Miami Vice might now be the butt of jokes and is considered cheesy as hell, which it is the case especially the early episodes. However when it premiered in 1984 it soon became a sensation on TV. Don Johnson as Detective Sonny Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Detective Rico Tubbs would become iconic characters. The theme song alone would become a massive hit and is a surprise inclusion in The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s record collection. Michael Mann was the executive producer of the show and would later direct the dire 2006 adaptation but the original series helped in ushering cinematic techniques to the small screen.
They made over 112 episodes during it’s run of five seasons and most episodes had a similar tried and tested formula. The show is very much in the lineage of police procedurals but also has elements of film noir in the darker episodes. Most episodes have Crockett and Tubbs on the hunt for criminals normally drug dealers of some kind. The show become increasingly darker as it went on and the last episode is about child molestation. It wasn’t allowed to be shown on NBC because it was considered too dark for TV.
One of the most enduring aspects of the show is the supporting and guest star cast and these appearances are more memorable than the two leads. Early on the in the first season a very young Bruce Willis appears as arms dealer back when he still had hair. You have the usual people you might expect to get early jobs for a show in the mid to late ’80s here such as John Turturro, Ving Rhames, Giancarlo Esposito, Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen to name just a few of many more.
However the guest stars becoming increasingly bizarre as the show goes on and they are often ridiculously famous musicians. Some of the most notable are Leonard Cohen as a Interpol agent, Frank Zappa as a drug kingpin, Miles Davis as a pimp, Phil Collins (whose music is used famously in the pilot), Gene Simmons and Ted Nugent as drug dealers! One of the more enjoyable aspects of the show is seeing who will pop up in an episode and even the Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy appears in one episode.
The show is also noted for its insane soundtrack which they spent $10,000 or more on music an episode. It’s features music from everyone who was big in the ’80s pretty much such as U2, Peter Gabriel, ZZ Top, INXS, The Police, Huey Lewis Dire Straits etc. However unlike many other shows it also used music from more oft kilter alternative bands like The Cure, The Church, Dead Can Dance, The Jesus and Mary Chain, PiL, X, The Smiths and even a track from the obscure disco no-wave group Liquid Liquid. It got to the point where newspapers like USA Today would reveal what songs would be used in this week’s episode.
Since its cancellation in 1989 Miami Vice has lived on in many different ways. The most obvious example would be the success of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City which is basically Miami Vice the game. The more modern editing, visuals, subject matter and use of music would also influence the “golden age” of television that we are supposedly living in with shows like Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and True Detective. It also has an early example of an already noted director working on TV in this case Abel Ferrara who directed two episodes which is common place today.
Fabulous Films has released the entire series in a massive Blu-Ray set which consists of 25 discs. The transfer of the show looks good even if a bit dated but that is probably down to the look of the show in the first place. It was released in the US already but the UK version is superior because it contains around 30 minutes of featurettes on the show.