is nothing funnier than the party people of the 80s, so get ready for
this freakazoid on the dance floor. Taking a second look at Miami
Vice all these years later will make you wonder what all the popping and
locking was about. We’re told that this series -- almost like a movie but
not quite -- is groundbreaking and earth quaking, but it’s hard to get past
guest star Mark Linn Baker with a mullet. As well, we are subjected to
bloodless shootouts, slo-mo sex scenes, enormous car phones and the old
chestnut: car chases plowing through helpless food carts. It’s crime by the
sea -- the stuff America loves to watch from the safety and relative comfort
of their Broyhill living room sets.
jammin’, for sure, but somehow we’ve heard this song before. In fact, that
snappy soundtrack we want to recall so fondly is as awkwardly lame as a pink
flamingo. Though far from terrible, Miami Vice is not the hot
commodity you may warmly remember. Like Crockett and Tubbs, you belong to
the city, but the city was a dreamy, self-important Duran Duran video. Now
it’s time to awaken.
boiled down to the originally original concept of “MTV cops,” caused a major
fashion and content sensation when it first aired in 1984. Though it was yet
another series about lawyers, guns and money (and lots of explosions), what
set it apart from alpha to omega was its style, with a capital S. We’ve seen
bad guys beat their broads before, but never in slow motion. We’ve heard
intense mood music before in order to move the thin plot along, but never
with the sole intent of selling records. We’ve watched TV detectives
overdress for work before, but never without socks. We’ve been satisfied by
street justice many times over, but never on the sand.
Though now we can appreciate the finer-than-expected, charcoal-broiled
acting chops of Don Johnson and -- especially --
Edward James Olmos, with his less is more style, the series is
ultimately more sizzle than steak (on the plus side: at least it’s set in
easy-parking Miami and not tedious New York).
opening credits show us that when it comes to Miami, we are not much more
evolved than the animals (race horses, dolphins, parrots, flamingos, jai
alai players). This is a land that -- for all its
aspirations to sophistication -- is not too far removed from animalistic
desires and the most carnal of sins. For all of the white wine poured
dramatically and the boom boxes blasting pre-hip-hop disco, this is not a
guy sums up the essence of what can sometimes be so good about the series:
“You don’t get it, huh? The DEA, the FBI, the county, the city, the
technologies, the computers – they can’t catch one little man who didn’t
make it past the third grade.”
What’s sold as high class -- white linen jackets, white wine spritzers,
Lamborghinis and McMansions -- is ultimately as
trashy as that mid-80s space alien fashion sense on the dance floor. All the
bad guys are always physically ugly, with the exception of a pre-Moonlighting
Bruce Willis (“This guy’s scum,” Crockett deduces, and Tubbs responds with
“Let’s nail this pig.”). We get Burt Young doing his usual scary/loose
cannon routine, Ed O’ Neill (Married With Children) playing against
type as unpredictable, Glenn Frey in the role of a
lifetime as a pilot/smuggler (though he never works again), and Pam Grier
being her usual brilliant self. Admit it, though: half the time, you don’t
know what the hell is going on. The easiest cue to take is that when the
videotape slows down, that means someone is about to die.
Saluting the original office casual Fridays, the “look of Miami Vice,”
is no longer the proud brand it once was. For instance, the gals in the
office doll themselves up like prostitutes (on purpose, at least we suspect
– or is it just the 1985 Look?). This is, after all, a vice squad, and its
staff has to dress to blend in with underworld lowlifes. Mission
course, all of the series that followed the skid-marked road of this
trailblazer makes the original idea pack less of a punch. Time can be
confusing: is the gimmick of the main character owning an alligator and
laughing it up on a houseboat new and revolutionary, or tiresome and
conventional? And when we hear yet another play of George Thorogood’s “Bad
To The Bone,” is it the first time that this tune is introducing a tough-ass
dude on a television show? And even so, how menacing can villains be when
their mode of dress is consistent with the clownish sensibility of the
Thriller era, and are surrounded by cassette tapes, overlarge VCRs, DOS
computers and outdated Camaros? In short, now it just feels kind of cheap.
Even on DVD, the series has a sort of junky rerun quality to it.
style should be admired for the way it uses music to tell a story, mostly
because the episodes' content is as skinny and bite-size as a junior mint.
According to the commentary, Phil Collins’ “In the
Air Tonight” is used in the most famous scene in the show (a long boat ride,
among other visuals), but the lack of substance is glaringly obvious, and
they need something to fill the hole -- hence
Johnson, playing a dedicated detective who has neglected his personal life
for the thrill of the job, is perfect, but sometimes almost too perfect. As
Tubbs, Philip Michael Thomas starts out as
gangbusters (the livelier, streetwise slice of the pair), but as time goes
on he settles into a sleepwalk (or is it just cool detachment?). Eventually,
the show is handed completely to Johnson (who had suffered through six
failed pilots before hitting pay dirt).
Still, if you’re in it for stakeouts and standoffs and stylin’ cops bursting
through windows, you’ve docked at the right place. This is also a good place
to see Gregory Sierra do his disgusted cop routine and Evan Handler with a
full head of hair. Sorry, there will be no happy endings, and no cutesy tag
scenes to wrap it all up (a plus), but also no tattoos on anyone, not even
the bad guys (another plus).
something to chew on: if drugs were legalized, there would be no need for a
series like this. And you won’t find a line more astute than the one from
singer Lindsay Buckingham, in the best song on the soundtrack (“Go Insane”):
“Two kinds of trouble in this world: living, dying.”
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 23, 2005.