Episode 75: Dandruff

Starsky and Hutch go undercover as hairdressers at a plush hotel to try to stop a heist by an internationally infamous jewel thief.

The Baron: Rene Auberjonois, Hilda Zuckerman: Audrey Meadows, Buddy Owens: Norm Alden, Dinty: Madison Arnold, Ellis: Blackie Dammett, Leo: Tracey Walter, Davidowsky: Jacques Aubuchon, Vivian: Leigh Hamilton, Harry: F William Parker, Van Dam: Alex Rodine, Adachi: John Fujioka. Written By: Ron Friedman, Directed By: Sutton Roley.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

Historical antecedents: a farce is an ancient theatre tradition characterized by broad, improbable situations, the use of disguises and mistaken identity, use of props, and verbal humor such as accents and word play. The plot is often confusing, the situations unlikely, and the scenes populated by childish, venal, vain and neurotic characters. Transgressive or irrational behavior runs rampant in this funhouse-mirror world, as the lowly become elevated to power, the genders blur, and sexual contravention is tolerated and even encouraged. It could be said farce, like its sharper cousin satire, is potent social commentary. Very often the “hero” is not heroic at all, but rather hapless, overpowered by events. Whether or not farce belongs in the canon of Starsky and Hutch, whether it is undignified or just plain pointless, is a whole other argument, but perhaps we can admire the sheer audacity of even attempting this farcical addendum to the series. One would be hard pressed to imagine any contemporary police drama, “CSI” or perhaps “Law and Order”, veering so dramatically down this yellow brick road.

The episode opens with disco-lounge music burbling, a glass tower, and a long pan of the fancy salon filled with older rich women who seem sadly anxious to engage with their glamorous gay hairdressers. There is a lot of smoking and drinking here, martinis and ice buckets jammed with wine bottles, and of course klutzy Hutch struggling with a champagne cork (banging it ineffectually with his hand) and chatting up a sweet lady eager “for a change”. And here we go into the episode most either love or hate: an hour of sheer camp.

Identity Politics: Starsky’s Tyrone character is an ultra-hetero Pink Panther-meets-Italian-mobster, about as “foreign” as Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata, a similar character to his outre dance instructor in an earlier episode and similar to his outre fashion photographer in a later one; all three feel a bit like exaggerated versions of Starsky himself, or more precisely the way six-year-old Davey might imagine his future Mr. Cool self to be. While Starsky tends to fall back on self-parody when undercover, Hutch’s Mr. Marlene is similarly hilarious and baffling, as he is wildly attractive to the ladies, all of whom make an immediate play for him even though he is doing his best to be as flamboyantly gay as possible. This also allows Hutch to let his inherent grumpiness – as well as his freak flag – fly, which must feel pretty good. Do these women not care? Is sexual adventurism so rampant it doesn’t matter who is gay and who isn’t? The social dynamics are confusing but also fascinating, because contravening the “other”, especially with such glee as these various women do, is a glimpse into a borderless utopia very far from contemporary reality (both then and now).

Both Starsky and Hutch, maintain their faux identities even when they don’t have to. Starsky keeps it up with Buddy the security officer, with Huggy and with Dobey, although he drops it briefly near the end with obvious reluctance. Hutch has thrown himself so completely into his role he keeps it up even during his conversation with Mrs. Zuckerman, who knows he is an undercover detective, and with Dobey, who shows tremendous forbearance by not slapping him.

Quite visually stunning is the scene in which the mysterious man goes down a polished chrome escalator lit with glamorous casino-style lighting. Why, however, does Starsky endanger the arrest – or at the very least make it messier and more dangerous than it should be – by shouting “hey” at the fleeing man? He should have simply boxed him in with Hutch, and made a quiet arrest.

Props: Starsky’s unexplained devotion to his stepladder is an amusing mystery. Hutch’s wig is consistent with the disguise elements of farce, but it’s gilding the platinum lily. And why curly? It makes Mr. Marlene look like a combination of Harpo Marx and the Rhinestone Cowboy. Later with the diamond merchant, he finally removes his itchy wig and then places it on another funny prop, a magically appearing wig stand.

After the arrest and soaking wet, Starsky and Hutch piteously wrap themselves in blankets, shivering and putting bare feet on Dobey’s desk. This scene also has Dobey scolding them and Starsky responding, “sometimes we act instinctively.” Hutch adds – with a little mince, a la Mr. Marlene – “sometimes impetuously.” There have been plenty of times throughout the run of the series in which both men have gotten soaked, and in more dangerous situations than a mere fountain. Remember the dive into the polluted, hypothermic ocean in “Terror on the Docks”? And yet they have never felt the need to appear as pathetic as this. Is this a result of their immersion into their characters? Is this diversion into the lifestyles of the rich and famous turning them into spoiled aristocrats?

Dobey rounds out the scene by referring to the salon as “where you two are practicing your culture”, which is possibly the funniest line in the entire series.

Neither Starsky nor Hutch have any idea who “the Baron” is. Hutch also goes “mmm?” when Dobey mentions the Belvedere diamonds, as if they know nothing about them either. So why go undercover – an expensive, time-consuming operation – before they have any facts?

On a minor note, Dobey shows the guys the cigars favoured by the Baron. Obviously they are rare and expensive. So why, then, is it such a huge box, with perhaps fifty cigars? Why not buy a couple individually? Dobey, a notorious nickel-and-dimer, has just blown the entire department’s budget.

The Baron is obviously no idiot. He has taken care not to leave any evidence identifying him. So why he is handing out Corona Superba Coronas like candy, wherever he goes? Blind spot, ego, or a writer’s lazy shortcut?

Nice cameo by screen veteran Tracey Walter, whose name is misspelled in the credits. Walter does a nice Igor-meets-Steve-Wonder performance as the canny smoke shop proprietor. Hutch is hilariously sibilant in his pronouncing the cigar brand, but it begs the question: why do you suppose he keeps up the charade as Mr. Marlene when seeking to make Leo an informant? Wouldn’t dropping the act and identifying himself as a police detective increase the chances of cooperation?

Starsky has a beautiful girl’s legs on his shoulders as he slowly undoes her shoes. Mrs Zuckerman has sent him to do a pedicure (in a hotel room?), but of course we see no implements of the trade, and no intention by either Starsky or his “client” to do anything remotely like it. Whatever he is really about to do is interrupted when she tells him about “the Baron”. This is an accidental discovery on his part, so there is no detective work involved. Of course.

Continuing with the eccentric, everyone-into-the-pool quality of this episode, it is nice to see our friend Blackie Dammett reappear for the third time as one of the henchmen in the silly suits. Dammett is sporting a couple of dramatic black eyes that appear to be real. Bad night before the day’s shoot, or what?

The ditzy woman is the salon is giving Hutch a tutorial in numerology. “1,9,4,9 adds up to 23…Now 2 and 3 add up to 5…I happen to be an 8, and 5 and 8 are about as far apart as you can get.” She suspects Hutch is a 6. Are Starsky and Hutch both 7, as Starsky guesses in his ESP test at the start of next episode’s “Black and Blue”?

Everyone should be more than a little worried when six gunshots are heard in the hotel, when Starsky and Hutch empty Buddy’s gun, but no one arrives to investigate. Also, why such a dangerous method to render a gun inoperable? Any one of those bullets could ricochet and kill somebody. Why not just take the gun away? There are two of them, and only one of him.

The fact hotel detective Buddy Owens does not know about two undercover cops is a problem. Wouldn’t the police department let him in on the case? He could be helpful, and his ignorance puts everybody in danger.

The following scene, in which the guys discuss the situation and follow the hotel detective into the basement where an improbable bomb goes off, is indicative of the charms – and evils – of this episode. Neither Starsky nor Hutch give up the various adopted quirks of their characters, which implies they do not take this case seriously and are having far more fun playing dress-up. Because they don’t care – and one suspects neither David Soul nor Paul Michael Glaser care, either – there is a certain dangerous element to this episode that can be bewitching, if you are in the right mood for it. The episode is soaked in a kind of chemical nihilism that echoes, or even amplifies, the times in which this was made. This kind of amoral hedonism is unfashionable in today’s principled and rational approach to televised narrative. I cannot think of a single police procedural that would condescend to this kind of candy-coated silliness, or have their tough action stars allowed to indulge their inner goof as Soul and Glaser do. Yes, this episode is challenging to consider in any seriously critical way. Yes, it is right to dismiss “Dandruff” as stupid and disappointing. It is stupid and disappointing. But it’s also a) a traditional farce, with all the complex conventions intact, b) a glossy reflection of the times and c) a fairly naughty, anti-establishment nod to profligacy.

The main purpose of a farce, of course, is the opportunity to say the unsayable by cloaking it in absurdity. In some cases this can become a powerful political tool, and there are four separate unmentionables exposed here. Its accuracy may be up for debate, but we can applaud this episode for its cartoonish but wholehearted embrace of gay men “practicing their culture”. Not exactly “The Boys in the Band”, but we’ll take what we can get. As well, let’s appreciate the unabashedly booze-soaked, sexually liberated (or at least rapacious) swinging scene of the 1970s so frankly depicted in the salon scenes in which the all-female patrons outrageously overpay for the privilege of “looking wonderful”, as Mrs. Zuckerman says. “Prince Nairobi” played by Huggy is a genial poke at the racially divisive atmosphere of the times, in which the average African-American is subject to appallingly endemic racism while an anonymously moneyed African “prince” is fawned over and revered. Surely this politically subversive joke on class hysteria is admirable, even in this context. Finally the sight of otherwise intelligent successful men scrambling over each other risking life and limb for a tiny bag of baubles is held up for ridicule.

Post-explosion, Starsky and Hutch waste time with poor Buddy with their feigned accents. Starsky is on his beloved stepladder. It’s genuinely amusing when he says they should bring their own “gay” to the auction.

Buddy insists he has everything under control and resists the help of the LAPD. Why, do you suppose, an international cartel of diamond buyers would trust some lowly hotel security officer to arrange their million-dollar auction?

Why would Starsky and Hutch endanger Huggy by bringing him as the fake prince as well as having him do the crucial sleight of hand with the diamonds? Dobey is a little high-profile to pass, but surely there must be other police officers available for the job.

There are a few scenes that do not feature Paul Michael Glaser. Bored out of his skull and “resting” in his trailer, or what?

More prop jokes with the hospital side table that gives out on Dobey. Buddy’s gun and holster are hanging in the hospital room, unsecured, a giant no-no that is distracting.

The extended kissing scene between Mr. Marlene and “Vivian Vivacious” behind the door goes on for a very long time and its insertion into the narrative is apropos of nothing, which probably one of its charms. This scene and others like it cement this episode’s – and farce in general, it should be said – obsession with doors.

Dosey-Doe: Harry and his oversized golf clubs has no compunction in sharing his “girlfriend”, but this encounter seems to be against Hutch’s will. Is it really, or is this more undercover “acting”? Hutch, like Starsky, has been sent to a girl’s hotel room, this time for a permanent. How this complicated, messy procedure can be done in a hotel room is beyond me. Coincidentally, both girls have no problem having a sexual encounter while the man they came in with is in the next room.

The Baron of Beefs: Throughout the episode, the supposed mastermind does a bunch of dim-witted things that only serve to complicate the situation. His first appearance in the hospital when Buddy is admitted is pointless. He poisons one of the participants in order to bug his briefcase instead of surreptitiously hiding it, with no one the wiser. He goes to a lot of trouble with costumes when he doesn’t have to. He bombs the computer room and attacks Buddy, two risky moves that don’t achieve anything other than increasing the paranoia surrounding the diamond sale. He sets up his two henchmen to take the fall for him, severely inconveniencing two thugs with long memories. He baits Starsky and Hutch with a snide note. He advertises his cigar quirks for all the world to see.

There’s one Japanese man in the room, and the only man who has not yet introduced himself. And yet Buddy says, with some confusion, “Which one of you is Mr. Adachi?” Maybe the knock on his head was harder than we thought.

It’s a box, not a pouch. It’s a bug, not a listening device. Starsky plays a great game of semantics, saying “If you were to put something foreign into your ‘box’, would it then become a ‘pouch’?” Everything is topsy-turvy and mutable, language included – and besides this may be the raciest double entendre in the series.

Finally, another important aspect to the traditional farce is that the culprit very often emerges victorious or unscathed while the hero is humiliated or disappointed as a way of poking fun at the idea of gallantry. It happens here, to a mixed effect. Like “Foxy Lady”, the guys are left looking mildly foolish as the Baron strolls away, which fits with the concept of this episode but makes everything seem more pointless than ever. I can’t help but imagine how this ending would fly just a few years earlier during the gritty first season when Starsky and Hutch were genuinely and passionately heroic, with no wink-wink irony to muddle the waters. Would Soul and Glaser have signed on if the ghost of Christmas Future revealed to them this goofball episode?

Also, Prince Nairobi is awfully cavalier with the diamonds, don’t you think?

Tag: the tag reinforces the supposition that farce is actually upholding a utopian view of society as well as a chaotic one, as the long-suffering (and insufferable) Mrs. Zuckerman blows out the candles on a patriotic cake while pontificating on the nation-building aspects of her gay-affirming, crazy-making way of life. Dobey then appears with a gift of cigars from The Baron. Did Dobey know the contents of the box? If so, why didn’t he subject the box to forensic science? Or does Dobey, like the guys, just not care? The two unnamed boys in black are awfully smooth with the lighters, causing Starsky and Hutch to appear worried for the first time.

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10 Responses to “Episode 75: Dandruff”

  1. Daniela Says:

    I have to say I am impressed! You managed to make even Dandruff sound interesting, enough so to make it worth looking at it again just to see the details you point out!
    Maybe I’ll have more pointed comments when I look at it again…. Or maybe not! LOL
    Thanks,
    Daniela

  2. merltheearl Says:

    I see where I made my error about the duties that sent Starsky and Hutch up to those girl’s rooms! Good spotting. I guess I’ll have to change my commentary to reflect your excellent eye for detail.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Thanks so much for the new perspective. I watched this again and laughed out loud many times!

  4. stybz Says:

    I actually had a good laugh watching this episode. I normally am wary when shows jump into camp or farce, because only a few really pull it off successfully. This one might have been too obvious, but I enjoyed it.

    The main reason it worked for me was because of the fact that Starsky and Hutch stayed in their undercover personalities. If they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been as fun seeing them doing all the comical stuff. To me it was part of their schtick and not something they’d do otherwise. So it worked for me.

    I saw shades of The Pink Panther in a lot of this, especially with Starsky’s bad French accent and the elusive jewel thief. It makes sense since the films were really popular at this point in time. I also wondered if they were also making references to Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) as well.

    Starsky’s outfit is reminiscent of Murder Ward (except a bit neater), another episode where he allowed himself to have some fun undercover, and probably why I could accept this one so easily.

    I did wonder why they didn’t let their guards down for the newspaper salesman or hotel security, but the latter was so sloppy at his job it probably worked better that they didn’t. Perhaps they didn’t trust him. 🙂 Still, again, if they had dropped the act, it wouldn’t have worked for me. 🙂

    Granted, it did appear as if they didn’t take the whole jewelry sting too seriously, but who can blame them after being kept in the dark at first. And maybe they suspected that given the difficulty of catching the thief, they decided that they’ll do their best, but focus on making sure he’d wind up with glass instead.

    I think the whole scene in Dobey’s office with them soaking wet and in blankets is where we see the real pair “out of costume” as it were, being themselves, using their real accents/dialects. Their comment about them being instinctive/impetuous is a valid one, since up to this point they had no idea why they were given this assignment, and in some ways probably felt they were not taken seriously enough to be given the whole story upfront. So when Starsky saw the robber, he assumed that’s why they were at the hotel to begin with. So being reprimanded by Dobey for that probably puzzled and frustrated them somewhat.

    I was waiting for Dobey to snap at Starsky to take his feet off the desk, but that didn’t happen. 🙂

    I seem to recall from my childhood my older brother at some point this season complaining about the inconsistency of Starsky and Hutch’s job with the precinct. Why are homicide detectives after a jewel thief? I don’t mind it so much, as they never really were specifically called homicide detectives except in a couple of episodes. 🙂

    I was too young to really understand it all, but I do recall that back in the 70’s and 80’s a hot looking male hairdresser was fawned over by all the female clientele who either had no idea he was gay or didn’t care. There was a guy like that at a salon I went to as a kid. All the young women were crazy for him and he enjoyed it. He didn’t behave flamboyantly gay, so it was hard for me to tell. 🙂

    It’s not unusual for a hotel to provide in-room services for an extra cost. 🙂

    The stepladder has got to be the most puzzling thing in this episode. I figured Starsky probably used it for when he would tease hair, making it a mile high, but for pedicures? LOL! Maybe it had something racy there with the placement of the legs strategically on certain steps? 😉

    From what I can tell, When Starsky has the woman’s leg on his shoulder he is saying in French something like “I learned” (J’appris) “You are beautiful” (Tu Fais beau). 🙂 I’m sure someone else has translated this elsewhere. 🙂

    I loved the henchmen. I’m trying to remember what film had similar characters. They were so familiar. It was a nice wink to whatever film it was. I thought they were great. 🙂

    The explosion is campy, especially on Starsky’s behalf. What a pratfall. LOL! There was something about them crawling to each other that reminded me of the last scene in a tragedy where the two dying lovers crawl to each other in a last effort to say goodbye. Only here it’s two friends and it’s them pulling each other to their feet. 🙂

    Merl, you mention a few scenes without Starsky. I read somewhere that one of the things the producers agreed to do when Paul returned to the show was allow Paul and David more time off, which meant they did more scenes separately. I’m not sure how true that is. I read it on a website, and I still have to go through a bunch of press articles from the period to see if this is actually the case. This explains why many of the episodes so far this season do have solo scenes (The Game, Blindfold, Moonshine, The Avenger and Black and Blue).

    One of the scenes he isn’t in is the funniest of the episode. I laughed so hard. It was Dobey and the falling table. I still laugh when I think of it. 🙂 The rest of the scene pales by comparison, though I did like Dobey saying, “Ty Ty.” Perhaps Paul was supposed to be in it, but had trouble keeping a straight face and had to leave the set. 😉

    • McPierogiPazza Says:

      What Starsky was saying to the woman whose shoe he was unlacing was “auprès de ma blonde, qu’il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon . . . dormir.” I misheard it at first and had to look it up. It’s a line from an old children’s song. “Next to my girlfriend, it feels good, feels good, feels good to sleep.” It originated in the 17th century and is, variously, a military marching cadence, a drinking song and a children’s song. “Ma blonde” can mean “my girlfriend.”

  5. Spencer Says:

    I’m sorry but I liked this episode, if only for the fact that it was an attempt to do something out of the ordinary, even if it didn’t turn out so well. I loved that Starsky kept up his accent (with Hutch acting as interpreter) and carried around that ladder for no apparent reason. I think it added a touch of surrealism. I loved the weird lady counting off numbers even after she was half drowned. I loved the guys’ over-the-top crawl to each other after the bomb blast. I loved the double entredres and Huggy with that enormous bone. David Soul has such an understated comedic talent, with his clumsy stumbling, stuttering (“Ty-Ty”) and small facial expressions, that he always makes me laugh. He moves between effeminate silliness and macho coolness with such ease. I loved the way he said good-bye to the buyers as they entered the elevator (“sayonara; later bro”). I appreciate their risk-taking.

  6. mrsowlcroft Says:

    I also really liked this one. With all the dark episodes in fourth season, it needs a couple of lighter spots for counter balance and this is certainly a light, or even frivolous, episode. But everyone is having so much fun, you have to just laugh along and enjoy the ride. It would have been a shame to waste those comedic talents! Perhaps my favorite scene was Huggy showing up as “Prince Nairobi” and greeting the guys with “Shalom”!

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