STUDIO: Universal Studios
MSRP: $59.98 RATED: NR
• Series introduction by creator Michael Mann
• "The Vibe of Vice"
• "Back Story: Miami Vice
• "The Fashion"
• "The Music"

Does coolness have a shelf life? Does something that set the standard in style two decades ago still rate after so many years? Is Philip Michael Thomas’ music simply misunderstood? Does “Heartbeat” really suck like Jenna Jameson in a hurricane? Can Miami actually have that many hot women or did they fly them in? These are some of the many questions that floated around the toilet that is my mind when I took it upon myself to review what is arguably the hippest cop show ever to kick down bookies’ doors, chase drug dealers in Ferraris, boats, and seaplanes, and stakeout murderers and thieves from a yacht with an alligator on board – all in cream-colored suits, five o’clock shadows and Italian loafers: Miami Vice.

The best damn car salesman in Kalamazoo…

The Show

I had to think back to what it was that I was watching in the mid and late ‘80s on Friday nights during Miami Vice’s timeslot when I wasn’t part of my local social scene (which was pretty much every Friday night of the mid and late ‘80s). 1985: Matt Houston. 1986: Falcon Crest (no choice, my older sister outweighed me by nearly 70 pounds). 1987: Dallas. 1988: Max Headroom. 1989: Nothing, I got my first car – 1975 Mustang II…gold. Needless to say, it wasn’t Miami Vice, which I’m now thinking was a huge mistake. I guess I missed the boat on that one, kind of like Lost now. But thankfully there’s now DVDs. All I’ll have to do is fight the other review guys to the death for that Lost: Season One set if Nick, Dave or the Farac’ don’t grab it first. Luckily, I did win the Vice set in a raffle at the CHUD President’s Day office party….

Twenty freakin’ years I been waiting for the technology to capture this image.

What I discovered as I watched it was that it shared many similarities to other ‘80s cop/detective shows like Hardcastle & McCormack, Hunter, Magnum, P.I., Remington Steele, etc.: stakeouts, car chases, and good (but mostly bad) ‘80s soundtracks. Where it hurdled many of those shows, though, is in terms of the style it brought to the table: the clothes, the cars, the boats, and even Miami itself. The style was the point of the show. Probably no two cops in the history of television brought evildoers to justice with the panache of Crockett and Tubbs. Without the style, Vice is essentially Cagney & Lacey without the testosterone.

"Goddamnit, Philip, if you play Livin’ The Book of My Life one more time, I’m gonna f&%kin’ kill you!!"

Vice centered on two Miami cops who worked the vice beat in South Beach. First you’ve got James “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson). Former gridiron star at Florida, former ‘Nam vet, now a grizzled yet slick undercover detective. He lives on a boat as part of his cover as a jet-setter and sometime mover and shaker in the flourishing Miami drug scene. As part of his cover, he also drives a hot Ferrari convertible, owns a “cigarette” speed boat and wears the latest in pastel suits and gator loafers. His first mate on his boat is Elvis, a coked-out, pain-in-the-ass alligator with a penchant for Kibbles ‘N Bits and powdered donuts. Elvis gets loose and causes havoc more times than Bobby Brown.

"You know what? I like you Bruce. Keep in touch and I’ll make sure you have steady work as a television guest star…"

Cross that with Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), an ex-New York street cop who trailed a drug Kingpin who killed his brother to Miami, which led to him crossing paths with Crockett. As opposed to Crockett, who prefers the laid-back look, Tubbs goes for hot designer suits and the chest hair look (does anyone else feel me channeling Cojocaru here?). His specialty is impersonating Jamaican drug and arms dealers and making with the romancin’ of the ladies, mon. The supporting players are Det. Gina Calabrese (Saundra Santiago), Crockett’s sometime squeeze and resident hottie, Switek (Michael Talbott) and Zito (John Diehl), and hard-ass Lt. Castillo (Edward James Olmos), the master of the “kick-your-ass-with-my-eyes” look.

"Any luck?"
"Sorry, Phil, there’s no sign of your career."

The Season One stories were standard genre fare with a Miami twist, as Crockett and Tubbs ran down everyone from arms dealers, to drug kingpins, porn kings and the run-of-the-mill street scum. Occasionally a case would hit either Crockett of Tubbs personally, but generally, they were able to lose themselves by banging a local hottie or blowing some lowlife away. But Vice was first and foremost about showcasing the Miami style of underworld goings-on. It’s crime noir in frosted technicolor, which definitely set it apart from its contemporaries. But is Vice one of all-time greats?

Well for one thing, despite all of it’s style, panache, flair, what have you, it’s ‘80s style, panache and flair. Miami Vice is indelibly and irrevocably dated. Whether it’s the chicks’ Dynasty dos, puffy dresses, Beat It gang fashions, thin glitter ties, hiked-up jacket sleeves, or wide collars, the clothing is an absolute dead giveaway for the period. And Crockett’s signature attire, a pastel t-shirt with sport jacket and loafers, while one of the most recognized get ups back in the day, is more an object of satire now than enduring fashion standard. Check out the Thanksgiving flashback episode of Friends or Matthew Glave (Drew Barrymore’s fiancée) in The Wedding Singer for confirmation. You’re a white guy going to a costume party who doesn’t have a costume? Whip out a sport jacket and house shoes, let the beard go for a couple of days, and you’re set. Secondly, when you’re hearing Phil Collins in his prime, the Pointer Sisters and comeback Tina Turner tunes, you immediately know what time period you’re dealing with.

"Hey Don, you sure you don’t wanna see Extralarge: Moving Target or Extralarge: Magic Power, or Extralarge: Jo-Jo or Extralarge: Black Magic or Extralarge: Cannonball again? Hey, what about Extralarge: Miami Killer for old times sake?"

But what about the small stuff like the characters, the stories and the acting? Once you boil down the I Love the ‘80s atmosphere, you’re left with a slightly wider array of stories than a typical cop drama because a police vice squad deals with more than one type of bad guy. When the drug stories started to run dry, Vice had the option of moving on to a kiddie porn ring or weapons dealers. But generally, a lot of it is similar to what I saw on others shows such as Hunter. I can’t help but think what would have happened if executive producers Michael Mann and Anthony Yerkovich had been able to work a deal where they produced the show for HBO instead of NBC. Because I think Vice ultimately suffered from having to sanitize its dialogue and take the edge off of its content due to network restrictions.

‘I can’t believe we got to stay at Neverland Ranch, Don!"
"I know! Our friends are so gonna freak! Hey, by the way, does your ass hurt too?"

A story that particularly comes to mind is the two-part episode, “Calderone Returns,” where Crockett and Tubbs journey to the Bahamas to get the Colombian drug lord who eluded them in the pilot. The biggest things to happen in the episode were a car chase through the streets of one of the islands that was more Johnny English than French Connection; as well as a highly unsatisfying, blink-and-you-miss-it shootout in the climax. Vice is a show that screamed for The Shield-style edge to it and on that level, while it may have been edgy for its time, Vice is ultimately Barney and Friends by today’s standards in many instances. And when you have the hardest things the heroes are saying being things like, “Let’s get this pig” or “He’s scum,” you almost wonder what the fuss was all about.

"Guess your job prospects aren’t the only thing that’s all wet."
"Eat a dick, Don."

However, character-wise, it’s hard to find two more distinctive archetypes than Tubbs and Crockett. Most likely the smoothest cops in TV annals, they set the standard for stylish cops and the influence on future TV shows and movies like Bad Boys is obvious. Johnson, still sporting more than a little of his A Boy and His Dog brashness, tries to balance it with Crockett’s conviction and belief in the job and love for his family. But where he succeeds best is conveying Crockett’s ultra coolness. I’ve never considered Johnson to be one of the greatest actors out there (except when he lies to his kids about Melanie Griffith not getting a face transplant from Joan Rivers), but this is the signature roll of his career. He does what he has to do to pull it off and he does it well.

Then there’s Philip Michael Thomas as Tubbs… All the jokes about Thomas have been heard and told, so I don’t need to rehash them here (I’ll save that for the captions). Basically a victim of his own success, Thomas simply got the one-in-a-million dream break that anyone who’s ever fantasized about being a Hollywood star has had. Thomas tried to portray Tubbs as the coolest black man alive since Shaft. There were moments when he succeeded, but Tubbs could frequently be known to devolve into a poser. Whether it be the dance moves, the tough guy role or the ladies man, Thomas tried to be the Michael Jackson of the team (the heppenin’ early ’80s Jacko, not the current sideshow version), but he usually succeeded only in being Tito.

"So call P.M.T. Plumbing, where we’ll beat anybody’s prices or the toilet unclogging is free…"

Everything that was distinctive about the show, from its motion picture shooting style and production and wardrobe design, to the groundbreaking music, was the signature of Michael Mann, who can capture the look and feel of whatever city he’s shooting in as well or better than just about any director/producer in the business today. There are few American cities as unique as Miami and Vice was instrumental in putting the town back on the map and showcasing its culture. Mann was also the guiding force behind the music, as Vice eschewed a constantly rerun score for original music virtually every week. And it had one of the most distinguishing opening scores in television. Typically, ‘80s music ain’t my bag, and I pretty much want to jump off the nearest highrise when I hear synthesizer music. But series composer Jan Hammer crafted music that perfectly matched the show. Vice also made use of the exploding MTV phenomenon and featured the hottest music of the day, from the aforementioned Collins and Pointer Sisters, to Peter Gabriel, U2, INXS and the Police.

"So you’re really gonna introduce me to Michael, Tito?"
"Uh sure, baby…"

Where the music definitely went wrong though is when the two lead stars, who were living the decadent ‘80s rock star lives that almost any of us would have killed for, started to believe all the hype and launched music careers of their own. This was an affliction that happened to many ‘80s stars such as Bruce Willis and David Hasselhoff…with predictable results. In this case, the results were Thomas’ “Livin the Book of My Life” (DON’T BUY IT HERE!!!) and Don Johnson’s “Heart Beat” (FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T BUY IT HERE!!!) Either of which is guaranteed to induce suicidal tendencies.

Bad ‘80s vanity rock aside, Miami Vice is an undeniable cultural phenomenon and definitely a decent watch. It’ll be interesting to see how Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx compare in the theatrical version due next year. As far as Vice’s coolness having a shelf life, it’s definitely held up better than say, Fonzie, who never could have pulled off a pink shirt and loafers.

8.2 out of 10

"So what did I tell you, Don?"
"You’re right, this boat’s definitely a keeper. So do you offer financing?"

The Look

The look is Miami Vice. Showing the best of ‘80s Miami, there’s plenty of good things to see on this set, not the least of which are female skin all over the place. The transfer is remastered and clear for the most part, but there are some spots, mostly in the use of stock footage, where the picture drops out slightly or there’s noticeable grain at times, which is to be expected from a 20-year-old TV series. Once again however, for a show that virtually demanded to be shot in widescreen, we’re left with 1:33 to 1. Fullscreen definitely has a shelf life – it started and ended on Day 1.

7.6 out of 10

The Romero spinoff, Vice of the Dead didn’t quite take off as well as he hoped…

The Noise

When Vice wasn’t about the look, it was about the noise. The best/worst of ‘80s music is showcased on this show and Jan Hammer’s work is nearly legendary. He took synthesizer about as far as it could go, and I wasn’t looking for it to be taken much beyond that. The really unacceptable thing I found with this set is how much they ripped off the look and sound of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

7.7 out of 10

The Goodies

There’s four quickie featurettes: The Vibe of Vice, Building the Perfect Vice, The Style of Vice and The Music of Vice, all of which highlight the various elements of the show’s production and feature clips and interviews with the cast and crew, including archival footage from shows like Today when Vice first exploded on the scene. Then there’s also Miami After Vice, which looked suspiciously like a Miami tourist video. Then I discovered it was a Miami tourist video. Sneaky bastards.

5.1 out of 10

"Goddamned Banderas…"

The Artwork

Do you really need me to tell you it’s cool?

7.5 out of 10

Overall: 7.9 out of 10