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Miami Vice - Season One

Universal // Unrated // February 8, 2005
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 27, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Program

In the period between the Mariel Boat Lifts of 1980 and the ascension of South Beach in the early 1990s as a Mecca for nightclubs, music, fashion, celebrity-sightings, and topless young Brazilian teenage girls in thongs, Miami as a city was in a massive state of transition. While always a popular destination for tourists and sun-worshippers for decades on end, the city itself was smack dab in the middle of a malaise that would have given President Carter pause for reconsideration. While tens of thousands of Cubans fled their despotic homeland with the hope of freedom and opportunity in the United States, a significant portion of the 125,000 people who left Port of Mariel and arrived on the Floridian shores were criminals, mental patients, ex-cons, smugglers, and other such "undesirables" that Castro wanted out of his country. Almost overnight, crime rates soared, and the drug trade - always a viable market sector in South Florida - exploded into perhaps its most lucrative and expansive stage ever. Miami's strategic positioning as the "Gateway to the Americas " made the city, which was already wracked with enough corruption, crime, violence, and other such niceties, one of the most attractive ports in the country for drug smugglers, dealers, and pushers.

It is in this milieu that series creator Anthony Yerkovich pitched a new cop series to NBC in the early 1980s. Gone were the typical cop shows that followed the same Dragnet dynamic for over 20 years, with cookie-cutter scripts, bland villains, highly contrasted and simplistic views of morality, and static TV production values. Yerkovich's plan was to produce a ballsy, hard-hitting cop show that was, in essence, a weekly "movie" that took advantage of a then-lavish $1.3 million an episode in production budget. His planned show would take place in Miami, leveraging the city's international renown, miles of beaches and coastline, art deco scenery, and year-round blue skies to take viewers to an exotic paradise filled with neon lights, pastel colors, beautiful women, shady characters, drugs, sex, violence, and depravity... you know, for kids! Yerkovich was joined by executive producer (and future feature-film director of Heat, Collateral, and The Insider) Michael Mann, whose cinematic sensibilities brought the show to an entirely new level. Mann's vision was to treat the show with movie-styled production values: cinematic-styled editing, music-video montage sequences, extensive location shooting, and a pulsating soundtrack that took advantage of the popular music of the day.

NBC approved the series, although scheduling it in the Friday night 10 PM timeslot, which is the television equivalent of ritual seppuku. Nonetheless, on September 16, 1984, Miami Vice was unleashed upon an unsuspecting audience. It was an overnight sensation, performing admirably in its timeslot and introducing viewers to an all-new type of cop show. Incidentally, the show also propelled Phil Collins' massively overplayed 1981 hit In The Air Tonight to Top-40 prominence again, as it was memorably used in one of the pilot's most pivotal scenes. Soon afterwards, the show's ratings began to drop precipitously, and the once-hot series was facing the threat of cancellation. And yet, by mid-season the ratings were on the rise, as the trendy new show became more and more of an underground hit. By the time the show finished its first season and entered reruns in the summer of 1985, Miami Vice was nothing less than an absolute international phenomenon.

The show featured the talents of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as partners James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, two pastel colored officers of Miami-Dade PD's vice squad, as they chased down drug lords, pimps, renegade FBI agents, weapon smugglers, madcap militia members, and other such folk throughout the South Florida landscape. Crockett, a former University of Florida wide receiver and Vietnam veteran, lived on a sailboat with a feisty alligator named Elvis, while Tubbs was a smooth New York transplant whose Jheri Curled locks and chiseled physique captured the hearts of ladies everywhere. I mean it: while Crockett was clearly the show's main "go-to" guy, Tubbs was busy getting it on with a variety of lusciously lovely ladies, including a memorable tryst with the scorching Pam Grier for a few episodes. Anyway, the well-dressed and finely-coiffed duo may have jetted around the streets of Miami in a jet black Ferrari Spyder, but these guys were both some seriously tough hombres. The show's creators were adamantly striving towards presenting a pair of guys who were clearly unapologetic alpha males: tough and unblinking, thrusting themselves into the thick of police drama without the muss and fuss of overbearing yuppie male sensitivity that had permeated the television landscape (Alan Alda and Ed Asner, we're talking to you...)

Taking advantage of the ascendant popularity of MTV, the show's creators wisely decided to edit the show in a wildly cinematic style, scoring the music with a pulsating synthesized soundtrack by composer Jan Hammer (whose Miami Vice Theme wound up as a Top 10 hit, with the resulting television soundtrack album ending up as one of, if not the, top-selling television soundtrack albums of all time) and featuring a ton of popular music of the day. It became something of a status symbol for an artist to have their song featured on the show. This might not seem too impressive in a time when cross-marketing allows popular music to be featured on popular television shows on a nightly basis, but back in 1984 this was really unheard of.

So Miami Vice was clearly ahead of its time, and certainly a sensation among its fans and a pop culture mainstay of the entire decade of the 1980s. But was it really any good? With a good two decades that have passed since the show's inception, has Miami Vice withstood the test of time as a quality, groundbreaking show?

Sort of, yeah. While its cheesy elements - and believe you me, there are a ton of them - often seem to drown the show in a virtual groundswell of dated embarrassments, there is something so incredibly watchable about Miami Vice. Crockett and Tubbs are positively iconic characters: watching them in action is like watching Batman and Robin, or Kirk and Spock, or Natalie and Tootie. Even if they're doing something positively mundane, it still seems somewhat interesting. Thankfully, Miami Vice was rarely mundane. Mann's cinematic flair really contributed to a lot of the film's flashy style and neon vibe, but what I most fondly recollect from re-watching all 22 episodes of the series' first season is the strength of its cast. Even looking past tough-guy Crockett and smooth-operator Tubbs, I was especially impressed by the stoic yet commanding demeanor presented by Edward James Olmos as Lieutenant Castillo, whose center-stage role in an amazing two-parter featuring a Thai gang muscling into Miami is absolutely riveting from start to finish. As comic relief, the pairing of Michael Talbot and John Diehl as Detectives Switek and Zito was probably my most favorite element of the show. The guys were not only pitch-perfect cut-ups in their roles, they took starring roles in the season's best episode, "Made For Each Other", which guest starred Ellen Greene and Mark Linn-Baker and featured the return of hilariously endearing recurring characters Neville "Noogie" Lamont (Charlie Barnett) and Martin Ferrero (Izzy Moreno). And the show's guest stars for the season featured a cavalcade of past and future talent, including Bruce Willis, Jimmy Smits, Mykelti Williamson, Ed O'Neill, Dennis Farina, Dan Hedaya, Terry O'Quinn, Eric Bogosian, Joan Chen, Glenn Frey (whose hit song "Smuggler's Blues" was used as the inspiration for an entire episode), Pam Grier, John Turturro, Ving Rhames, and the inimitable Jon "Bowzer" Bauman.

Miami Vice might not have been a great show, but it certainly was an influential one and, ultimately, an entertaining one. Of the 22 episodes included in the First Season, there are a handful of clunkers but, for the most part, the series remains a pretty exciting and entertaining throwback to the neon pastel landscape of the 1980s.

Miami Vice: Season One is collected on three double-sided DVDs, and includes the following episodes:

Disc One, Side A

  • Pilot
  • Heart of Darkness

Disc One, Side B

  • Cool Runnin'
  • Calderone's Return
  • Calderone's Return Part II
  • One Eyed Jack

Disc Two, Side A

  • No Exit
  • The Great McCarthy
  • Glades
  • Give a Little, Take a Little

Disc Two, Side B

  • Little Prince
  • Milk Run
  • Golden Triangle
  • Golden Triangle Part II

Disc Three, Side A

  • Smuggler's Blues
  • Rites of Passage
  • The Maze
  • Made for Each Other

Disc Three, Side B

  • The Home Invaders
  • Nobody Lives Forever
  • Evan
  • Lombard



Miami Vice: Season One  is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The quality of the transfer is fairly disappointing. The video looks extremely dated. Although I wasn't fooled by the worn-out, flimsy looking video presenting over the opening credits - that stock footage was flimsy and worn-out looking even back in the 1980s - there is a noticeable degree of compression noise and mosquito blocking present throughout the transfer. Colors are generally stable, although the look and feel of the show isn't quite at the lush and vibrant levels one would hope to expect. Image sharpness is reasonable, given the age of the show. Still, the show looks barely acceptable, but it's worn, dated, and digitized appearance is more than a little disappointing.


The audio is presented in  remixed Dolby Digital 5.1, and the resulting soundtrack is mostly artificial. The field never seems truly expansive, aggressive, engaging, or immersive, and while the audio is generally pleasing and more satisfying than the video (which isn't saying much), there's nothing present within the six-channel delivery that couldn't have been delivered within a satisfactory 2.0 track. There's noticeable limitation to the dynamic range of the output, with instances of clipping and hollowness present throughout, but overall the audio is satisfactory.


The extras are contained entirely on Disc One, and are fairly light. We start out with two "forced" trailers for Las Vegas: Season One and Quantum Leap: Season One. We then move into the bulk of the extras, which consist of five featurettes that barely span half an hour in length. Entitled "The Vibe of Vice", "Building the Perfect Vice", "The Style of Vice", "The Music of Vice", and "Miami After Vice", these featurettes employ a variety of stock footage and interviews shot during the show's reign of the 80s. It's a superficial but mostly informative look at the genesis of the show, from Anthony Yerkovich's original pitch to Michael Mann's contribution, casting, costuming, location scouting, Jan Hammer's orchestrations, and how the show affected Miami's image. By the looks of things, it seems that Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were on the Today show a lot during the 1980s, but there you are. While the featurettes are altogether too brief, they make for reasonably entertaining bonus features.

Final Thoughts:

Having lived in Miami as a young teenager during the entirety of the Miami Vice phenomenon, I can honestly attest to how that one show changed this city overnight. Almost everyone started growing stubble on their faces - as best they could, I mean I was 13 when the show started - and started wearing bright pastel colors with no socks. A few smelly pairs of Docksiders later pretty much cooled that fad, but who cared? The show made us look cool! Even goofy 13 year olds with stinky shoes, stubble that took 8 or 9 months to grow and peppy Flock of Seagulls haircuts. Oh sweet Jebus, what were we thinking?

Anyway, I enjoyed revisiting the show quite a bit. It did have its up and downs; after a slam-bang opener, the series lost its footing for a few episodes. However, it recovered midseason and presenting a fairly compelling and entertaining show throughout most of its 22 episodes. The DVD collection is a must-have for fans, but the quality of the video and the sparseness of the extra features are somewhat disappointing. Still, I'm going to give Miami Vice: Season One  a mild Recommendation on the basis of its enjoyment as a show in and of itself, although the curious will definitely want to give it a strong rental first.

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