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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Starsky and Hutch: The Complete First Season (1975-1976)

Hutch: I'm beginning to think that everybody in this town is crazy except you and me.
Starsky: Oh yeah, I was beginning to have serious doubts about you.

- David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: March 02, 2004

Stars: Paul Michael Glaser, David Soul
Other Stars: Bernie Hamilton, Antonio Fargas, The Striped Tomato
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence and sexual situations)
Run Time: Approx. 20 hours
Release Date: March 02, 2004
UPC: 043396006652
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBC+ C+

DVD Review

Starsky and Hutch ran for only four seasons, from 1975 to 1979, but it somehow managed to emerge from a glut on mid-'70s crime/action dramas to become one of the decade's iconic programs. Even people who have never seen an episode (like me, prior to this review) know the name. And, more than likely, they know the car—the series' signature ride is almost as recognizable as the General Lee (Dukes of Hazzard).

Detectives Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (David Soul) are a buddy-buddy detective team working together undercover to bring down the bad guys—even if that means breaking the rules (oooo!). They cruise around in an inconspicuous, bright red Ford Torino (affectionately known as the Striped Tomato) and are more than willing to make use of underworld sources like the pimp/con man/snappy dresser Huggy Bear (Antonio Vargas), all the while riling up their stern-but-loveable boss, Captain Harold Dobey (Bernie Hamilton).

One of the biggest hits to emerge from the Aaron Spelling brain trust that redefined TV in the mid-1970s, Starsky and Hutch connected with audiences thanks to its strong, appealing leads and a combination of intense violence (for the time), bleak plotting (again, for the time), and a nice dash of humor, particularly in the interplay between the titular duo.

The show began as a "backdoor pilot," a TV movie of the week that was turned into a series after it was met with a strong critical and audience response. In retrospect, it's not hard to see why. Cop shows, up to that point, had been more concerned with the criminals and the crime that the cops on the case. Joe Friday is an iconic figure, but he's not exactly a three-dimensional character. Starsky and Hutch, on the other hand, are fun to watch whatever they do. They joke around and get on each other's nerves, but they care about each other, too, and the chemistry between them makes the episodes more compelling. And speaking of chemistry, the show has a small but vocal following as gay entertainment; it's thought that Starsky and Hutch are "partners" in more than one sense of the word. The subtext is certainly there (what with all the winking and sly looks and jovial laughter, and the way each pouts when his partner has a date), and watching for it makes the show that much more entertaining.

Following the pilot, Savage Sunday (previously seen on Columbia TriStar's TV compilation The Greatest '70s Cop Shows) sets the mold for the series proper. It's a smart story: two senior citizens plan to blow up a car in front of city hall to draw attention to the poor living conditions at their retirement home, but some thugs steal the car and Starsky and Hutch have to track it down. Surprisingly, this first show is one of the best of the season—the car chases are fun, there is a nice mix of action and drama, and Huggy Bear has a lot to do. In The Fix, another strong early installment, Hutch is abducted by his girlfriend's jealous ex-lover, a mobster who gets the detective hooked on heroin. The treatment of addiction is surprisingly raw for '70s television (the scenes of drug use were enough to get the show banned in the UK), and the plot holds up well too (heck, they used a variation of the same theme this season on 24).

Looking through the insert, I was surprised to see a handful of episodes written by Michael Mann, who went on to create TV's Miami Vice before he turned to features. Considering the quality of his later work, I was even more surprised to discover his episodes aren't the best. Episode 20, Jo-Jo, for example, is a rather heavy-handed revenge story about a rapist-turned-informant who helps Starsky and Hutch solve a case, then becomes a case himself when it appears he may have been murdered by one of his victims. A predictable installment, and short on the series' trademark buddy-buddy wit. The season ends well with The Bounty Hunter, in which Starsky and Hutch pursue a bail-jumper and run up alongside a bounty hunter and a bail-bondsman who each want to capture the fugitive first. Because this was the 1970s, there's no season-ending cliffhanger, but it's a strong show to go out on.

I admit, I wasn't expecting much out of Starsky and Hutch. I figured it for the same mindless fun as Charlie's Angels, Aaron Spelling's most popular concurrently running series. Add to that the fact that I generally prefer character continuity and evolving story arcs to episodic drama, and I figured this show would be a snoozer a few episodes in. But the show won me over. I like the characters—Starsky and Hutch are fairly entertaining and well rounded and Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul have great chemistry. Antonio Fargas' Huggy Bear is good for comic relief, particularly late in the season when he takes up a new odd job in every episode (selling glow-in-the-dark crucifixes, racing mice in a basement). And the plots are fairly entertaining and original even today—the gritty realism of these early episodes really holds up. I'd still rather watch a show where one week's tragedy is still being felt the next (I lost count as to how many lovers or ex-lovers showed up dead or wound up dead, never to be mentioned again).

As of this writing, Starsky and Hutch: The Movie, a comedic "origin story" starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, is set to open in four days. It will be interesting to see if this iconic cop duo makes an impression on today's teens. If all goes well, maybe the DVD set will sell well enough that Season Two won't be long in coming.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has done a fairly good job transferring this vintage program to DVD; it certainly looks a lot better than the episode TiVo decided to tape for me (that's what I get for recording an episode of Charlie's Angels, I guess). The image looks a little dingy and faded (though the dull colors are probably attributable in part to the series' gritty mise-en-scene). Aside from some softness and some grain, the source material appears to be in good condition—there's the occasional scratch, but nothing glaring. There are some mastering problems, due most likely to the decision to cram 22 episodes and a feature-length pilot onto five discs (most 22-episode sets have a bit of breathing room on six discs, but episodes were as much as eight minutes longer in the '70s and there are also a few featurettes squished onto Disc Five). Basically, the problem amounts to some visible aliasing on hard surfaces and digital breakup on fine patterns (like the grille of the Striped Tomato).

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereo, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in basic stereo, and the mix is fair for a program of this vintage. Speech is clear, but sounds a bit flat and hollow. Sound effects aren't very robust, and aren't presented with much in the way of directionality or stereo separation. If you turn the volume up a bit past normal listening levels, there is also infrequent hissing in the background. Overall, an average mix for an older series.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 161 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Boys II, S.W.A.T., TV Action Favorites, TV Comedy Favorites
22 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: This set includes enough nice bonuses to disguise the fact that it was probably only released to cash in on the theatrical update starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson (which is plugged in a brief featurette that will likely enrage die-hard fans of the series).

Disc One includes all 23 "Next time, on Starsky and Hutch" spots produced for the first season. They're nice to have, I suppose, but I don't like the fact that they're all on the first disc and that they can't be played individually. Otherwise, the first disc includes trailers for Bad Boys II, S.W.A.T. (the movie), TV Action Favorites and TV Comedy Favorites.

The rest of the extras are on Disc Five. Aside from the aforementioned promo for the new film (there's a photo gallery for it, too, with photos of Stiller and Wilson with Glaser and Soul), there are three decent featurettes focusing on different aspects of production. Behind the Badge is a fairly typical retrospective piece. It runs just under half an hour, and features interviews with all pertinent parties (including the main cast and series' creator William Blinn) including Aaron Spelling. The talking heads cover all the bases—casting and selling the show, the evolution of the characters, the importance of finding the right car—in chatty and engaging sound bites. I'm sure none of this will be new to longtime fans, but as a new viewer, I found it fairly entertaining.

It's Harder Than It Looks (6:17) is a montage of production gaffes and continuity errors, complete with a goofy voiceover that sounds a lot like Gary Owens. It's a unique and interesting inclusion. I especially like the listing of the "soon to be famous" involved with the show, including Bond's "Jaws" Richard Kiel and Grease director Randal Kleiser. Finally, the Gran Torino is profiled again in The Third Star (no offense to Antonio Fargas, I guess). This six-minute spot features commentary from Striped Tomato enthusiast Doug Stevenson, who owns two of the cars originally used on the show.

Each episode includes a fair number of chapter stops but no subtitles. The gatefold packaging is a nice takeoff on the Gran Torino's paint job (right down to the discs themselves, which look like vintage wheels).

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

It's been said that without Starsky and Hutch, there would be no Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours. I'm not sure that's true—another show would have pioneered the buddy cop formula sooner or later—but when it debuted in 1975, the series did set the mold for many programs and films that followed. It holds up well even in the age of ultra-realistic procedurals like C.S.I. and plays well on DVD. Columbia TriStar's slickly produced, low-priced set is sure to please Striped Tomato fans everywhere.

 


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