Archive for November, 2011

Episode 79: Starsky’s Brother

November 29, 2011

Starsky learns that his visiting little brother Nick might be involved with counterfeiter and drug dealer Stryker.

Nick Starsky: John Herzfeld, Frank Stryker: Antony Ponzini, Victor: John O’Leary, Al: Nicholas Worth, Jake: Eddie Fontaine, Weldon: Stanley Grover, Mrs. Krupp: Joan Shawlee, Bronson: David Moses, Marlene: Elizabeth Brooks, Katie: Liberty Godshall, Carol: Linda Lawrence. Written By: Ralph Wallace Davenport and Robert Earll, Directed By: Arthur Marks.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

It’s a pet peeve of many viewers when surprising modifications or additions are made to characters midway through a series and the audience is expected to accept these changes as a given. Starsky has never ever mentioned having siblings and here comes Nick, younger brother, to change the biography. This could have gone wrong but it doesn’t, partially because the emphasis of the series is on the urgent present without much reflection on the heavy baggage of the past, and partially because John Herzfeld gives a truly wonderful and nuanced performance here and it is to his credit that we come to accept him as a Starsky sibling without too much difficulty. He was carefully chosen to play this difficult role, some say by Glaser himself after he saw Herzfeld in a play with the possibility of replacing Glaser if Starsky was killed off in the last episode. Nick was to reform and become a cop, but that was scrapped, as was the plan to have Roz Kelly join the cast as Detective Linda Baylor (“Fatal Charm”).

Hutch is interrogating Mrs. Krupp, accused of beating her husband with a baseball bat. Of course this is played for laughs even though it isn’t remotely amusing, especially when she mentions her husband is small and frail. Mrs. Krupp also has the bat itself in her hands during the interrogation, an egregious procedural no-no. When the other officer calls Hutch away, he asks her to charge Mrs. Krupp with “first-degree husband beating” and she says, “there’s no such charge!” This is a confusing exchange, as we never know whether Hutch really intends to charge Mrs. Krupp or if he’s merely intending to scare her with a phony indictment.

Short Memories: Dobey is seen eating out of a can of chilli. Hasn’t he learned anything from Hutch’s near-fatal experience in “The Game”? Next, Starsky is picking someone up from the airport and getting ticketed for illegal parking. Hasn’t he learned anything from “The Plague”?

Nice staging as we see only the back of a curly-haired guy in a brown leather jacket trying to pick up a pretty girl. We are intended to think “Starsky” and we do. Then the shot turns to the real deal standing a few steps behind. And first impressions don’t mean everything: Nick looks quite a lot like his brother but lacks that magic recipe, that amalgamation of  elements, some natural and some supernatural, that make up David Starsky (sorry John).

Starsky, with awe-inspiring ease, picks up the girl right from his brother, and to top off this display of chutzpah he uses the pitfalls of his own profession to change her allegiances from brother to brother. She stares at Starsky, mesmerized, and agrees to meet with him that night at a nightclub. Nick is good-natured about this but one wonders if this thrilling display of alpha maleness is just another log on Nick’s bonfire of jealousy. Nick then says to Starsky, “Two years and you’re still trying.” Starsky smirks, “Who’s trying?” At this point Starsky hasn’t seen Nick for four years, so this remark is interesting. What happened two years ago that Nick and Starsky remember?

Nick is very well drawn by writers Ralph Davenport and Robert Earll. Throughout, he is nervous and placating, displaying an exaggerated self-confidence to his brother that withers away to nothing when on his own. He is both ambitious and lazy, vain and insecure. There are similarities between the Starskys: Nick can also be energetic, likeable and quick on his feet. But, in the classic dilemma of someone trying (largely unconsciously) to live up to an older, more powerful and more successful brother, he is missing some essential ingredients, and one of the most important is the internal calm that comes from moral and ethical maturity. Without these this Nick will always suffer from insincerity and lack of impulse control. (And what do you suppose happens to him when he returns to the east coast? Yes, he performed a selfless act, assisting his brother and possibly averting a crime, but how deep does this altruism go? I’m guessing it evaporates as he leans back in business class and looks out the window at the clouds, his mind wandering to unsettled scores and unclaimed money back home.)

Marlene really delivers when she arrives with her gorgeous friends. However, she changes her allegiance with Starsky with startling alacrity the moment she sees Hutch. Starsky, to whom this whole thing was a joke to begin with, couldn’t care less.

Of course Starsky and his brother end up dancing more with each other – actually ending up in each other’s arms – than the girls they were supposed to be with. This is entirely consistent with the theme of the series, that women are merely peripheral to the action and that the real story are male relationships (which, given the current preoccupation with the competitive complexities of female friendships, makes a welcome change). Also, the intensity of the physical affection the two show each other seems out of proportion with the emotional distance of their actual relationship. I can think of three reasons for all this hugging and grabbing: pansexual dynamism, a learned family trait, and – most likely – a  diversionary tactic meant to hide the fact they fundamentally dislike each another.

Coming back drunk from the disco, Nick is singing the Beatles’ classic “I’m a Loser”, with its disturbing words disguised by cheery upbeat music (I am always in awe of this fact, as licensing Beatles material must be extremely difficult, legally). The song is so much like Nick himself, deeply unhappy despite his aggressively upbeat appearance. By singing this song Nick is, consciously or unconsciously, trying to tell his brother something, and Starsky really should be listening to what he’s saying. I think any time someone from your past strides forcefully into your present there is something important going on. Starsky does notice Nick’s expensive new suit, however, and he also comments on Nick picking up the tab for the evening. And yet he outwardly shows no curiosity about where the money is coming from or why Nick is dressed in such expensive clothes or why he has made this trip. I have a sneaking suspicion Nick’s drug dealing – and drug use generally – has been well-known by Starsky for years and perhaps in the back of his mind he is pretty sure where the money is coming from and maybe why Nick is in California and just doesn’t feel like dealing with it. They may have had bitter, even violent fights about it in the past and Starsky is too wary of wrecking this fragile détente they have going to ask too many questions. It’s obvious there is nothing he can do about it anyway, as Nick is a headstrong stubborn sort of guy in no mood to be on the receiving end of brotherly advice, especially at two in the morning, but we also get an unwelcome glimpse into Starsky’s passivity and disinclination to rock the boat, especially if it’s a two-man dinghy and he’s the passenger; later, in “Starsky Vs. Hutch” we’ll see this again with even more devastating results.

Nick asks Starsky why he works so hard in such a dangerous job and for little material gain. “Tell it to me straight,” he says, “don’t you ever get tired of it? Don’t you ever get sick of it?” For all his scheming and prevarication, Nick comes right out and asks the question. He asks it twice. “What for? What for?” There is a little silence as the two stare at each other. Nick breaks it, saying (in disgust) it’s no point in asking. It’s a strange moment that leaves us wondering. Why does Nick interrupt what could have been an honest conversation? He may not want to know the answer, suspecting it would be something he didn’t want to hear, or his disgust could reveal a decades-old communication problem between them, much in the same way Starsky earlier ignored Nick’s suspicious largess.

And was Starsky going to answer? If not, what was stopping him?

What does Starsky reach up and grab on the door frame to his bedroom while talking to Nick? It looks like a dried leaf from some kind of arrangement.

Agent Weldon says pointedly to Starsky, “Maybe there ought to be a law about people like us having families.” Is he referring to Agent Bronson’s lack of children? Starsky’s brother? Or is he possibly thinking of his own children, and the fear of leaving them behind?

In “Velvet Jungle”, Hutch mentions Starsky being “back east” three years ago as they devise the barrio bar plan. Here Hutch mentions Starsky hasn’t seen Nick in four years when Nick comes to visit, two years later. It’s possible these two mentions are the same visit. This would match up to when Starsky had his first case out of uniform. But it is also entirely possible that when Starsky went back east it didn’t include seeing Nick. Nick and Starsky make a point of saying they haven’t seen each other in four years. A season earlier, Hutch mentions Starsky being on the East Coast a “few years” ago. This must be the same trip, as the times match.

Hutch, who has been exhibiting a great lack of restraint so far, finally has enough and asks Starsky, “He’s calling out to you … what’s he trying so hard to make you find out?” Typical Hutch, he is psychologically incisive, asking Starsky to look at things logically. But is Hutch correct when he says Nick wants his brother to understand his situation? Do you think Nick would tell the truth if Starsky asked him?

It’s great when Starsky has had enough of Nick’s facile hey-how-ya-doin’ act. When Nick gives him the exaggerated brush-off at the Pits Starsky gives us a frustrated head-shake that is only partially comic.

Throughout the series, Starsky is consistently portrayed as being an honorable man, loyal friend and conscientious officer. However, Nick accuses him more than once as being a negligent and uncaring brother. In the “The Set-Up” it’s suggested the Starsky family was either protected by or bought off by the mob following the murder of his father. So, deprived of the influence of both father and brother, and surrounded by the temptations of easy money, Nick fell into the influence of the criminal life. But is Nick’s accounting to be taken at face value, or could there be more to the story than we hear? Nick may have pushed his brother away, or alienated him in some profoundly hurtful way. It’s also possible Starsky did turn his back on his family when they needed him, and if this is the case should it alter our impression of him as an exemplary human being? I think not, as I reflect on how many people have a jokey, competitive relationship with family members while choosing, either through tact or fear, to ignore troubling symptoms.

Huggy explains his first name to Nick, “Huggy’s the name and my game is the same. The ladies they love me ‘cause they all want to hug me.” There is never any sign of women expressing affection for Huggy, so can this really be true? And if it is, what do you suppose the “Bear” part means? Hugging a bear is a very, very bad idea, which means Huggy is the stuffed kind.

It’s interesting to watch Nick’s indifference to Huggy’s considerable charms, both before and after Starsky and Hutch’s arrival (unlike his sycophantic reaction to Dobey, whom he calls “sir”). To Nick Huggy seems like a pesky mosquito, swatted away or ignored. He merely bangs the table and demands drinks, calling Huggy a dismissive “garçon”. It could be nervousness or callousness, but either way it isn’t very nice.

Hutch tells Nick Starsky, “I don’t care what happens to you. I care what happens to your brother.” Did Starsky overhear this part at the door? If he did, would this be embarrassing, maddening, or would it merely confirm what they both already know?

Starsky shows up, Hutch leaves. Nick says yeah yeah yeah, he pushed a little weed while here in LA, as if it’s a foregone conclusion Starsky already knows and is getting ready to bust his chops. But how would Starsky learn this information? The only two people who know are Huggy – determined to keep it a secret – and Hutch, who doesn’t have time to tell him. So Starsky must have had to lean on Huggy pretty hard, unless he has other sources.

Right after the argument with Starsky, Nick accepts a dangerous job from Stryker. He said he only provided goods to the needy and soft recreational drugs to the hippie crowd but now he’s playing in the big leagues. Nick is therefore going into this not because of material gain but because of a passionate desire to prove himself worthy to his brother in some perverse way. A big F-You, basically. Which is immature, as well as stupid.

Two arch villains named Stryker seems a little confusing: here and “Snowstorm”. Gilbert Green who played the earlier Stryker also played uber-villain Frank Tallman in the pilot. Along with a lot of naughty gals named Lola and a lot of good girls named Molly, there is a sense the writers had a limited supply of names to choose from.

The first thing Stryker says to Nick, “I like your jacket.” The last thing Stryker says about Nick is to tell his thug to keep it nice after killing him; Stryker wants to give it to his one of his nephews. What, he can’t afford his own jackets?

Nick admits to selling weed to Hutch, and then to Starsky, separately. Starsky is angry, it seems, not because Nick is pushing “a couple of kilos of weed,” (kilos? Doesn’t that seem like a lot?) but because the “harm is you lied to me … and I don’t know what else you might be turning.” This seems to be quite different from the way Hutch understands Nick’s dealing. Starsky sees the bigger picture, while Hutch is facing the immediate problem.

Nick isn’t especially intelligent. Case in point, when confronted by Starsky he says, “Are you working for the Abolitionists or what?” Abolitionism was all about the ending of slavery. What Nick means is Prohibition, and even that is incorrect, as Prohibition attempted to wipe out the use of alcohol, not marijuana, but Nick is probably making a generalized statement about intoxication.

Tag: Huggy is so very not-sober in the tag, jumping all over the place and blabbing excitedly. And if Nick is such a good pool player, why did he lose the first game? Or is that part of the hustle? Starsky must be in touch enough with Nick to know he is “another Will Mosconi,” or perhaps some things never change over time. There is another revenge of the lefties joke (“Captain Dobey, You’re Dead”). Speculate on the secret relief both Starsky and Hutch feel when it’s time to drive Nick to the airport.

Clothing notes. Starsky does not wear his Adidas. He looks great in his disco outfit. Nick, on the other hand, in a brand new suit we are supposed to admire, looks like a junior gangster. Every time Hutch wears a Hawaiian shirt one suspects he is wearing the back brace underneath it. Hutch continues to wear the extraordinary tusk object around his neck as well as a blue ring. Both brothers wear identical outfits – dark pants, bright orange shirts – during the majority of their time together.

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Episode 78: Cover Girl

November 16, 2011

A terminally ill model arranges her own death with a hitman, then goes to her old friend Hutch for help to get out of it after she goes into remission.

Kate Larrabee: Maud Adams, Walter “Angel” Allen: Calvin Lockhart, James Brady: Allan Miller, Minnie: Marki Bey, Dr. Harriman: Russ Marin, Lindsay: Jerome Guardino, Richards: Bo Byers, Randy: Jeffrey Tambor, Big Ed: Ken Olfson. Written By: Rick Edelstein, Dan Ullman, and Robert Dellinger, Directed By: Rick Edelstein.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There have been other professional models depicted in this series, most notably Sharman from Season Two’s “Running” as well as the bevy of background girls in “The Groupie” and “Velvet Jungle”. But Maud Adams is the only one who truly looks and acts the part. Models are more striking and strange-looking than merely pretty and Maud Adams more than fills the bill with her height, extraordinary cheekbones and deep blue eyes. To the contemporary viewer she may seem a little too old to be at the zenith of a white-hot career, but fashion’s predilection for emaciated preteens was not as common in the late 70s.

Except for the glossy Knots Landing-esque “high-end” feel to this episode (a common issue with Season Four) this is a very good episode, filled with arresting characters. Of note is Allan Miller’s Brady, with his peanut obsession and his quaking fear-based relationship with Angel. Also good is the sarcastic toy store proprietor played by series regular Sy Kramer, a contemptuous and lonely man in desperate need of a cocktail. The story’s urgency helps propel the episode too, although compared to past ticking-clock episodes (“The Shootout” and “Deck Watch” for example) it feels as if some of the gears are a little rusty.

Hutch’s legendary healthy diet has hit the skids by the time the Fourth Season rolls around. Here, in the charming opening scene in which he solemnly gives legal advice to a kid, he is eating a doughnut and drinking coffee. But one has to ask the question: how does Hutch not know Stuart, the boy on the phone, isn’t another victim of abuse (“Crying Child”) but rather a smart alec who can be safely ignored?

Starsky has dental problems, which is played for laughs and not for the first time. Is it because it’s funnier to watch an unapologetic omnivore like Starsky deprived of his pleasures? However, unlike “Losing Streak”, the joke isn’t explored through the episode; rather, it’s dropped and never shown again. This points to a disconcerting habit in this final season: the introduction of a character or detail without any further elucidation.

Punk rock is mentioned for the first time, signaling a profound change in the cultural life of Bay City. However, this does not seem to have trickled down to the studios of the expressive photographer Randy, who orders an assistant to play energizing music at the shoot but gets flutey Muzak instead.

Kate would rather die than face the prolonged pain of a death from cancer. But why doesn’t she commit suicide? She’s a powerful, decisive woman. She knows what she wants. Her lifestyle and profession puts her in close proximity with any number of drugs which would do the trick. It seems strange to add the extra stress of not knowing when, or how, not to mention the very real possibility of an agonizing nonfatal injury, but let’s assume there is more to Kate than depression. I can come up with three explanations without much trouble, which seems to be beyond the ambitions of the writers and producers, who do very little in the way of reflection or explanation. She might be too squeamish to inflict self-harm, she may worry the stigma attached to suicide may affect her family members or perhaps her own posthumous reputation, or – most interestingly at all, and something I would use if I were writing this episode – she could be seeking to be immortalized in the celebrity canon through the ultimate in victimization.

The Logic Police: a handsome, well-dressed man pushing a baby carriage through the gritty streets of a bad neighborhood – and then abandoning that carriage – is not the best method of assassination. It’s far too showy and weird and prone to error or catastrophic inference by innocent bystanders. Why don’t any passers-by, particularly women, notice him walking away from the pram? Exit Richards and Lindsay from the brownstone, and ka-boom. However, there are logic errors even here: if Lindsay is a witness in a sensitive court case and in fear for his life, why not wait for police backup before walking into the street? Why not use a back-entrance, ducking out of a door and into a waiting police car? Or better yet, why not remove him from this dodgy neighborhood altogether? This series has a habit of showing police officers stowing vulnerable witnesses away in hotels; even Starsky and Hutch themselves hide out in this way (“The Specialist”). I am not overly familiar with law enforcement protocol, but I wonder if this is a fiction invented by writers rather than a genuine procedure. It seems to me the police would more likely keep the witness in his or her own home and protect them from there.

Angel is a classic Rotten Criminal in the series pantheon. He is fashion-conscious, vain and egocentric. He pursues “sophisticated” things (classical music and games of chess) and tosses out pseudo-intellectual statements to intimidate others. “People,” he says. “People never cease to amaze me.” This means he believes he is different, possibly better, than mere “people”. He uses toys in intricately murderous ways, more to amuse himself than for practical reasons. Like Professor Gage from “Class in Crime”, he needlessly complicates situations as a test of his own intelligence, believing he can outsmart everyone. However, unlike earlier episodes in which good and evil collide at a dazzling intersection, Angel never spars with Starsky and Hutch. There is no thrilling showdown, like there is in “Pariah” or “A Coffin for Starsky”. His evil ways are abstracted – one might go so far as to call them lazily proactive – and he never really faces the wrath of a genuine adversary. Therefore, we only get to see a collection of eccentricities rather than a fully-realized Villain. This is not an opportunity the first or second seasons of the series would have let go – you better believe there would be hell to pay, Starsky and Hutch thundering through hallways and up fire-escapes or ploughing the Torino through empty boxes to get to their target. Something has been lost.

Brady the go-between is coolly authoritative with Kate, but with Angel becomes a self-conscious, trembling inferior. Angel tells him, “You can soar like an eagle or self-destruct like some hophead.” He asks which one Brady thinks he is. Brady responds, in probably the most honest answer he has given anyone, “I guess it’s self-destruct.” Right after Brady’s strangely endearing answer, Angel tells Brady he won’t be able to contact him anymore. Is Brady’s answer the reason? Or had Angel decided to cut ties with him before this conversation?

Starsky goes to James Brady and shake him down. He goes alone. This is a significant scene and it should be done as a duo; because it’s a solo it feels strangely unbalanced, even though Starsky employs his wonderful trademark molasses-like menace. (Hutch is, presumably, off “comforting” Kate). It’s odd that Starsky does not ask James where Angel is, how to contact him, or any other details that may be essential in stopping the hit. Brady is the only link to a homicidal bomber who probably has a rap sheet as long as your arm. Instead Starsky issues a threat or two and then he leaves. Is Starsky so sure Brady won’t cooperate that he doesn’t even try? Doesn’t he think bringing him down to the station might shake something loose?

Unusually for someone with her wealth and celebrity status, Kate lives in a typical suburban house on a typical suburban street. She might be staying in her parent’s house except Hutch remarks on her good taste in decorating (hilariously condensed into one-word praise: “plants”) , or is she hiding out in plain sight? Also, where is her manager, her personal assistant, reps from the agency, or any number of people continually buzzing around internationally famous fashion models? I have asked this question a thousand times in other similar situations in which young women in peril are mysteriously alone (Terry in “Starsky’s Lady”, for example, or Emily from “Blindfold”).

Hutch has insisted to Starsky that he and Kate were “just friends.” However when alone with her there seems to be more than friendship in their past. Kate says, “you’re still drinking beer right out of the can?” and Hutch says “oh yeah.” This is in stark contrast to Hutch’s ex-wife Vanessa insisting he drinks “vodka with a splash of tonic.” Of course this proves nothing other than the fact they were good friends, but if Kate knows more about Hutch’s intimate habits than his own wife did it might have been more than that. They are also very warm and flirty with each other, implying a past relationship. Why, then, does Hutch insist it was nothing much when he talks to Starsky? Surely dating a girl who later becomes as famous as Kate is worth bragging about – he’s certainly bragged about less than that. (A small chronological problem arises when Kate mentions she knew Hutch seven years previously which puts him in the police academy or thereabouts, and not back home in the Midwest, but perhaps Kate is misremembering.)

There are some similarities between Kate and Vanessa. Kate mentions drinking beer out of a can in the same amused, slightly disbelieving way Vanessa does when Hutch invites her to a place called The Pits and she says, “you haven’t changed.” This implies Hutch’s determination to be what these women would call “low class” has gone on for some time.

Cultural Connection: Kate has a charming Swedish accent, which means her family immigrated to the United States when she was a girl. Hutch is unusually blond and blue-eyed, and when they drink, he says Skål. Minnesota, where Hutch hails, has a very prominent Swedish population, so we can suppose Hutch is Swedish on his maternal side, unless his father changed his name, as many immigrant families did, in order to fit in (from “Hultgren”, most likely).

Kate tells Hutch, “With death over your left shoulder, everything is important.” How does that work? Some would argue that oncoming death, or a brush with death, would cause one to decide what is important and let the rest go. Or perhaps Kate means that she is no longer ignoring or dismissing the feelings of others. If we read between the lines, we can guess Kate has lapsed into self-absorption or selfishness of the feted, and has forgotten how to listen or care for others.

Hutch tells Kate he finds it hard to understand that she would hire someone to kill her before she dies of natural causes. “I don’t know you can consider death before it comes. Life is all we’ve got, whatever the circumstances.” This is an unusually sincere comment from someone who holds his emotional cards close to the chest, but there seems to be something about Kate that inspires a certain level of candor. She speaks quietly and seems very focused and mature, and despite her irrational decision-making in this instance she does seem like a very likable person. When Kate says she fears life of wheelchairs and bed pans, Hutch then goes on to say one of the most compassionate (and truest) things we ever hear from him: “Do you think people in hospitals, using bed pans, are no less beautiful than you or me?” This is a fascinating and quite touching conversation between two unusually beautiful people, neither of whom seem to find comfort in that aspect of themselves.

On a side note, it is interesting to note Hutch is book-ended by two women from his romantic past wanting something from him and claiming cancer as an excuse for bad or impulsive behavior: his ex-wife Vanessa and now Kate.

Notably, the Mozart sonata Angel likes continues to echo in the background music of his scenes. This is the only time I can think of in which the music is built thematically around a character.

Starsky is lewd and disrespectful to Minnie, although one suspects he will give her full credit for the post office idea, as he is not the selfish type. She is a lot of fun and gets to utter the deathless line “you’re a trashy boy, Starsky.”

Hutch’s happy relationship with Kate is an uneasy echo of three previously “happy” relationships: Jeanie, Gillian, and ballerina Anna. All these take place under artificial circumstances: the woman knows she is in danger, and turns to Hutch to protect her. Hutch is flattered and feels in control. There is a bubble around them keeping the world at bay, Starsky included. In all instances glamour plays a part: the women live beyond the norm, profiting from their natural gifts while battling unseen demons. They see in Hutch a fellow prisoner, the only one capable of understanding the relentless exploitation of beauty. All these relationships have a time pressure. Hutch is called on to be both professional and personal. He does his job and then disengages. If we gaze into the future we can add the destructive Kira into this mix as well (“Starsky Vs. Hutch”), another extraordinarily beautiful woman whose beauty has caused grief for those around her, who Hutch tries to “save” by forcing her into the monogamous relationship she never asked for and doesn’t want, and by creating an artificial barrier between the two of them and the outside world. Kira also emotionally blackmails Hutch in much the same way as the other three women do, however innocent their motives: by engaging his sympathy with their largely self-inflicted plight and by intimating only he can understand their woes (this is being hard on both Gillian and Jeanie, I realize: prostitution is a complex issue and not the fault of its victims, however both these women have been swept into an even more dangerous situation by becoming enmeshed with a criminal empire). Hutch is a deeply sensitive, loyal friend. He often feels insecure and angry at the world. He can feel buffeted about by life, and lashes out at the invisible forces he feels are against him. These woman allow him to feel momentarily valued and powerful, and this is laudable. But lack of insight can turn any gift into a liability, however well-intended.

Angel says, “There are no accidents in my life.” Does that mean he intends, for some reason, to get caught? Is this why he doesn’t immediately drive away from the hotel when he sees he familiar Torino parked there? Is this why he self-destructs “like some hophead”, as he said to Brady in the park earlier?

Why don’t Starsky and Hutch radio ahead and tell Officer Batson to keep Kate from turning on the lights? Either they don’t they trust him to do a good job or they can’t get hold of him. But isn’t there another squad there who can get there sooner than Starsky and Hutch? Did they try calling Kate on the phone?

Remission doesn’t always last forever. Supposing Kate suffers a recurrence of her cancer. Do you suppose she will again seek an early exit, or will she decide to keep going, no matter what? And what is this episode’s moral take on the subject? Hutch argues for the continuation of life, no matter how terrible the suffering, but isn’t this an easy stance to take when you have not walked a mile in someone else’s shoes?

Tag: it’s great when Hutch mentions Randolph the Great, Starsky says “I bet” and Hutch laughs. It’s a laugh of pure relief and hints at Hutch’s happiness at being in the presence of the one person who does not want anything from him. (Which, I think, might be the secret ingredient to the success of their relationship.) Despite the fun of the shoot, one wonders at the problematic situation arising if these photos were ever to fall into the hands of a vengeful crime boss or an easily-irritated LAPD Internal Affairs officer.

Clothing notes: Hutch wears his extraordinary tusk necklace, we glimpse his treasured green t-shirt. Starsky wears a snappy jacket and slacks to the dentist, which is a bit strange. Both are dressier than normal. From the looseness of Hutch’s shirts, we suspect a back brace is still being worn.

Character Studies 19: Food Fight!

November 7, 2011

Food is an all-purpose prop, evoking character, keeping an actor’s hands busy, adding realism to a scene. It’s explicatory, relatable to an audience, and it’s a handy vehicle for comedy too. In “Starsky and Hutch” food is a critical element, and it’s most often how Starsky’s proletariatism and Hutch’s cultural pretensions are illustrated and lampooned. The doughnut-eating cop is a cliché and the long-running joke is Hutch’s stubborn attempt to make his body a temple while Starsky’s junk food capacity is boundless.

The irony of the series is, food with the bad guys is generally good or good for you, and food with the good guys is generally bad, or bad for you. From beluga caviar to oatmeal, fancy French restaurants to expensive liqueurs, the bad guys have it good. Starsky is generally suspicious of this while Hutch takes a more complicated approach, enjoying what he’s offered while implying it’s not that special, and that he, a simple cop, finds this sort of indulgence tedious. With the “good guys”, i.e. witnesses, helpful colleagues or other cops, eating tends to take place in down-market burger places, bars and with street vendors.

But when Starsky and Hutch are together, it’s not eating itself but the refusal or inability to eat that is the dominant image. Basically put, Starsky wants to eat and can’t, Hutch can eat and won’t. Even in the Pilot, Hutch promises Starsky dinner but then drives off in the opposite direction. Starsky is denied food in forty ways in “Iron Mike”, he starves because of a sore tooth in some episodes and in others is repulsed because of a sensitive stomach or illness, or is forced to abandon his lunch because of an urgent call. Hutch interferes with his food or drink in an astonishing number of episodes, often grabbing what is in Starsky’s hand and eating it himself. For Starsky, the love of fast food – often “ethnic” in nature, filling, calorie-rich, and humble – implies a love of comfort and an ease in the diverse but squalid Bay City. So when Hutch makes his withering comment that an autopsy of Starsky will exhume a “petrified beef burrito” (“with onions”, Starsky adds helpfully) this is not so much a joke as it is an admission of cultural envy. A generally optimistic, slightly blinkered personality, Starsky’s battles with the fates – uncooperative candy machines, ill-timed calls to duty, and unfortunate choice of gangster-run Italian restaurants – is twice as affecting because of his endearing credulity: he sincerely believes things should go his way. Of the two, Starsky, voracious, easily pleased, and accepting, is far more likely to be actually starving.

Starsky is denied food, Hutch is disappointed or repulsed by it. By far the more likely to actually be eating, he is horrified by greasy spoons, by Starsky’s choice of restaurant, by what others are consuming around him, and by the bad nutrition habits of society at large. Because he is both pedantic and contrary by nature, he uses food as a catalyst for his many acts of mischief. He taunts Starsky with “bear meat, acorn and dried root surprise” in “Satan’s Witches” and concocts an elaborate plan to trick him into drinking one of his health shakes (“Pariah”), as well as continually sabotaging his partner’s food in creative ways or stealing it for himself. Significantly, he is the one to find a rat in his (largely empty) refrigerator (“Vendetta”). Hutch is also hip to trends (his clothing and jewelry, jogging and meditation, biorhythm calculators and credit cards) and so when the health food phenomenon hit the mainstream during this time you better believe he was an instant and sanctimonious convert. He also uses food as sexual manipulation (“Bounty Hunter”) but also as friendly consolation (“Lady Blue”). Food represents Hutch’s sense of being lost or lonely in this world. It’s never quite right: he’s usually fighting, denying, or wielding it as a weapon. He drinks milk, unusual for a grown man, the wholesome blandness possibly symbolic of his utopian ways of thinking. Even though Hutch makes a big deal of fasting for extended periods of time in “Silence” and “Vendetta” (denying himself as, I suspect, a form of self-punishment) he is far more likely to be consuming something. And hating it.

There are significant – and poignant – moments when Hutch divests himself of the armour keeping him from being truly vulnerable, and one of these is in the tag of “Lady Blue”, in which he attempts to bolster Starsky following the death of Helen Davisson. He surprises him with his favorite dinner (which is, fittingly enough, an old-fashioned pot roast for meat-and-potatoes Starsky). He gives up those fussy rules, the disdain, the inflated (and largely artificial) ego, and allows himself to be simply a friend and partner. Through this gesture he’s saying, “all that irritating stuff I do? Well, it isn’t real.” And how does he express this warm intimacy? Not with words, but with the gift of food.

But gestures like that are exceedingly rare, and necessarily so. And why are Starsky and Hutch deprived of food in so many ways? Well, satisfaction is not the aim of this series, frustration is. Starsky and Hutch, as moral arbiters among thieves, are fueled by psychic, intellectual and metaphysical hunger. They must suffer many failures before triumph, or the triumph itself is hollow. Food – absent, corrupt or tantalizing but unobtainable – implies gratification. Once gratified, one is sated. Once sated, one is content. And contentment breeds complacency. Since crime will never cease, Starsky and Hutch will never be complacent, never stop fighting, and they will never find fulfillment. (Likewise, for certain fans, the “will they or won’t they?” question will always remain unanswered.) It’s fascinating this series ends with what seems to be a triumphant act of eating – fine food and wine, both Starsky and Hutch ready and willing and for once equal in their desire and ability to consume – only to be thwarted by a last-second comedic disaster, the fates telling them that maybe, just maybe, their mission is not over yet.