While history defines a generation by events, world news, and notable people, there are many ways to peer into the culture and see what was popular. Take Miami Vice for instance. Sure at its core the television show was merely a buddy cop drama but it was blanketed with icons from the 80's. We may look back and laugh at the many fashion mistakes, questionable slang, and occasional one-hit wonder that made cringe-worthy music but it's hard to deny that Miami Vice personified the decade.
The series was a launching point for Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas who starred as James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs. Debuting in 1984 on NBC, Miami Vice came along at a time when cop dramas hadn't evolved much since Dragnet. Thankfully Johnson and Thomas' chemistry coupled with the hotbed of activity that was Miami at the time made a show with energy. The writing was top notch, the music was iconic, and the acting was a cut above in most cases. In other words all of the pieces fell into the place in the manner they should have and the rest turned out to be history. Even today we still see the influence that Miami Vice had on our culture and whether it's an inspired television series or movie recreation featuring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx it's hard to deny the impact that Crockett and Tubbs had on pop culture.
As interesting as each episode was, for me Miami Vice was always about the characters and their relationships with each other. Crockett was an undercover cop who let the job get in the way of his relationship with his estranged wife and son. In good "rebel" form he lived on a boat with his pet alligator, Elvis, and trended to not give a damn what people thought about him. Between the writing and Johnson's performance, Crockett was a deep character from the very beginning. At first his methods may have seemed a little extreme but as you got to know his personality you realized there was a method behind his madness.
In similar fashion, Tubbs was a cop with a jaded past. Heralding from New York City, Tubbs was new to Miami and looking for a drug dealer who killed his brother. Assuming the identity of his fallen sibling Tubbs worked his way onto Crockett's case and into the vice department. His initial motivations were for revenge but as the original storyline came to a close he realized that he may have a better life in Miami than back home in NYC where he's considered a bad apple. He and Crockett reluctantly became friends as the show progressed but they had enough similarities to create some common bonds, such as their love for shooting bad guys and girls with big hair.
Now, Johnson and Thomas were the main attractions but you also have to look at the supporting cast. Edward James Olmos appears early on in the series as Lt. Martin Castillo who took charge of the Miami Vice unit after Lt. Lou Rodrigez bit the dust. Olmos would remain as the head honcho for the remainder of the series and provided that intensity he's well known for. It was kind of a trip watching Olmos in the role of Castillo again after seeing his work on Battlestar Galactica. It's safe to say that the trademark Olmos stare got its start early on in his career. Other people such as Willie Nelson, Gene Simmons, Phill Collins, James Brown, Dean Stockwell, Jimmy Smits, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, and Wesley Snipes would all make appearance on the show. To be quite honest the list of guest stars goes on and on, so let's just say that there are plenty of surprises in store if you enjoy spotting early performances.
This was also a show that sparked a revolution of sorts where television was concerned. Each episode would feature a new popular track from some artist and it quickly became a symbol of stature to have your piece air with Crockett and Tubbs. It's safe to say if you loved rocking out to the 80's then you probably fell head over heels for the Miami Vice soundtrack. The tunes added to the atmosphere perfectly and helped to tie everything together.
Miami Vice went on to run for five seasons and 111 episodes. If you're counting in the case of this complete DVD collection then you're looking at 27 discs of glorified 1980's goodness. Previously Universal released the show as individual seasons and the first two included dual-sided discs. While the content hasn't been entirely changed it is good to know that every DVD here is a single-sided, dual-layer DVD-9. Is it worth the upgrade for fans who already own all five seasons? Probably not but just in time for the holidays this faux alligator package makes a nice Christmas present for anyone who still wears Ray-Bans and Italian sport coats with t-shirts underneath.
The first year of Miami Vice was arguably the best with 22 episodes that captured the magic of the concept and pushed the envelope. Quite honestly after watching the first season I found that only a few episodes let me down and even they were still a lot of fun to watch.
Things start off with the pilot episode which perfectly introduces Crockett and Tubbs. This storyline is the one that brings Tubbs' vendetta into play and sees the two tracking down a Columbian drug lord. There is quite a lot of tension between the two cops because while Crockett wants to bring the Columbian in Tubbs wants to put him six feet under. I personally loved their early bits where they traded blows and Elvis gave Tubbs a few scares because, after all, what sane person would keep a pet alligator on their boat?
From there the season spends a fair amount of time finding its footing with a couple of throw away episodes that proved to be entertaining but nothing great in the long run. It wasn't until the sixth episode "One-Eyed Jack" where Martin Castillo takes over the vice department that things become really interesting. The proceeding episode "No Exit" was definitely one of the highlights from the year. It featured Bruce Willis as an arms dealer trying to sell Stinger missiles and in the end his wife is all too eager to give him up to the cops. This was probably one of the more entertaining and better focused episodes from the first season.
After "No Exit" Miami Vice kind of coasts again until some great episodes like "Milk Run" which features two college students involved in drug smuggling and "Golden Triangle Parts 1 & 2". In the two-part storyline Crockett and Tubbs are charged with going after an old enemy of Lt. Castillo's who has kidnapped his ex-wife. Continuing storylines were a rarity for Miami Vice though I must say that each of them probably rank among my favorite episodes; "Golden Triangle" being no different.
The rest of the first season rests comfortably in above average territory with only a few more episodes that stood out. I must say that after watching the first year it became clear that Miami Vice was a guilty pleasure of sorts. It wasn't particularly thought-provoking and it didn't become incredibly deep but it entertained immensely nonetheless. This show was a lot of fun and the first 22 episodes helped solidify its spot on NBC's lineup for the coming years.
By the time the second season rolled around the cast and crew of Miami Vice had a better idea of where they were headed. This year's collection of 22 episodes was much more solid as a whole compared to the first though I must say that the show simply remained entertaining in a pop culture kind of way. It didn't try to do anything beyond provide a fun diversion full of pastels, great music, and drug dealers. Quite honestly I don't think that the series really needed to stretch beyond its initial intent and thankfully the folks that created the show felt the same way.
Like the first season's pilot episode, the second year picks up with another lengthy premiere that revolves around Columbian drug lords. "The Prodigal Son" featured a storyline Crockett and Tubbs left the beautiful vistas of Miami for the slums of New York in order to get in close with a drug ring. Not only was this script one of the tightest that the show had to offer but it also featured the likes of Luis Guzman, Gene Simmons, and Pam Grier in guest spots. After the year spent in Miami it was nice to get away and see Tubbs' home turf with Crockett portraying the proverbial fish out of water.
Now, even though the second season felt somewhat better all around I'm not going to deny that it's a rollercoaster when you're looking at the quality. Episodes like "The Dutch Oven" and "Bought and Paid For" help to lower the overall score from this year but luckily they were the only two that I felt failed to meet my expectations. Everything else ranges from good to great with a variety of content that runs the gamut from hookers and drugs to shadows from the past.
To be more specific on the latter subject there are a few episodes from this season that have to deal with someone from Crockett or Tubbs' life prior to their partnership. Whether it's one of Tubbs' old flames or Crockett's old war-time acquaintance someone frequently pops up to say hi. Even Castillo's character gets some fleshing out with some figures from his past. In the end I felt this was probably the best season all around as it maintained the most quality and featured the most development of its cast. The show didn't become more sophisticated by any stretch of the imagination but it stayed enjoyable throughout and was still a blast to watch.
Year three was another good one for Miami Vice with better episodes and a more solid production all around. There were some changes afoot and the tone of the show became darker in some regards. Even though the earlier seasons dealt with a lot of loss, death, and destruction (not to mention the criminal content) somehow this season felt slightly different. It just wasn't as lighthearted and most of the stories fell a little more on the serious side despite some tongue-in-cheek wisecracks. Still, these 24 episodes proved to be just about as entertaining as the previous 44 and it's good to know considering the decline comes in the next year.
While the show remained prominent it pumped out some killer episodes such as "The Good Collar" and "Forgive Us Our Debts". In the former a 15 year old drug dealer takes the center stage though Crockett feels for the kid thanks to the whole football angle (which Crockett was famous for before becoming a cop). In the latter Crockett takes a look at some recently revealed clues revolving around someone he put on death row. Doubts begin to swirl around in his mind as he starts to second guess himself and his judgment about the man's guilt.
Those pesky Calderone's also come back this year with a plot to ensnare Tubbs in order to put him in a pine box. Calderone cooks up an elaborate plot to get the vice officer to a Caribbean island that the drug family controls. Sure it's kind of a silly way to get Tubbs and it's a lot of effort to go through but you can't argue the fact that it's an attempt worthy of b-movie proportions. The corniness of it all lends to the Miami Vice mentality and proves to be one of the things I loved about this show. Most episodes would take zany (or drugged out) criminal masterminds and stir up the pot to see what situation our leads would find themselves in. This particular one took the cake but there were many others during the show that were just as silly in an entertaining sort of way.
Further development of the characters happen as more shadows from the past step forward for Crockett and Castillo. Both men have episodes devoted to them regarding their time in the Vietnam War. I found these storylines interesting because it alluded to time spent outside of their current positions. It's always nice when a character has some sort of angle spun upon them that is different from what you came to expect. In the end the third season kept me watching intently with no loss of quality, though sadly the fourth season would end that trend.
Seasons Four & Five:
I've decided to lump the final two seasons of Miami Vice together because, well, let's face it; they both sucked. By the time the fourth season rolled around NBC had moved the show to a new timeslot where it just couldn't compete. The ratings declined and interest in the show fell to the wayside. Like so many series out there the fourth year was the point where Miami Vice jumped the shark and basically went off the deep end never to return.
Yes there are some fun episodes in between here and sure the "tone" of Miami Vice returned more or less but it's hard to deny that these episodes by and large made the show a shell of their former self. What else can you say about a cop drama that went from dealing with drug dealers and hookers on a daily basis to televangelists fighting each other (Here's a hint: God wins.), the vice department dealing with a cryogenically frozen body, and UFOs? Crockett also gets married and becomes a prospective father this season which is another sign that a show has gone the way of the dodo. I haven't even mentioned the fact that he also gets amnesia for an episode.
Sadly Tubbs fairs no better as his character is relegated to side kick duties rather than co-star. This was probably due to the fact that Johnson had become such an icon through Miami Vice that his personality overshadowed Thomas'. Whatever the case it became evident that both stars had let themselves go. Thomas grew a beard, Johnson looked more disheveled than usual, the wardrobe got worse, and all around the writing continued to decline. There was no turning back at this point and the fourth year was more or less the nail in the pastel coffin.
Without pulling any punches I have to say that the fifth year was an eyesore from start to finish. Crockett's amnesia continues at the beginning and is quickly followed by the total breakdown of the show. Johnson and Thomas hardly ever appeared on screen together and there were even episodes that had nothing to do with them. The sad part is that I never got the impression that these segments were to further the development of other characters like Castillo, but rather the actors just not caring anymore. Along those lines the writing also took a turn for the worse as episodes like "Miracle Man" and "Leap of Faith" truly stunk it up.
Maybe it was the positive impression I had from the build up of quality through the first three seasons but by the time Miami Vice was over I was actually glad. The show had become a mere shell of its former self and in almost every way I'd consider the final two seasons an embarrassment. If the series ended with the third year it would have at least gone out with a bang and left an impression rather than the slow deterioration into obscurity we received.
With the holiday season upon us I suppose there are many people out there whom Miami Vice's complete collection would be perfect for. Collectors will appreciate the slick faux alligator skinned box and pastel lining but the fact that these seasons are essentially reprints won't entice fans who already have the show. If I were to have the option I would highly recommend the first three seasons. On the flipside I would also highly recommend avoiding the final two. Considering they are all packaged together here this set gets a simple recommendation. As entertaining as the show was there is a defined line where the quality goes south and because of that Miami Vice loses its potency.
With production ranging from 1984 to 1989 I'm sure you can already guess what kind of quality you can expect from Miami Vice prior to going in. The 1.33:1 full frame image is chockfull of grain, dirt, and scratches; not to mention the fact that the picture is very soft all around. While I will admit that the quality is better than you'd undoubtedly find on an old VHS tape it's certainly not a shining gem compared to other releases from the 80's. No amount of restoration went into sprucing up the picture and what we're left with is a straight transfer from the original masters. Luckily the colors have remained as vibrant as ever and the pastel landscape of Miami doesn't lose anything in translation. Overall I was pleased but not impressed with the video quality here.
After the somewhat lackluster video presentation I must admit that the audio stood out for this release. The sound for Miami Vice was remastered for DVD with an English 5.1 track that really brought life to the series. While the directionality wasn't the greatest I can't deny that the rear speakers had presence at the appropriate times. It's also worth mentioning that the soundtrack was bolstered by the 5.1 and the music received a nice showing. Throughout I never once encountered any problems such as distortion or dropout and the quality was remarkably clear. I suppose the fact that Miami Vice was recorded in stereo helped matters a lot.
Due to the fact that these seasons are essentially reissues of the original Universal release that means the first disc is where you'll find the collection's only bonus features. It's worth stating that this bonus content is nothing like you'd expect. The stars (Johnson and Thomas) are really nowhere to be found and for the most part these inclusions are very light on value.
"The Vibe of Vice" is a five minute look at the show with clips and some discussion about the relevance of the series. Nothing is revealed here that you couldn't discern from watching it and truly there wasn't a lot of point to it. "Building the Perfect Vice" was a little better as Anthony Yerkovich talks about what it took to assemble the pieces from the concept itself to the actors. The feature also goes on to talk about the impact of the show on the television audiences and the struggle it had when it first began.
"The Style of Vice" takes a look at the fashion of the show which became a trademark soon enough. Did you ever wear shoes without socks? Well, Miami Vice started that trend! No talk about Miami Vice would be complete without a segment about the music and that's where "The Music of Vice" comes into play. It's kind of amusing how the series quickly became a whose who of the recording industry and the original idea for the show dubbed "MTV Cops" took meaning thanks to this. Lastly "Miami After Vice" was kind of a silly collection of clips from the show mixed with a look at real life Miami. In the end none of these features is incredibly long or interesting and they certainly add little value to the collection. It's a shame that no commentaries or interviews were included but I suppose the people involved have better things to do than discuss a show from their resume twenty years ago.
Miami Vice was a great show while it lasted (For the record "while it lasted" refers to the first three seasons.). The series was the embodiment of the 80's and of Miami in general. It was a launching point for many careers and helped form a generation's sense of culture. There was a certain energy surrounding the program that made it irresistible though it sadly didn't last long. The final two years proved to be downright awful with the fifth season in particular taking the cake. Still, during its prime there were few things from the 80's as entertaining as Miami Vice and because of that it will always be remembered.
Due to the fact that this is a reissue fans shouldn't really bother with the "upgrade" of swapping over to single-sided DVD-9 for the first two seasons; there's just not much point. However, if you don't own the set and are a fan then you'll definitely want to pick it up. For casual viewers or folks looking to give a gift to someone who loved the decade then I'm going to recommend this set. My reservations about the show's final two seasons aside, I had a lot of fun going back to watch the series. Recommended
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