Character Studies 24: If “Starsky and Hutch” Was Made Today

Things change, television evolves, and all for the better. But if “Starsky and Hutch” was made today, would it be a better series?

It would be tougher, more graphically violent. When people get shot with Hutch’s trusty Python they will explode backward in a bloody heap rather than merely lying down on the ground. Most scenes will play out in darkness: in pre-dawn Los Angeles, in a police station blanketed in the deep indigo of pulled shades, closed doors and whispered dialogue. (William Blinn, creator of the series, based his idea on a newspaper article about two detectives who worked only at night; he was drawn, he said, to the idea of darkness and urban isolation. Sadly there was not the film technology – nor the executive enthusiasm, I’m guessing – to make this a reality.) Gone will be the artificial blare of even lighting and clearly enunciated speaking.

Storylines grow longer, it takes months rather than an hour to solve a case, multiple threads will complicate and enrich the narrative. The tag is gone, history; episodes end on an ambiguous, depressing note as a moody song from an indie band plays. There are no more tropical holidays, no more rural witches and definitely no more mimes. Cell phones and text messaging means Starsky and Hutch will spend a lot less time waiting for information and a lot more time urgently reading it aloud to each other while running down hallways. The Torino will be excised from the series completely, not only because a department-issued Crown Vic is more authentic, but also the cultural obsession with flashy automobiles seems to have largely disappeared.

The pace will pick up, scenes will be shorter and dialogue spoken faster. No more script inconsistencies, fewer gaps in logic. There will be more ethnic and gender diversity, female police officers will not be stuck wearing skirts and issuing parking tickets. The cast will grow to include a patrolman with rage problems, a female officer whose ambitions make her at once bitchy and back-bitey and also emotionally vulnerable, and a black mayoral candidate with a deadly secret. Dobey, newly svelte but still cranky, won’t be Harold, but Harriet.

And while we’re talking casting, Starsky or Hutch will be played by actors who appear less mature, a few years younger, just out of the academy and itching to make a difference. Ruggedness will be replaced by a sort of sculpted homogeneity. Quirks are more obvious and somehow more generalized, out of the Handbook of Eccentricities – Hutch’s fuse even shorter, his obsessions hovering near the OCD range, Starsky’s sunny geniality masking a deeply buried trauma from a stint in Afghanistan. There will be no physical touching, no me-and-thee, more interdepartmental politics, and a lot more paperwork.

And lastly, the peculiar innocence exemplified by this series (in spite of all its toughness, its unflinching social truths, there is innocence here, which owes as much to the earnest humanitarian agenda as it does to the pre-internet parochialism of seventies television), that innocence will be replaced by cynicism. The modern Starsky and Hutch will be brave and heroic, yes, because we will always need heroes. But corroding the relationship will be a kind of self-conscious acknowledgment of that heroism, a subtle but relentless undercutting of the idea of heroism, as well as self-referential jokes about bromance and we’re-not-gay-not-that-it-would-matter-if-we-were sort of joking meant to exorcise the merest whiff of homosexuality. The new Starsky and Hutch will never be alone against the world. Behind and around them the machinery of proper, credible procedure presses in.

Realistic, yes. But better?

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3 Responses to “Character Studies 24: If “Starsky and Hutch” Was Made Today”

  1. KerryC Says:

    That was spot on! I often think about this very thing and discuss it with my husband and sons when we are contrasting today’s cop shows and movies with S and H ….point in fact the recent movie “End of Watch”. This movie had so many of the ingredients you describe above but retained the “buddydom” and undying loyalty of the two main characters.

    I don’t think it matters whether it would be better or more realistic – S and H was what it was, a product of its time, and it will always be that – for all the lack of blood and guts and the corny tag lines that I’m sure often made the boys cringe.

    It is evergreen and everlasting , a constant in the minds and memories of all who loved it and still do.

  2. Spencer Says:

    Better – never! I can live without the gore and slick productions, but multidimensional characters and heroic friendship? Not so much. Maybe its that TV in earlier decades was less sophisticated and the characters more loosely developed that gave DS and PMG the window to bring so many of their own twists to their roles. In reading this wonderful blog and reviewing the episodes, I have a much greater appreciation of David and Paul as actors. They brought such wonderful passion and charisma to the partnership. TV characters nowadays are so finely honed that they all seem pretty much one dimensional to me. And yes, they are all just too pretty. Starsky and Hutch had that combination of human frailties and decency that made them come alive as real people to us. The kind of guys you’d love to go grab a beer with. The kind of friends to lean on through hard times. I’m sure that’s why they continue to live on in the hearts of fans after all these years. PS This may be neither here nor there, but I remember sharing a bed (talking, watching TV, etc.) with my high school friend in the 70s and thought nothing of it. People are so much more uptight about physical closeness these days. We’ve lost something special along the way.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Spencer, I appreciate this comment. I have to point out, though, that “Starsky & Hutch” was anomalous in its time. Not too many dramas had anywhere near the depth this one did; to me television as a whole is so much better now as before when it comes to depicting deep emotions, realistic characters and moral complications (particularly in the UK – “Scott and Bailey” is frankly incredible). But I get your point – this series has always been the gold standard for me on so many levels.

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