The TV cop show has always been with us, even from the earliest broadcasts right up to the present day. However it was during the eighties when there was a proliferation of new, exciting and, most significantly, different style shows. Arguably kick started by CBS' Magnum P.I. (1980-1988) which, in amongst its brevity, took a stark look at the effects war on ex soldiers, NBC came back with Hill Street Blues (1981-1987) the first real cop drama and is quite rightly regarded as a hallmark in television. Two immensely popular characters from that show, Officers Renko (a white cop raised in the South) and Hill (a black cop raised in the East) where being groomed for their own spin off series, however their popularity precluded this. But as you can't keep a good idea down, network executives eventually incorporated it into the characters of Sonny Crockett (white cop raised in the South) and Ricardo Tubbs (black cop raised in the East) in another hugely influential show Miami Vice (1984-1989).
Miami Vice was the brain child of Anthony Yerkovich (a writer from Hill Street Blues) and produced by Michael Man, oh he of all things eighties. Its first season was hugely successful, with a combination of hip young actors, liberal use of hit pop music, score by Jan Hammer, stylistic cinematography by the likes of Oliver Wood (Die Hard 2, Face/Off, The Bourne Identity amongst others) and James A. Contner (director of Buffy, Angel, Dark Angel, Enterprise amongst others) and wardrobe choices that defined a generation together; with strong and engaging story lines there was little that the show could do wrong, it was like nothing before it and I'll wager like nothing since. It made international and bed room pin up stars of its two main leads Don Johnson (Det. James 'Sonny' Crockett) and Philip Michael Thomas (Det. Ricardo 'Rico' Tubbs). Seen now as a cultural icon, pastel clothing, rolled up blazer sleeves, shoes with no sock and an all day five o'clock shadow, were the done thing, all invented on the show, there is no doubting the impact it had on the viewing public. However, come the second season, things were starting toward a downward slide. Many point to the fact that Mann had less to do with the show, he was producing new TV shows and starting work on Manhunter, but I'm not so sure that is the cause. Personally I feel the show started to believe its own importance, because it was hip and a hit it very soon became the show to be seen in. The amount of cameo performances within this second season is breathtaking. Accordingly the stories suffer, even though this season would be critically and commercially the biggest of the five year run, the cracks were beginning to show.
The season starts strong with a two parter (edited into one episode) entitled The Prodigal Son. In it Sonny and Tubbs travel up to New York to pursue a Columbian drug lord. Quite a gritty story line and one that had Sonny deferring to Tubbs' judgement, something that would never happen in Miami. This opener is slightly allegorical of the season whole as we get to look into Tubbs' past so we look at some of the supporting cast's back stories; something we take for granted now, but at the time was more than unusual. Of course one could make the argument that lack of forward momentum with the two leads only left the option to bring out the supporting cast, there's that crack again. However, most of the episodes, and they are very episodic in nature, have something interesting to say, the style means that each one looks distinctive within its remit and as a whole the season is a natural progression from the first. Where the series does lag is with the mammoth amount of guest stars, most had stories written around them, and while some worked (Definitely Miami with Ted Nugent) some most definitely didn't (Phil the Shill with Phil Collins). Although the stronger stories out way the weaker, no episode goes past without a cameo from someone, thankfully though the series takes itself seriously enough, no nods or winks to camera.
On the whole the series capitalises on the simple buddy cop formula, often seen as a Starsky and Hutch of the eighties, Crocket and Tubbs may have the glamour and heat of Miami, but their banter is often very reminiscent and identifiable. Wrapping that basic package in looks and music, throw the occasional strong story line, a bit of back story and the result is a cultural icon. It burned bright, almost too bight, as its run was short compared to its peers, though that could equally be the closure of the decade bringing the closure of the show. It was the eighties, to have it anywhere else wouldn't work. Even now, it stands out, sure it has dated, but somehow that doesn't matter. I very much enjoyed watching this, the best of the five seasons, again. I can forgive all the ropey police work, all the cameos all the naff stories; Miami Vice, will we ever see its like again?
Our Review Ethos