Remembering Miami Vice

About a year ago, I was blogging about television shows and said I would one day write a post about Miami Vice. Well, between all the sad news going on around us and some recent stress at work, I was wracking my brain for something positive….something that would make me smile. If you’re a certain age, thinking back to the days of this show might just do it.

I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what airs on network television Fridays nights in 2018, but I can assure you cable stations weren’t necessary on Fridays in the Fall of 1984. CBS was rock solid: The Dukes of Hazard at 8 pm (perfect entertainment for most children and cognitively under-developed adults), Dallas at 9 pm (the greatest primetime Soap in history, led by the greatest t.v. villain in history, J.R. Ewing), and Falcon Crest at 10 pm (for those who enjoyed seeing a young Lorenzo Lamas bare-chested and often stepping out of a shower).

NBC offered stiff competition to their network rivals at CBS. The groundbreaking Sci-Fi series “V” at 8pm (guilty pleasure to this day and I’m not ashamed), cop show Hunter at 9pm (thought it was good when I was a kid, in hindsight this show was bad), and then at 10 pm they offered up something new……something called Miami Vice.images.png

Miami, specifically South Beach, blew up in the early ’80s. Watch Billy Corben’s brilliant documentary Cocaine Cowboys sometime and you’ll understand what this growth was founded on. It didn’t take television too long to figure out they should capitalize on Miami’s recent rise in popularity. While the Miami scene was capturing America’s attention as the hotspot of cool, MTV was doing the same for television. Rumor had it, executives wanted a concept for a show that blended Miami, cops, and MTV all in one. Producer Michael Mann and show creator Anthony Yerkovich took on the challenge, and the rest is history.

To put it in simple terms, the show was a game-changer. Many shows over the years have captured the hearts and minds of viewers. Vice didn’t just capture hearts and minds, it literally defined cultural trends in fashion, music, and lifestyle. Nearly every teenage white dude in 1985 wanted to dress to some degree like Don Johnson’s character, Sonny Crockett. The show wasn’t only shot on location, the location was one of the show’s biggest stars. The screen shots of Miami defined the look and mood of the show just as much as the characters and their bright fashions.

Music was a star of the show as well. Who can forget the great Jan Hammer’s arrangement during the opening and closing credits? Or his unique original musical scores throughout each episode? They also featured songs from established popular music acts of the time. To the producers credit, they didn’t go the cheap route either. When they played a song by the Police, or Duran Duran, or Tina Turner, or whomever, it was never some knock-off cover. They always ponied up and paid for the original artists’ recording. Often times these songs were featured in their entirety during an episode, while a chase scene or some sort of action was taking place in the backdrop. Sound familiar? An MTV cop show? You betcha. No instance was this more memorable than in the show’s pilot episode when they played Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight. 

Yup. That’s Bruce Willis…before Moonlighting, Die Hard, and full-blown baldness.

With the exception of Edward James Olmos, who played Lt. Marty Castillo, the other stars of Miami Vice were no-names when they joined the show, and have mostly had minor success if that in their respective acting careers since the show ended. Ironically however, many of the show’s guest stars (not only no-names at the time, but some even new to television) have become pretty big stars.

The list is impressive:

Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Ed O’Neill, Jimmy Smits, Ben Stiller, Steve Buscemi, Julia Roberts, Dennis Farina, Benico Del Toro, Laurence Fishburne, Kyra Sedgwick, John Turturro, Bill Paxton, Michael Madsen, John Leguizamo, Ving Rhames, Viggo Mortenson, Chris Rock……and that’s just a sampling.

From Don Henley to Don Johnson….yeah, that’s The Eagles’ Glenn Frey

Additionally, Miami Vice often featured non-actors to guest star in episodes. Some names that come to mind off the top of my head are musicians (pictured) Glenn Frey, Sheena Easton, James Brown, Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, and athletes Bill Russell, Danny Sullivan, and Bernard King. Now these folks weren’t too good. In fact, other than Frey, their acting was downright bad, but it was just another one of those cool unique things Vice did sometimes.

In total, Miami Vice lasted five seasons. In truth, it was every bit two seasons too long. The show ran its course after Season 3, but those 3 seasons….particularly Seasons 1 & 2, were as memorable to me as anything I’ve ever seen.

I sometimes wonder what this show looks like through the eyes of someone half my age. The fashion must look ridiculous. A lot of the acting probably comes off as poor. Jan Hammer’s musical score likely sounds dated and just strange. The thing is, I’m incapable of seeing it through their eyes, or even the eyes of the 40-something I am here in 2018.

When I see Miami Vice, I still see it through 1985 eyes. I’ll never forget how cool this show looked to me as a kid. The cars. The boats. The beautiful women. The fashion. The music. The cutting-edge feel of the show’s content (tame by today’s standards, 30 years ago it was often considered risqué). I wanted to be Crockett and Tubbs. I wanted to be a Dade County Vice cop. Beat down bad guys. Bust up drug deals. Drive Ferarris and Cigarette boats. Chase the babes. Live the fast and dangerous life! It was exhilarating! I still remember that feeling I got as a kid when I see old reruns of the show today. History may view it differently, but to me, Miami Vice will always be a great show!






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