Episode 52: The Heroes

Reporter C.D. Phelps writes an unfavorable article about Starsky and Hutch after riding with them for a few days on a case involving drug tampering.

Christine “CD” Phelps: Karen Carlson, Paul Rizzo: Jerrold Ziman, Roxy: Lynn Borden, Karl Regan: Madison Arnold, Al: Lee McLaughlin, Freddy: Gary Graham, Frankie: Nick Holt, ME Ginny Simpson: Adrien Royce, Tony: Patrick Wright, Larry: Charles Picerni, Driver: Hope Newell. Written By: Kathy Donnell and Madeline DiMaggio Wagner, Directed By: Georg Stanford Brown.


This is a pretty great episode about willful misinformation and misinterpretation, something the series is very interested in as a whole. Starsky and Hutch are often mistaken for the wrong side of the law, the “you guys don’t look like cops” mantra meant to illustrate the wave of nontraditional youth with their long hair and jeans flowing into the workforce on all levels in the wake of the swingin’ 60s, but it’s also a metaphor or their liberal humanism so at odds with the uptight past. There are other types of falsehoods and misconceptions too: criminals who look respectable, cops who are corrupt, holy men who are the epitome of unholy, bickering as a form of affection. Society is in flux, nothing is as it seems.

The fact that this episode was written by two women is especially interesting, and we can look at the underlying meaning of this episode in two ways: politically and personally. Politically it shows how an intuitive, creative, circumstance-dependent process (in this case, street-level policing) is very difficult to understand from the outside. Being misunderstood – or worse, unfairly judged – has a profound sting that everyone who has experienced it never forgets. Being pilloried by the press is especially painful because it’s difficult to fight back or offer an indignant explanation without seeming to be oversensitive or defensive. Starsky and Hutch, in this instance, experience a rare and unpleasant feeling of powerlessness. The fact this is brought about by a woman adds an interesting extra layer to this, touching on (but not quite exposing) a man’s dread of psychic castration by a powerful woman – especially if that woman uses sharp words as her weapon, a frustrating tactic neither detective can match. Personally, this episode is an examination of how much better things would be if men could dispense with all the ridiculous posturing and preening and deal with women in a forthright, honest way. Chris is the villain here, sure, but she’s also an important catalyst and worthy of respect.

In the delightful opening scene Starsky is trying to talk Hutch into going into the house-flipping business together, which was, I’m assuming, a far more speculative investment at the time. Starsky as usual is bubbly and enthused about this while Hutch is dour and sarcastic. Hence the immortal “Starsky, are you asking me to live with you?” line. “Hey,” Starsky says as they are ordered into Dobey’s office, “Keep it under your hat.” “What,” Hutch says irritably, although he must know what it is.
“The house,” Starsky says, and then swats Hutch’s behind with the files. This is exactly the kind of familiarity Hutch wants badly and also feels compelled to violently reject. You can see him do a little grimace as they walk into Dobey’s office: The Hutch Special, that sarcastic, private sneer.

Karen Carlson is perfectly adequate in her role as uptight Chris Phelps. But her earlier appearance as Gillian is so unforgettable, and the episode so intense, you wish the illusion had been maintained. Seeing her pop up again, alive and well and with the same amazing hair, is jarring. It breaks the spell.

“The Counter-Culture Cops: The New Breed” is the name of Phelps’ article. It sounds laudatory, and implies an open mind. Then why is she so determined to ignore Starsky and Hutch’s approach to law enforcement and set them up for ridicule?

Dobey thinks C.D. Phelps is a man. He says, “he requested you. He likes your track record.” So this can’t be an assumption based solely on initials; Dobey must have spoken to someone at the newspaper in order to get this information, someone who referred to Phelps as a “he”. It’s possible, but not probable, that no identifying pronouns were used in the conversation, sort of brusque “yeah Phelps really likes their track record”, but that would have been an awfully brief chat and not likely, since access to detectives requires a lot of negotiation. Was there some deliberate obfuscation, the editor thinking Phelps wouldn’t get the story otherwise?

It’s a predictable comedic moment when the guys see the “man” reporter is actually a super-hot chick (Hutch, as usual, trips). When Dobey offers their regrets, Starsky interrupts with “Cap’n, can we have a word with you”, confident in speaking on behalf of his partner even though they have not looked at each other, not once.

If Chris doesn’t like how they handle the butcher by pretending there are health violations, that’s her problem – it’s good police work and probably pretty close to the mark: there may not be any flies, but has that guy washed his hands in the last week? And what’s with the stogy?

Roxy’s incredibly sweet. “Come on in, let’s have a party,” she says, which is one of the nicest and sincerest invitations we hear. Hutch shows his good people skills when Roxy offers free sex in return for his money and his reply – “my catechism teacher would have a fit” – transfers the refusal to a third person, which keeps Roxy’s ego in tact and saves her from humiliation.

Chris is out of line when she says, in response to Roxy’s brave shrugging off of her friend dying, “a man is dead, you’re going to joke about it?” How naïve is she if she doesn’t recognize gallows humor?

I like how Starsky and Hutch switch flirtation styles back and forth. At the start Hutch tells Chris she has “beautiful hair” and Starsky appeals to her intellect by remarking, “your column’s not bad either”. Later, at the fast-food stand, Starsky remarks on her legs while Hutch says irritably, “Here I am trying to understand the core, the complexity of a personality and all you can talk about are her legs! Come on.”

During their continuing fight over who’s gonna bag Chris Phelps Hutch isn’t as confident as he might be. Although he brags and preens, he seems to realize that in the charisma game he and Starsky are just about equal. Does he see this as consolation or an aggravation? Imagine Hutch with another partner, one who isn’t as handsome as Starsky, or who is married or indifferent to women. Without serious competition I suspect it wouldn’t be nearly as fun for Hutch.

Hutch tells Chris that people like Roxy are “today’s informants” but “tomorrow’s suspects, and arrestees.” Does he really mean that, or is he just trying to be impressive?

It’s a good thing they cast stunt-man and Glaser double Charles Picerni to play the role of insurance swindler Larry, who throws himself in front of cars to fake injury. Having a stunt man who can act in a pinch comes in handy.

Chris Phelps’s idiocy continues. “Maybe if you pulled her in when you could’ve this wouldn’t have happened,” she says to Hutch, a glaring error in logic. Pulled her in for what? Prostitution? Suspicion of drug use? She would have been out in 20 minutes. But this ridiculous remark is enough to trigger Hutch’s deep humanitarian impulse. Hutch is tough, no doubt about it, but he’s also quick to self-reproach. “Maybe,” he says to himself after she’s gone.

The shakedown of the bar is wonderfully reminiscent of the pilot episode when the guys round up the denizens at Fat Rolly’s old watering hole. Friendly, aggressive, all-knowing and take-no-shit, they’re commanding in this scene. I like how Starsky borrows a rape whistle to begin the proceedings, blasting it like a referee at a soccer match. “They think they’re a bunch of kings or somethin’”, Frankie says to Chris, and she makes two very typical mistaken assumptions. One, taking Frankie’s word for it, and two, seeing this sense of entitlement as a negative.

Starsky bustles into the squad-room wearing exactly the same outfit as Hutch. Black leather jacket, red-and-blue plaid shirt, jeans. The two of them have a great moment of pausing and glaring. Is Starsky mimicking Hutch’s dress because he thinks it’ll get him points with Chris and if so, does this imply he thinks Hutch is doing better with Chris than he is? Another more amusing possibility is they both, at one time, discussed the best outfit to wear on the make. This identical-outfit scene is echoed in the later episode “Starsky vs. Hutch”, again as a direct result of sexual combativeness.

It’s interesting how Starsky and Hutch don’t waste a second assuming they’re guilty of anything they are accused of in the article. Starsky says, “that’s exactly what she saw,” saying he knows they changed their methods on Dobey’s orders. They don’t do is accuse her of lying. They’re more embarrassed at the idea of being fraudulent than they are of following proper procedure.

“Long hair”? Really? That’s one of the offenses they’re guilty of? What is this, 1968?

When it’s revealed in the newspaper article that she’s given the guys the names “Mutt and Jeff” there are laughs in the squad room. I wonder if there’s an element of schadenfreude at the station, other cops thinking it was high time Starsky and Hutch were taken down a peg or two.

Chris Phelps shows a lot of grit by showing up after her damaging article was printed. You’ve got to give her credit for that. She also says, “look, can we just get this out in the open now, okay?” when both Starsky and Hutch act passive-aggressively, refusing to deal with their private shame.

The guys are rougher than usual with Regan; they do this half because of the case and half because they’re frustrated and embarrassed by the article. It’s like, yeah, you think we’re violent? We’ll show you violence. “That goes for me too,” says Hutch to Regan, in a nice all-for-one partnership moment.

Could Chris’ character be a personification of the television critic of the time who thinks this show is too violent? She certainly has the conservative, slightly hysterical act down pat, and when Starsky attacks her for leveling the “excessive violence” charge, it sounds as if a genuine nerve has been struck.

Aside from not ignoring calls and flirting with Chris less, Starsky and Hutch don’t behave much differently after her scathing article than before, but it’s great that the major difference is making her ride in the back of the Torino so they can sit together. What they do is take her off the list of Women to Flirt With, which is, ironically, a very good thing and gives Chris the dignity she seeks, and deserves.

I love how the Torino smashes into the heavy equipment at the construction site. Small error in driving, or intentional?

Chris freaks out in the squad room in an irrational way (demanding they show “a little more sensitivity”, etc). Hutch and Starsky should understand she’s been traumatized by witnessing the violence of rape firsthand and not take this personally, but they don’t. They’re prickly and defensive, and Hutch calls her “lady”, a dehumanizing tactic of his when particularly upset (there are numerous times throughout the series of him calling women “lady” at the height of his annoyance or anger).

Atypically, Starsky assumes the role as the shouter when it comes to Christine’s unfairness. Hutch just sits back and lets him rant, and then takes the reasonable stance. “Cool down, will ya, Starsk,” he says, and then: “don’t let her get to you.” Even though it’s gotten to him as well, and profoundly.

Hutch again shows his great memory when remembering a homicide a year ago, the name of someone not even in the main action.

It’s notable that an intense, elemental, emotional character like Starsky has no answer to Chris’ question, “why didn’t you shoot him?” He merely gives her a complicated look. It’s verbal-dependent Hutch – anxious, sociable, cerebral – who provides the answer. And it’s a great one. “It wasn’t necessary.”

Tag: “well, here we are,” Starsky says, dismissing Chris Phelps completely from his mind as only he can. They arrive at the light industrial area. “Our house.” Our house? Starsky is quick to assume. Hutch gives one of the all-time great double-takes when he sees the dilapidation. But can he not see that his car is even worse than that house?
Starsky is sanguine about Hutch’s horrified reaction, as if anticipating it, or even desiring it, on some unconscious level. Is he compelled to distract his partner from existential despair? “I’ll throw in a lawn,” he adds as Hutch – Mr. Clumsy, falling from both the crap stairs and the crap banister – moves toward him with homicidal rage.

One wonders if they ever got a return on their money. With the building boom, maybe the land was worth a hundred times what they paid for it – who knows?

Clothing notes: Hutch wears the moon-and-star necklace, Starsky is as usual, blue shirt with the placket. The same-outfit joke is very funny. They wear it throughout the second half of the show.


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8 Responses to “Episode 52: The Heroes”

  1. King David Says:

    Yes, they should’ve cast someone else as Phelps. Someone unknown to us, or if that wasn’t likely, I’d’ve accepted the SFPD Det Linda from Death Ride.
    How is it Chris can’t see two professional officers in their own domain getting the job done and basically being human about it? She hasn’t twigged that they need survival mechanisms to deal with the dirty reality of real life on the streets, and a thick skin and gallows humour is vital. I liked the comment from Roxy about the death of her friend, and Chris is no journo if she is so insulated from emotion and reality if she missed this.
    S&H are so good at what they do they can take justifiable pride in their knowledge and skills. They are treating her, to everyone’s credit, as someone who enjoys, and is good at, her work.
    I really think that the way she caves in and goes all to pieces at the end was good dramatically, but poorly executed. WE know they wouldn’t fire unnecessarily; it must have been some eye-opening moment for Chris to realise that she was nothing special, and that S&H would treat everyone the same. They are good judges of situations. (Except, of course, pretty women and their agendas.)
    I like to hope that when Starsky says ‘our house’ it’s not actually bought and paid for, because I can see it is probably going to go badly. I just hope they’ve merely paid a small deposit, or something to hold it. Is there anything in the way that Starsky is framed in the door?
    “Starsky, are you asking me to live with you?” (Please say yes, please say yes.)

  2. Dianna Says:

    Merl, I would echo almost everything you said about this episode, except that you were clearly more bothered than I at the reuse of Karen Carlson in a different role. Her personality and interaction with Hutch in this episode were so different from in Gillian that I was mostly able to overlook it. Madison Arnold as Regan, on the other hand, had a character very similar to his character in Hostages. (Granted, they were both much smaller roles than Gillian or C.D. Phelps!) I can’t figure out why you say it’s a good thing Charles Picerni was cast as Larry.

    Perhaps C.D. Phelps initially intended to write glowing praise, but then experienced distaste at what she saw her first day, and changed her mind. After all, what she saw was the guys falling all over themselves to show off (which she must have plenty of experience with, so she can see through it immediately), them treating her as a prize rather than taking her seriously, in addition to their their orders to stick to one case only, etc.

    It seems very strange that the hard-headed journalist would not expect someone like Frankie to dislike cops in general; and stranger still that she doesn’t recognize Roxie’s gallows humor & world-weariness. She does seem to have settled on her conclusions awfully early in the process.

    After my noting that the Catholics in the series tend to be frauds, it was interesting to hear Hutch using his catechism teacher as the reason he wasn’t going to accept Roxie’s offer. If he isn’t Catholic (or raised Catholic) himself, he would say Sunday school teacher instead. Some might see this as a source for his inner turmoil.

    Since the house that Starsky chose was next to warehouses of some sort, I would guess it was only a matter of time before that house was rezoned to business, so the value would have shot up real soon after the purchase. Even without rezoning, California real estate prices started to really zoom right about that time, so unlike King David, I hope they did buy it. Even if they never had a tenant, they would have made a killing.

    The sign on the house says SOLD, rather than “Sale Pending,” which looks like the sale has already gone through, which seems unlikely if both partners had not even seen it yet.

    Hutch afraid he will need a back brace… prophetic.

  3. King David Says:

    There’s a thought, Dianna, Starsky making a good decision and profiting from it. Let’s imagine that.

  4. Sharon Marie Says:

    Back brace…. prophetic indeed! David Soul is the master of trips, stumbles, prattfalls and double takes!

  5. stybz Says:

    I also didn’t have a problem with Karen Carlson being in this episode. I’m usually good at catching familiar faces, but her hair seemed different in this one, so I didn’t connect that it was the same actress as in Gillian until I read the closing credits. 🙂

    I didn’t have a problem with Charles Picerni being in this episode either. I laughed and enjoyed seeing him standing side by side with Paul. 🙂

    I agree with Dianna. I don’t think CD intended to write a nasty story from the outset. I do think she entered into the situation with an open mind, but her naivete got her in hot water.

    I laughed when Starsky and Hutch wore similar outfits. Two things could be going on here. On the surface it could mean they’re so close they’re starting to dress alike. 🙂 Or, as Merle suggested, in their competition for CD’s affection, Starsky tries to dress as well as Hutch (or like Hutch) to level the playing field. 🙂 This could possibly relate to my comment in Captain Dobey You’re Dead when I said that Starsky looked up to Hutch like an older brother. If Starsky didn’t, then he would have dressed differently (perhaps better than) and not exactly like Hutch.

    I laugh whenever I see Paul drive the Torino into something. The main reason why is because Paul has said often that he tried repeatedly to destroy the car because he hated it so much. LOL! 🙂

    I’ve been reading the analysis of Hutch in this thread and in others and I find it interesting. I never thought of his behavior – especially his meanness to Starsky – as insecurity, or that he’s eager for validation from Starsky.

    I’m wondering if the reason Hutch can be so mean to Starsky isn’t because he needs validation from his partner, but because he’s scared of the relationship they have. I think Hutch has a harder time of it, because he’s afraid to listen to his heart. He’s never felt so close to anyone before and it terrifies him. I also think that at times he’s mean to Starsky to protect his friend. Starsky’s wild optimism worries him sometimes, and Hutch probably feels that it’s better if he cuts Starsky down a few notches just to get his feet back on the ground, rather than someone else do it and really hurt him. Starsky also embarrasses him at times too, but again it’s heart vs head. Starsky is comfortable with himself and his sense of whimsy, but Hutch isn’t.

    Starsky wears his heart on his sleeve and I think that worries Hutch. At the same time Starsky’s more emotionally and mentally in tune, than Hutch. That’s why when he was madly in love with Gillian, Hutch had a hard time switching off when Starsky needed him as backup in the alley. Hutch froze because he had let his heart take over and his head had lost control. He isn’t used to it. He isn’t as in sync as Starsky is, and as a result he tries vehemently to lean more to rational thinking. And that gets him into trouble. And this might relate to a later episode, one which I haven’t seen in its entirety yet, but have read some of the comments on here. I might change my tune once I see the whole thing.

    In this episode I thought Hutch was being confident about winning over Christine. So much so he doesn’t hesitate when Starsky raises the ante.

    So far I still think there is a brotherly bond here and that Starsky still does look up to Hutch. In the tag he’s genuinely concerned that Hutch doesn’t like the house, although he tries to convince him that a few nails will do the trick. 🙂 I am surprised that Hutch went in on the deal, since the first house Starsky showed him looked terrible (although not as bad as the one they bought). I was hoping to see a condemned sign on the property. It could be upon Hutch’s insistence, they rented a bulldozer, leveled the place and sold the lot. 😀

    I did find it an interesting element to their relationship that when they raised the ante to $20, Hutch hands his money to Starsky. Now, that’s trust. Volumes spoken there. 😀

  6. DRB Says:

    I think it is very understandable that Phelps is frustrated by the guys showing off and then ignoring a call. She is not to know that Dobey instructed them to censor their work, but she is right to be suspicious of their reactions to her. No doubt she has had her own issues with being taken seriously as a professional because of both her gender and her beauty. Perhaps she is wondering if their records are being overstated when she sees how casually they seem to be approaching crime. After all, she doesn’t have our knowledge of them and can only make judgment of what she sees.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Very true. I try to make the point in this post that the character of Phelps can be seen in a different light than viewers must have originally viewed her. It’s impossible to accurately guess what the writers and director’s intentions were, but I think “persistent female reporter” was supposed to be largely a negative, particularly to female viewers, who were supposed to despise both her beauty and her impertinence. A fresh, sharper lens certainly improves the view.

  7. marianne ewing (@pippen571) Says:

    the boys had a lot of clout at the studio(ABC’only hit at the time)
    David brought in Karen Carlson twice(his ex wife) and Lynne Marta
    (his girlfriend) for 3 or 4 episodes and they got to direct which was unheard of back then

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