Crockett and Tubbs. Those are two characters I thought I'd never revisit again. Some TV shows are better left in the swirling backwaters and eddies of thousands and thousands of hours of TV watching. To say I had some trepidations about returning to the mid-1980s pink and powder blue MTV-world of Miami vice cops Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs is a bit of an understatement. Always a show known for its style not only triumphing over its content, but often times clubbing it to death, Miami Vice was a guilty pleasure that you didn't defend too vigorously back then. Yes, it was "innovative" in its use of then-novel MTV music video direction and cutting techniques, along with a reliance on big-name musical contributors like Peter Gabriel and Iggy Pop to keep the episodes moving along over the plot holes. Every episode looked like a big-screen mini-movie - just what producers Michael Mann and Dick Wolf wanted. But innovative at what price? Don't forget that at this time in the mid-1980s, with the influence of MTV affecting the look of a lot of major motion pictures as well as television shows, many critics - and audiences, too -- felt the short-cut visual techniques of Miami Vice were the beginning of the end of well thought-out scripted drama on television and in the movies, with flashy camerawork and whipsaw editing winning out over dialogue and carefully built story structure.
That being said, surprisingly, I didn't hate watching Miami Vice: Season Three. In fact, I rather enjoyed the nostalgia of it all. A TV show or movie that's totally immersed in the period in which it was produced may not carry over well into other times and places, but it can provide a heavy-duty jolt of nostalgic recognition for that particular time period, and Miami Vice: Season Three certainly did that for me. I don't think I've seen the show since its original run, so I was a little freaked out to see how much of a total gestalt the show managed to summon up for me. All of the pop culture touchstones came back with a bang, including Don Johnson's signature stubble, shoes with no socks, ballooning silk parachute pants and blousey, shoulder-padded jackets, Philip Michael Thomas' Armani suits, the Ferrari, cigarette boats, pastel set design nightmares, and of course, lots and lots of music cues from popular '80s musicians, all set against smoldering shots of Johnson and Thomas, glowering into the dark night of seething, dangerous Miami, Florida.
Of course, other things came back, as well, including that annoying little habit of padding out entire shows with seemingly endless mini-music videos inserted in the story. Some questionable acting choices showed up, too, no doubt exacerbated by a production reliance on how the show looked, as opposed to how it sounded; bad dialogue is going to sound bad no matter who delivers it. Johnson, a competent actor, doesn't do much but look pretty in his carefully arranged shots, and when he is given a chance to actually act, he's not bad. As for Thomas, well, there were certainly a lot of jokes about Thomas' acting skills when the show was popular, mainly because Johnson caused such a sensation with audiences when the show hit big. It was almost as if people blamed Thomas for not being as big a star as Johnson. I don't think Thomas is all that much of a thespian, but he's certainly not out-and-out terrible. If anything, he's given even less to do than Johnson; he's definitely back-up to star Johnson's screen time. And a certain preachiness (most of the stories centered on some hot-button social issue) and over-earnestness permeates Miami Vice: Season Three; there's little humor in it (other than the leaden kind, including flat jokes about Sonny's pet alligator, Elvis), with an intensity to the proceedings that can turn unintentionally comical.
But despite all the silliness of some of the dramatics of Miami Vice: Season Three, it's still a fairly entertaining series to watch. Cop shows, whether or not they're "groundbreaking," still carry certain genre expectations - and pleasures. And Miami Vice: Season Three is no different. There's the crime, the pursuit of the criminals, the officers' personal involvement with the crime or the victim, the procedural search for the criminal, and then the inevitable showdown between cop and crook. You're not going to stray too far from that structure watching Miami Vice: Season Three - or any cop show, for that matter. And Miami Vice: Season Three does have a certain flair and panache that, although dated thematically, is visually interesting. And the music used is a virtual "who's who" of top musical acts of the early 1980s. Everybody and anybody who was cool or popular or both, is here on the Miami Vice: Season Three soundtrack, and for that alone the show is fun to watch.
Prior to 1986-87's season three, Miami Vice enjoyed its highest Nielsen rating the year before, coming in ninth for the year in its second season. For that 1985-86 season, Miami Vice occupied the 10 o'clock hour on Friday nights, against weaker competition Falcon Crest (which also skewed older in the demographics) over on CBS. But NBC, believing that with all the press Miami Vice was getting they had a giant killer on their hands, they pushed Miami Vice back one hour to take on CBS's venerable Dallas. It was a big mistake. Miami Vice went from ninth in the ratings to tied for 26th (with Knots Landing) for the year. Clearly, NBC overreached, forgetting the fact that flashy, faddish shows often burn out twice as fast, especially when they're moved around on the schedule, and put up against such tough competition.
Here are the 24, one hour episodes of the five-disc box set, Miami Vice: Season Three, as described on the tri-fold slipcase:
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
The luck o' the Irish surely isn't with Gina when she falls for an Irish revolutionary with plans for buying elite weaponry.
A journalist friend comes to Crockett with a tape that shows U.S. mercenaries fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, but before the Vice team can validate its authenticity, they find themselves under attack by an old advisary.
Sports and drugs don't mix, especially when a famous Jai Alia player is framed by the cocaine dealer who feeds his habit.
Tubbs takes his chances behind bars in order to bring down a stealthy drug ring run by the prison guards.
The Good Collar
A football player ends up in the wrong end zone when he is arrested for a heroin deal, but Crockett still believes the boy has star potential.
Shadow in the Dark
A cat burglar with nine lives has Crockett on the prowl for his next unsuspecting victim.
An unlikely shootout occurs between Crockett and a former Texas Ranger when the heroic old man mistakenly believes Crockett's undercover identity as a drug runner.
Better Living Through Chemistry
Tubb's undercover status is dangerously exposed by his former partner, who holds him personally responsible for his expulsion from the force.
Human trafficking comes to the forefront when Crockett and Tubbs discover an illegal Colombian adoption ring run by a high-powered attorney.
Pharmaceutical-grade cocaine is leaving a dirty trail on Miami's streets, and its path will lead Crockett and Tubbs to a savvy prostitute and a murderous pimp.
Forgive Us Our Debts
Time is running out for a death row inmate who killed Crockett's former partner, but Crockett is forced to reevaluate long-held convictions when new clues come to light.
Down for the Count (Part 1)
Crockett and Tubbs step into the ring in order to catch a murderous narcotics dealer who likes to fix boxing matches. But they suffer a major knockout when their inside man falls prey to a surprise attack.
Down for the Count (Part 2)
With one of their Vice team gone, the hut intensifies as Crockett and Tubbs get pulled into the gambling ring while Switek tries to clear his dead friend's name.
Castillo puts his badge on the line when Crockett and Tubbs' undercover work on a cocaine transaction leads to a bigger crime ring and a planned assassination.
Duty and Honor
The past comes to haunt Castillo when the killer of six Vietnamese prostitutes appears on American shores with a new agenda.
Love puts lives on the line when Crockett falls hard for an emergency room doctor with ties to a big-time drug dealer.
The Afternoon Plane
Tubb's Caribbean vacation slides into turmoil when he discovers he's been set up and the island is really run by his old nemesis, Calderone.
Lend Me an Ear
An electronics whiz has the Vice team and their cocaine-smuggling target playing cat-and-mouse when he provides them with similar surveillance equipment.
A leak within the Vice department has Tubbs ready to clean up and clear out when he and Crockett find themselves the targets of booby traps.
By Hooker by Crook
Crockett gives romance a second chance when he meets "Business Woman of the Year" Christine, but their love is short-lived when a daytime TV show reveals her ties to an escort service under investigation.
Knock, Knock, Who's There?
Appearances are deceiving when Crockett and Tubbs investigate drug busts spoiled by phony federal agents who disappear with the evidence.
Viking Bikers from Hell
Everyone's revved up for action when three bikers seek vengeance against Crockett, for the death of their drug-dealing cohort.
Everybody's in Showbiz...
All the world's a stage when men in theatrical makeup steal a briefcase filled with crack, and Crockett suspects the thieves have ties to an award-winning theater.
Heroes of the Revolution
Gina encounters the potential stepfather she never knew when they both discover that the drug trafficker they've been tracking is also her mother's killer.
Despite its age, the full-screen video image for Miami Vice: Season Three looks okay here, although I did experience some pixilation problems on a couple of the episodes (Killshot had a lot of problems). I know a lot of people have had technical problems with their Universal DVDs, so perhaps this is an on-going issue. The film elements look faded in spots, and grainy in others, so I doubt there's been any restoration, but it still looks better than the image you'll get on the Sleuth Channel.
I have to say I was fairly impressed with the re-mixed Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround audio track. I remember watching the original network broadcasts, and turning up your two-speaker Sony TV didn't do much in the way of boosting the sound quality. But here, all of the famed music cues and songs sound particularly strong, with active speaker action during the gunplay. English subtitles are available.
There are no extras for Miami Vice: Season Three.
I had a surprisingly good time revisiting the curiously well-heeled members of the Miami Vice squad (a new outfit every day, Sonny?). Definitely of its time, Miami Vice: Season Three has a heavy curiosity factor going for its nostalgic original audience, but I'm not too sure new viewers will understand what all the fuss was about back then. For fans who loved the show, I'm recommending Miami Vice: Season Three, but for the uninitiated, you better rent it first. And Sonny, please put on some socks; that can't be comfortable in dress shoes.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.