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Miami Vice - The Complete Series
Created by Anthony Yerkovich and produced by Michael Mann, Miami Vice ran on NBC from 1984 through 1989 but even when the final episode aired, the series remained popular in syndication for years. The show was more than just another series about tough cops, it was a cultural phenomenon going on to influence fashion and style in a big way. The show was also pretty revolutionary in how it incorporated popular music of the day into its soundscape. The series maintains a solid audience to this day. The series now makes its debut on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.
The pilot introduces us to a Miami vice cop named James "Sonny" Crockett (Don Johnson) who loses his partner (Jimmy Smits) when their drug bust goes south. Shortly after this happens, the Miami Police Department is paid a visit by a New York cop named Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). It turns out that they want to bust the same guy, but there's more to Tubbs' story than Crockett or his superiors realize. Regardless, eventually the two men hit it off and before you know it, Crockett and Tubbs are partners.
Given that the two are vice cops, obviously the focus is on that: vice. They were almost always out busting drug smugglers or dealers or taking down prostitution rings. This was a bit formulaic, at least on the surface, but the writers were savvy enough to flesh out the characters well enough and to keep an interesting cast of supporting players moving in and out throughout the show's run. The Miami backdrop is also a big part of the show's appeal and it's interesting how a lot of the episodes contrast the color, the glitz and the glamor of the city's night club and beaches with the seedy side of its criminal underbelly. Miami Vice's frequent use of strong violence is also noteworthy and again provides dark contrast as the shootouts and fights and chase scenes are not only very stylish but also often times play off against some of the city's amazing scenery. There really was nothing like this on TV at the time.
In the late eighties, nobody was cooler on TV than Crockett. The guy lived on a boat with a pet alligator, he was a hit with the ladies and he drove a fancy sports car. There is, however, a strong human element to the show that gives the series its dramatic backbone. Early on in the series we see Crockett going through a divorce from his wife, Caroline (Belinda Montgomery), knowing that it hurts him. They have a kid together but she can't deal with his job. When he remarries sometime later to Caitlin Davies (Sheena Easton), she winds up becoming a casualty of his war on crime. For all the ‘cool' posturing and slick gunplay that is such a big part of the show, the writers are (more often than not) careful enough to ensure that we know these guys aren't superheroes and that their actions have real world consequences. This stems to Tubbs' story as well, as he finds himself unable to let go of his grudge against the Calderone drug cartel responsible for killing his brother. The two also wind up having to question their own loyalties are corruption from within their own department becomes a problem.
Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas are great in the leads. Yeah they're stylish and cool to a ridiculous degree, the way that characters often are in pretty much anything Michael Mann has a hand in, but the series gives the actors some legitimately solid drama to deal with. As fine as these guys are in the action scenes, there are moments here where you really do feel for them. Living the life of a vice cop, having to go undercover to stop crime, it's a tough gig and all of the emotion and turmoil that comes with it is put up there on the screen. The fact that Johnson and Thomas are able to slip from cool action hero mode to believably human beings so effortlessly is a testament to how good they are here. The supporting players are pretty fun too. Belinda Montgomery plays her character are an understandably sympathetic type. She loves her ex-husband, she put her all into the marriage, but we know and understand why she can't do it. Edward James Olmos as Lieutenant Martin "Marty" Castillo, one of the department's higher ups, is also very good here. We know he's damaged goods, he's a man haunted by his past, and Saundra Santiago as Detective Gina Navarro Calabrese is also great. She and Crockett have an undeniable attraction to each other, but again, she knows not to get too close to him. Charlie Barnett as an informant named "Noogie" Lamont tends to bring a bit of welcome humor to the show. Later in the series we get a recurring role wherein none other than Pam Grier plays an NYPD officer named Valerie Gordon who is, briefly at least, romantically involved with Tubbs.
In addition to the main and supporting characters, Miami Vice was also very well-known for featuring a lot of interesting guest stars. Throughout the series run you'll spot appearances from the aforementioned Jimmy Smits in the pilot, but also Ed O'Neill, Lee Iacocca, Dean Stockwell, Brian Dennehy, Laurence Fishburne, Viggo Mortensen, Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Michael Madsen, Ian MacShane, Luis Guzman, Wesley Snipes, Bill Paxton, Ben Stiller, Penn Gillette and plenty more. Tying into the show's use of music, the series also turned over some guest appearances to Willie Nelson, KISS' Gene Simmons, Ted Nugent, The Eagles' Glenn Frey, Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, Miles Davis, Little Richard, James Brown and, possibly the oddest musical celebrity featured in the series, Leonard Cohen.
What's interesting to note is how the series gets noticeably darker as it progresses. The first episodes were grounded enough but had a tendency to really go for flashy style and sometimes over the top set pieces. As Crockett and Tubbs get to know each other better and their partnership solidifies, the writers take them into grittier territory. Social issues of the day run rampant throughout the series as the show deals with everything from disgruntled Vietnam vets to the A.I.D.S. crisis to the after effects of American political and military intervention in other countries. There's a lot more to this show than just the speed boat chases, shoot outs and neon that everyone instinctively associates with it.
The series is pretty strong from start to finish even if the later seasons aren't as solid as the first three. When Mann left and handed over producer duties to Dick Wolf, there was a noticeable shift in tone. Around this same time there was some turnover with the writing staff and a few gimmicky episodes started to sour things (a good example being a storyline where Crockett gets amnesia and starts to believe he is the person he's portraying in his current undercover job). By the time the fifth and final season rolled around, Jan Hammer had left and the series' original music changed quite a bit because of it. The fifth season saw further declines in the show's ratings and would be its last and while it doesn't go out on the high notes that viewers saw in the first three years of its history, it did do a decent enough job of bringing things to a close. A few episodes that didn't air during the show's original run were broadcast in syndication (those episodes are included in this set).
The one hundred and twelve episodes that make up the five seasons of Miami Vice: The Complete Series are spread across sixteen discs in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in the episodes' original 1.33.1 fullframe broadcast aspect ratio. Generally speaking the video quality here is okay, but not perfect and occasionally noticeably inconsistent. Colors can sometimes look a little flat and a little washed out but other times they look spot on and really pop off the screen. Detail is vastly improved over the previous DVD releases for the most part but again, there are some shots and some scenes that look soft and some spots where some noise reduction might have been applied. Skin tones look fine. In some episodes black levels are really strong, in others they can look closer to a dark grey. Aside from some film grain inherent in the elements (more noticeable during some of the night time scenes than the day time scenes and subject to vary in heaviness depending on how much DNR was used on any given episode), there's very little in the way of print damage outside of the odd white speck here and there and the occasional scratch, nothing too serious there. The picture is quite clean. Some compression artifacts do show up from time to time throughout the run of the show but there isn't any heavy edge enhancement to complain about. The image quality here isn't perfect, but it's definitely pretty good.
Audio options are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 (Mono for the first season and Stereo for the later seasons) and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in the show's native English language. There are no subtitles or closed captioning options provided for this set. Generally speaking the lossy 2.0 tracks sound much better and have quite a bit more power behind them than the lossless 5.1 mixes which sometimes have some odd echo behind them making dialogue sound off and which also seem to have some noticeable synch issues from time to time. Even the 2.0 tracks have occasional out of synch shots here and there (likely the result of some ADR) but it's much more noticeable on the 5.1 tracks. To be fair, the 5.1 tracks do sound better in season two and beyond, the problems are more noticeable in the early episodes (presumably because it was a mono track being remixed to a 5.1 track).
Note that the season one episodes Home Invaders and Nobody Lives Forever only have 2.0 mixes.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, this boxed set is completely barebones and contains no extra features of any kind. The discs fit inside five standard sized Blu-ray cases (they are stacked two on each side of the case) and those cases then fit inside a cardboard slipcover.
Miami Vice: The Complete Series holds up well, even if the last season can't hold a candle to the earlier episodes. For the most part the series finds the right balance of style and substance and it features great work from the two leads and a killer supporting cast. Lots of great music and action throughout the series helps to keep it entertaining, while the more dramatic side of the show can often times be genuinely thought provoking. The Blu-ray set from Mill Creek might be barebones but it looks good, if not perfect and despite some quibbles with the picture and sound, offers a whole lot of bang for the buck. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.