactly.

    While watching, I kept checking the time remaining, to see how much longer I had to endure. I can’t bring myself to watch again, but luckily Merl has said it all already, except for a couple of points:

    Starsky and Hutch as hairdressers was really weird, because one needs a license to do that job. Did the guys go to Beauty School, and we never noticed? (Hutch’s glasses look like apples, not hearts.) When Hutch takes the phone, he talks awfully loudly about the protection racket! The fact that they knew about the racket should have awoken him to the fact Turquet and Huggy might have valuable information. Normally, if Huggy calls, they drop everything and go find out what he has to say.

    The second time Turquet calls them and asks for Tyrone and Mr. Marlene, he has to repeat himself, and then says, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right! Starsky and Hutch!” Their cover is that weak?

  2. stybz Says:

    The first time I got around to it, I skimmed it for the S&H scenes, because I felt the rest of it would be too painful to watch. Last night I decided to give it a chance.

    At first I thought this episode might have intended all along to run as a Starsky and Hutch episode but screened well in advance to the network, so that if it sold, the subsequent S&H episodes would have had Huggy gone or his part reworked in some way to reflect his new profession.

    But then I thought, what if they had intended on showing it as a standalone pilot separate from Starsky and Hutch with them as guest stars, but when the network nixed it they decided to air it as part of the show, if for nothing else but to make back the money spent on filming it and showcase the two actors.

    I have to say that aside from the far fetched referral by Starsky and Hutch to go talk to new PI Huggy and Turquet, I thought the episode played rather well. Sure the plot was not well executed and some of the writing was racist and at times really poor, but the chemistry worked. I liked Turquet, although I didn’t like that he was the token white man. That’s what bothered me about this episode initially. Why did he have to be white? Well, because back then two black leads were not a common thing on TV yet. It’s a shame, because I think that’s part of what killed this spin off. It was just too blatant. And why make him a “country boy”? I agree it didn’t make sense that streetwise Huggy would team up with someone who is so purebread, unless the writers felt they were carrying on the theme of “whitebread” and “streetwise” like Starsky and Hutch, but felt they needed to be more obvious. Kind of brainless if you ask me.

    Other than that, I liked the chemistry between them. It shows that Antionio could successfully carry (or co-carry) a show on his own. 🙂 I liked the scene at Bessie’s (when they’re having dinner, not before), and liked how she caught on to him and in the end liked him. If this show had sold, they probably would have had some good interaction going on there. But the writing and the set-up just wasn’t good enough.

    When Sugar and Milo tell Huggy and Turkey that someone in their office spilled the beans when Milo and Sugar said they were FBI, I thought it was Foxy who told them. After all they left her in the office. Maybe it was Leotis, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. 🙂

    Overall a weak episode. Had they put some more effort and thought into it, they might have had a good spin-off, but this was just weak.

    As for Starsky and Hutch, their scenes were the best, except the tag where it seemed a bit forced. The scene at the salon is hilarious with Starsky getting into his role as the stylist, and Hutch telling that poor woman that she’ll look like Farrah when he’s done with her. LOL!

  3. Jay Says:

    Considering Starsky & Hutch’s law of work, it is conceivable that they could obtain a “license.” LaWanda Page delights as always! I see how it could have been seen as a “spin-off” pilot, but neither characters really had the credentials. Huggy has “street smarts” , but Turkey seems to be a last-minute inclusion. I have seen other shows that have done a a ‘one-off’ (“Married With Children” comes to mind). In the spectrum of all of the shows, calling this one “weak” puts in the same category as most 70s shows. Looking back, the plots were often only a funnell to ‘action.’ I guess that could be said about each and every thing on the “boob tube.” Watching these shows brings back nostalgia, but also sadness as they don’t hold up to my now-adult (post-40) level of comprehension. Just like comic books, I loved having to read a wordy comic two-three times to get the nuances. Now it is all about the artwork more so than the dialogue. But I digress…

    • merltheearl Says:

      Jay, thank you for your comment. I was hoping to prove that this series actually does pay huge dividends to those of us who watched it in childhood and now watch it again in adulthood, as we can appreciate the subtleties and analyse the once-hidden layers we couldn’t see before. In fact the whole point of this exercise is to rescue “Starsky & Hutch” from the historical junk pile and confirm that it is, in fact, worthy of critical respect and admiration. It wasn’t appreciated in its time for either its thematic complexity or for its intense depiction of male friendship (woefully misunderstood and neglected then as now). I’m trying to right what I see as a grievous, snobby wrong. Judging from your comment it seems as if you disagree. Or maybe it’s just this episode in particular that warrants your dismissal (totally understandable).

  4. Jay Says:

    Sorry if I came off as dismissive. I remembered seeing the show when it originally aired, but my post-40 mind doesn’t recall the details. I looked forward to Starsky and Hutch! I even brought the “updated” version on DVD, but I am a Ben Stiller fan as well. I love shows like Barnaby Jones, Baretta (the theme song alone was the best), Mannix, Dr. Marcus Welby, etc. I have the X (Earth X, Paradise X…) graphic novel series. The reading/plot is so dense that I have to re-read pages like I did as child. Huggy Bear was and always will be the man even if I didn’t know if he was a pimp/hustler/dealer!!! I do tend to type in a “stream of conscious” manner, my apologizes. Thank you for this blog!!!

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