Episode 77: The Groupie

Cop “groupie” Melinda Rogers compromises Starsky and Hutch’s undercover investigation into a garment business racketeering ring.

Melinda Rogers: Caren Kaye, Jack Parker: Robert Loggia, Sears: John Ashton, Agent Ed Ohlin: Arthur D Roberts, Agent Bill Walters: David Knapp, Harold: Darryl McCullough, Barbara Wilson: Marianne Bunch, Mr. Marks: Gerald Hiken. Written By: Robert Dellinger, Directed By: Nicholas Colasanto.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

“I’ve got my application into the police academy,” Hapless Harold says to Melinda. This after leaving a loaded gun slung across a chair in her room. Speculate on the chances he will get accepted into the program.

Starsky and Hutch interrogate Harold and accuse him of being in on the heist. Harold is befuddled, but then when they comment that he didn’t even “manage to get off one shot” he relents and tells a story about a girl, blushing and smiling all the while. Where is the indignant avowal of innocence? Where is an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the charge? Where is the dawning horror that his sole raison d’etre is in danger of disintegrating before his eyes? Also, note that we never witness him telling the story of why he never fired his gun. Or hear him explain why it is he had just one bullet in that gun. Perhaps he did; we will never know.

In my opinion this is one of the worst episodes in the entire canon, maybe the worst, and I do not level that charge lightly. “Turkey” has at least the festive air of experimentation, “Dandruff” never intends to be anything other than farcical cotton candy, “Playboy Island” has a tinge of exotic travelogue, and “Photo Finish” at least has a certain narrative complexity. But this episode has very little going for it. The story is flaccid. Despite a childish need to out-perform the Feds, Starsky and Hutch don’t exhibit any feeling about the case. Hutch just wants to play dress-up, Starsky is half-asleep. We never see any actual police work. The actual “groupie” is poorly thought-out and irrelevant to the story. There are one too many gratuitous scenes of girls in bikinis. The music is terrible. The sets look cheap. The crime – ooh, stolen furs – doesn’t carry any real weight. Characters appear and disappear without rhyme or reason. Dobey is made to look ridiculous in his temper-losing scene. Starsky’s dangerous drawing of fire at the end endangers the lives of innocent bystanders. Rather than evil, Smooth Tony Zucker merely looks tired. Plus there is a lame joke at the end.

But of course there are a few moments that are wonderful: the first shot of Starsky and Hutch in the interrogation room, murmuring to each other in a joking way, nose to nose. And they’re smiling, too, enjoying the moment, enjoying the work, talking in shortcuts that underscore their closeness (“ping pong”).

Like his other forays into undercover acting, Hutch is having way too much fun posing as Jack Ives to even concentrate on what he’s supposed to be doing. His over-the-top rube-from-the-sticks act compromises the case: he is overly memorable and overly preposterous and anyone with a modicum of intelligence (admittedly this does not apply to very many characters in this episode) would become suspicious. It is, however, a remarkable performance: how can a handsome man descend to icky dweeb just by combing his hair forward and donning a pair of glasses?

“Margo (possibly Margaux) keeps having to calm down her yorkies,” flamboyant photographer Renaldo says, illustrating why a shoot for Vogue went long. This is a great all-purpose excuse that should be adopted by everyone in the fashion business.

Incidentally, this performance is a rare instance of Starsky nearly overshadowing his partner in the category of Most Absurd. However, in every single incidence of duo undercover work, both adopt exactly the same dynamic: Hutch always plays the outrageous goof with a superiority complex, and Starsky always plays his libidinous accessory (“The Bait”, “Long Walk”, “Voodoo Island”, “Moonshine”, “Murder at Sea”, “Dandruff”). What is this saying about their relationship? Is it satire – in which uncomfortable truths are diluted by silliness – or is it ironic, which means our presumptions are shown to be erroneous? Or, in some unfathomably complex way, is it both?

Starsky must be using his own camera equipment (in “Blindfold” we learn taking pictures is a hobby of his). One has difficulty imagining Bigalow signing out anything as expensive-looking at those cameras.

Jack Parker says “the future of fashion is in youth.” Well, duh. There are other ways in which fake-designer Parker shows himself to be perhaps not the best man for the job. His swimsuits aren’t that great. The indoor lattice-look of the showroom is déclassé. He’s too quick to accept Jack Ives. He lets Melinda do all the work. He seems distracted and out of sorts the entire time. He shows no actual interest in bathing suits. However, he is better at this than Hutch is, having been “undercover” for a year or more without detection, but I wonder why the writers felt it necessary to make Parker into a secret mafiosi rather than a more typical executive double-dipping from company funds. We can do here what we did in “Photo Finish” and exercise our brains by inventing fun and possibly legitimate theories, parting the layers of the story to see what lies between: in this case, the idea of secret identity is something that works. Every major character in this episode has something to hide, everyone is playing a role, some exaggerated invention intended to get them what they want. Harold is pretending to be a police officer, the police officers are pretending to be fashionistas, and Melinda is the biggest faker of them all, a psychological mess whose erotic desires churn away inside her, unprocessed and unchecked. Are the writers trying to tell us something about contemporary American life? Has the manic pursuit of stereotypical American goals – money, fame, sex and power – gotten us all tangled up in knots?

In the days before instant information, a letter of reference, a good story and a cheap business card is all Hutch needs to convince Parker that he is a force to be reckoned with in the fashion business. How things have changed.

The limp-handshake remedy is maybe the best moment in the entire episode. Note that it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything, and is most likely a nice ad lib bringing a bit of color to an otherwise generic businessman-blows-his-top scene.

Three major fur robberies in a single month is just asking for trouble. Tony Zucker should cool it, or at least try something else. How many stolen furs can one man move on the underground market, anyway? By this time the sales of furs had started to decline, no longer considered the last word in luxury.

The scene with the two federal agents is pretty good. The jurisdictional pissing match between the Feds and the local police department is a great excuse for drama in this and other procedurals and here Starsky and Hutch are wonderfully snotty. Their relaxed, masterful body language is fun to watch. Later, Starsky tells Hutch they have matched Jack Parker to Mafioso Tony Zucker, and that the FBI have been building a case on him, presumably for awhile. Hutch says amiably, “I wonder how the Feds are going to feel when we pull this case out from under their noses.” In this case, as in others, ego wins out over common sense, because there’s no way local detectives can match the FBI in terms of intelligence-gathering or witness statements, especially if Zucker’s crimes stretch from LA to New York, which they probably do. Of course the encounter with the two agents – as well as Hutch’s vow – comes to nothing, since the script is so pointless.

Why would Hutch endanger his cover by taking Melinda to The Pits? Is it another astonishing bit of carelessness like the time he took Marsha to Huggy’s Mouse Downs in “Tap Dancing”? Did he not think anyone would recognize him, or did he simply not care all that much? When surfer-dude Chicky from “Deck Watch” shows up and says hi, the jig is up, but I’m surprised the act went longer than a minute and half.

Hutch professes a discomfort around dogs, which is not consistent with his actual feelings on the subject. If he is speaking as Jack Ives, one wonders why he feels the need to pile on the layers of psychological complexity to his persona, since it bears no relation to his aims.

Of all the guest stars on this episode, the basset hound is most memorable, the most endearing, and possibly the most talented. He huffs and wuffs and wags when Hutch and Melinda come home, and tries to sit in Hutch’s lap.

“I can read cop at eight hundred yards,” Melinda says, snuggling closer. “And you have cop written all over you.” Is this true, or is Melinda lying to herself? She certainly didn’t know Jack was a cop when she spent all that time with him at the showroom, and later over dinner. It was only when a seed of doubt was planted at the Pits that she put two and two together. Her conclusion is an impressive one, as not many would have jumped to he must be an undercover detective! when a date is mistaken for someone else. Melinda then says if he isn’t a cop he must be a narcotics agent, or with the IRS. She has reasons for both those: her boss has a little coke habit, and is loose with his taxes. What, do you think, would be her reason for Jack Ives being a detective, infiltrating the business she works so hard for? Does she even wonder?

Hutch tells Starsky the “good news” is Melinda Rogers doesn’t have so much as a parking ticket; apparently this makes her trustworthy. However, he had no idea of this the night before when he allowed himself to be seduced. Why was Hutch so quick to take her into his confidence? He knew she was involved with Hapless Harold, that she had something to do with his inability to fire a gun (yes, yes, the Freudian implications are endless). She has “suspect” written all over her. Surely he could have come up with something to stall her, or convince her she was mistaken. If nothing else, resolutely sticking to his story might have worked.

There must be a missing scene involving stolen bullets. Melinda takes a bullet from the gun of each sexual conquest. Did she take one from Hutch? And if so, why is it never mentioned? If she didn’t, would that be because Hutch is too alert? (doubtful, re: “Body Worth Guarding”)

Melinda starts shadowing Sears, Zucker’s henchman. She’s caught and tells a convincing story that lets her off the hook. Interesting. Perhaps Melinda isn’t so much a cop groupie as a cop wanna-be. This would certainly make for a better, less sexist, episode. (Hutch seems to think this too: later, looking for her on the ship, he wonders if she’s “dusting the deck for fingerprints”.)

I henceforth introduce the notion that Melinda is not a harebrained sex-obsessed fetishist, but rather a woman who lacks authority and so appropriates it from men through seduction, manipulation, and ultimately castration. She has built up a deep resentment toward those powerful arbiters of her life and career – men. Which she hides beneath a faux-cheerful, silly mask rivaling the undercover personalities of both Jack Ives and Jack Parker. She works hard in a business well-known for its slavish demands, but knows she will never topple the male-dominated power structure. She markets sexually provocative swimwear but scorns the effect they elicit. She is under the thumb of a detached, omniscient male boss yet is forced to please him. These contradictions and inequities have caused her to hijack the power she feels she deserves. But what to do when ninety per cent of the men you work for are gay? And how to you act out your aggression invisibly if not through seduction of those men? By targeting the most obviously powerful men in society: law enforcement. By consuming them, she becomes them, and so gains what they have, namely authority and efficacy. I mention castration because there is a strong possibility she takes on these men simply to humiliate them. By rejecting them after the sexual encounter she figuratively as well as literally steals their bullets. This humiliation is punishment for their inability to protect or rescue her from her predicament. Of course we don’t see any of this, and you could level a charge of contrivance against me and have it stick, because there is nothing in the story that says I’m right. But let’s make a purse out a sow’s ear and wear it proudly, shall we?

Huggy makes it pretty clear the benefits of a relationship with Starsky and Hutch when he greets them cheerfully as, “My main man, my slack, my pipeline to the city treasury.” And yet in other episodes – most vividly in “Black and Blue” – he claims only to provide information when a life is on the line. Throughout, he seems to espouse both approaches to snitching. Huggy can be very contradictory.

Even though seeking – and getting – critical information, Starsky refuses to pay Huggy, giving him only a dime for the telephone and later refusing to shell out the promised fifty bucks. Is this a way of keeping Huggy in line, or does Starsky really not care whether Huggy comes up with anything?

Melinda tries to wriggle out of danger by claiming to be a police officer; Sears rummages in her bag, pulls something out and tosses it to Zucker. He laughs and says, “oh yeah, that’s a cute badge, baby.” What is the object they’re looking at?

Dobey loses his temper, shouting about the phone call he received from Melinda. “I’ve never had a call like that in my entire career!” In the nearly thirty years he has been on the force, has Dobey never gotten a phone call from a frightened, unclear caller hoping to pass on information? Impossible. So why the unreasonable overreaction?

What is the scar on Hutch’s lower back from?

Hutch confronts Zucker, dropping the Jack Ives persona. Zucker, too, drops the Jack Parker persona. Ok, so here we have two powerful males facing off, divested of their frills and nakedly hostile to one another. It makes absolutely no sense for Hutch to do this. There is no evidence Zucker knows he is under surveillance. There is not yet enough evidence to bring a grand jury in to convict him on racketeering. He has not yet been tied, conclusively, to the fur heists. Why is Hutch willing to throw away an undercover operation, and why now? Is “Jack Ives” like an itchy shirt he can’t stand to wear another second? Also, why does he reveal himself as a cop to Zucker (if that is, indeed, what he is doing), and then take his word for it when he gives him the suite number where Melinda is? Doesn’t he suspect a trap?

For his part, Zucker is similarly dumb. He pulls a gun in the hallway, and then checks for witnesses. Plus he only looks to the left, completely missing Starsky. Has his time in the sun-drenched world of beachwear dulled his criminal instincts?

Robert Loggia is the tanned, unctuous gangster in three episodes. In all of them – “The Fix”, “Foxy Lady” and now here, he gets to tie Hutch to a chair.

Starsky is talking to himself as he heads up the corridor to Parker’s stateroom. Imagine what he is saying. Typically graceful and focused, his scene here is very good.

Melinda calls Dobey “Dopey” and neither Starsky nor Hutch corrects her, which seems mean.

The climactic scene with gunfire and frightened girls is curiously dull and also absurd and illogical. Starsky draws Zucker’s fire on a crowded ship deck ostensibly to empty the gun of bullets, but all the indiscriminate firing is appallingly dangerous to bystanders. This scene is reminiscent of Starsky drawing the fire of Father Ignatius at the movie theater in “Silence”. (He also mentions to Hutch in “The Specialist” about feeling like a carnival game as they walk along the balcony at the hotel on the way to dinner.) Athleticism aside, this is suicidal behavior on his part.

The tag: It’s quite a nice, relaxed scene, albeit with some sexual murkiness. Shall we even question why Starsky pursues someone who has already been with Hutch only hours before? Melinda seems a little wily and high-strung for his tastes, and you’d think after “Velvet Jungle” he’d be thoroughly sick of girls in the fashion industry. Was he just really impressed with her ability to hold a gun on a suspect? Or is this just another elaborate way to one-up his partner?

Clothing notes: Nothing quite compares to Renaldo’s astonishing navy jumpsuit with crotch-to-neck zippers. Jack Ives wears an appalling leisure ensemble, and Huggy is sharply attired in all his scenes.

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7 Responses to “Episode 77: The Groupie”

  1. phaedrablue4 Says:

    Hey Merle ~ I am so with you on this one and I just skimmed your notes. There was nothing to this one. Huggie and the Turkey was just a weak episode but it had an agenda.

    Whew and wow… it almost seemed to me the producers said, “Hey we have an opportunity to work with bikini models and this hot little actress this week. The setting is in a hotel with a swimming pool. Write a script around that. I thank that’s why everyone is just so half hearted in this. You could exchange the rolls between the boys and Loggia and know one would notice.

    I did get why Dobey was so outraged by her phone call either. Apparently the writers wanted Dobey to yell and gripe again and that’s what we got. As far as the non-reaction from the guys when Carin calls Dobey Dopey maybe all the actors were just done and didn’t care about the Dopey line. I mean what was the point? It served no purpose to the story and it was the least bit funny.

    Yeah, this one ranks as “Worst Episode Ever!”

    Toni

  2. Lynn Says:

    If we feel this bad watching it 35 years later, imagine how Soul and Glaser felt when they filmed it? No wonder with scripts like this they were ready to call it quits.

  3. Darren Read Says:

    Just how many bullets did Zucker have in that 6 shot revolver, I counted him firing at least 12 shots ( there may be more, I gave up keeping count ) without him reloading.

  4. stybz Says:

    I agree with your analysis, Merl. I’m still trying to figure out how I would rank it against my other least favorites. I’m not ready to rule it as the worst just yet. I did kind of fizzle out half-way through, though. I need to give it some thought as to where it falls among my other less favorite episodes. I thought the comical scenes were very funny, funnier than Satan’s Witches or Playboy Island, but on par with Dandruff or maybe Tap Dancing (Mr. Renaldo is a lot like Ramone).

    I do think that between this episode, Moonshine and Dandruff the guys did a lot more ad libbing this season. David seems to lose it in one scene when Dobey shouts at him about showing Melinda the scar on his back. In the 1970’s it was no big deal to cut away, and they do. There were no VCRs, DVD players or DVRs. These days, one just has to hear him laugh, see him cover his mouth and turn away for a second to know something is up. Then rewind and play it again to be sure, then play it in slow motion. 🙂

    One of the main problems I had with this episode in addition to what’s been stated here is that we also don’t hear how Harold pieced it together that Melinda took the bullet or why. Was it a coincidence? Did she just simply take it as a souvenir? Or was she also involved in the ring until she found out Hutch was a cop? None of that made sense. Her brush-off of Harold in the first scene makes it seem like a set-up, but in eventually we find out it truly is because Harold not a real cop.

    I’m not sure if Melinda is just on a parasitic power kick, feeding off men, as it were, or if she just is simply a groupie, more interested in sleeping with a cop and collecting souvenirs, than really knowing the cop as a person. Hutch mentions it in the tag about how she needs to know him as a person and not just as a cop. This is something I can hear David and Paul saying to their fans. 🙂 “We’re not Starsky and Hutch. We just played them on TV.” 🙂 She’s living vicariously through these men with their exciting lives, and she doesn’t really want to know who they really are, because that’ll shatter her image of them.

    Huch is really great as Mr. Ives, playing up the nerdy intelligence. I found it interesting that he’s called himself Jack. Both he and Jack Parker chose Jack as their cover names. 🙂 Do they (or we) really “know jack” about their alter egos? 😉

    Favorite line: Starsky as Mr. Renaldo as he’s photographing the woman outside the building. He’s been doing so for several minutes, twisting and turning on the pavement, tossing out inspiring one-liners to get her in the mood. Then he says, “Lilacs and roses coming out of your nose.” ROTF! 😀

    Loved the handshake scene. And the scene at Melinda’s with the dog’s tail in Hutch’s face. 🙂

    The whole situation of not paying Huggy is a complex one. I wonder if Starsky and Hutch are just playing a game, much like they do with each other. Huggy has become a close and trusted friend. However, they still go to him for info, and as such he probably feels he should get a percentage, since they do get paid for their work.

    At the same time it’s really kind of awkward for a friend to ask for money so overtly like that. The fifty dollars was the wager Starsky and Hutch had on the pool game. I guess since they didn’t finish, Huggy probably thought he was entitled to it, since they were playing pool in his establishment and he gave them valuable information. They didn’t pay him in The Game either. The loser of the pool game in that episode was supposed to pay the tab and that was Hutch, but he didn’t wand walked out with Starsky.

    They do take advantage of Huggy sometimes. However, the fact he puts up with it either means their friendship means more, or they do reimburse him or pay their tab once in a while. 🙂 Or maybe they’ve turned a blind eye on his past business ventures so many times that they feel they don’t need to pay him for his information, and that he owes them. And perhaps he knows this, but keeps hoping the debt has been paid already. 🙂

    I think the object in Melinda’s bag is a fake badge, probably plastic. If it had been a real badge, perhaps stolen from another cop conquest, she probably would have insisted it was real.

    What I found murky in the tag was how Melinda was all over Hutch when she was going on a date with Starsky. Was this a game she and Starsky devised? Maybe when he asked her out he told her that Hutch wasn’t interested anymore? Or maybe she told Starsky who then told her Hutch felt the same? So she knew ahead of time and was playing along? Is this another indication of what I mentioned above – that the thrill fades after a short while? Notice how impressed she was with Starsky when he came barreling into the cabin on the cruise ship. Not only that, but he also let her hold Sears at gunpoint and trusted her with it. That probably empowered her and that kind of trust impressed her more than Hutch who allowed himself to be caught by Jack. 😉 Despite that, I do think in the end she would probably dump Starsky pretty quickly as well. Or maybe Starsky would get sick of her like Hutch did.

    • stybz Says:

      I realized something. In the tag, when it’s revealed that Starsky is the Melinda’s date, Starsky makes a point of getting between Melinda and Hutch to put money on the bar. So they do pay Huggy from time to time. 🙂

  5. McPierogiPazza Says:

    I agree that there were huge holes in the story, but I was thoroughly entertained by David Soul playing Hutch’s undercover character. He’s really funny.

    Caren Kaye was immediately familiar to me from her guest spots on TV, particularly The Love Boat. (Hey, I did a lot of Saturday night babysitting in that era.) Having her and the set from The Love Boat in one episode was weird. I kept waiting for S&H to run into Isaac and Gopher at the bar.

    A few problems I didn’t see mentioned above: few people would be unfamiliar with a large chain of stores at an industry event focused on buyers. No one would fall for Starsky as a photographer for at least a dozen reasons including a high fashion photographer would not be at this mass market event. “Lilacs and roses coming out of your nose” was hilarious, though.

    I had forgotten that at this time you bought either Lycra or nylon bathing suits. Seems odd now. The bathing suit companies named early in the show were in their heyday in the ’40s and ’50s with the exception of Jantzen.

    I still didn’t hate this as much as Moonshine which I found almost unwatchable.

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