TV - Miami Vice

Miami Vice

Nowhere on TV was the Decade of Decadence more evident than in one single TV series – Miami Vice. Susan Omand rolls up her jacket sleeves and explains more...

Mix sun, sea and sand with neon, guns and drugs and you have a heady cocktail of an environment in which to set a cop show. Add in the glamour factor of huge yachts, sharp suits, fast cars and even faster women, all essential to the feeling of excess, with a splash of electronic synth music from Jan Hammer, hard hitting storylines and a great cast and you have THE cop show of the 1980’s, Miami Vice.

The series started in 1984 and ran for five seasons, based around the vice squad detectives of the Miami Police Department and the rampant drugs trade that became such a focus for the stories in each episode. It starred Don Johnston and Philip Michael Thomas as the main vice cops, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. The boss of the vice squad was played by Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica) in one of his first major TV roles. Indeed the show proved to be a hotbed for emerging TV talent, with actors as diverse as Jimmy Smits, who was killed off as Sonny Crockett’s partner in the pilot episode, Bruce Willis, who got his role in Moonlighting after appearing as an arms dealer and Steve Buscemi, who played a Bolivian drug lord, getting a kicking from country music star Willie Nelson... what?

Um, yes, apparently so. Anyway back to the plot....

The first 3 seasons (and in my view the best) all played out along similar lines, with a bad guy of the week taking most of the action which, along with the Ferrari Daytona and Elvis the Alligator, led to fun, almost light hearted stories, reminiscent of the cop shows of the 70’s, like Starsky and Hutch with an MTV twist (when MTV actually did music).

By season four the original writers had left and we were subjected to a Sheena Easton story arc. And really season 5 should never have happened because it was all about trying to reinvent itself with the stories becoming darker and grittier which alienated a lot of the fans.

As well as the storylines, the production values of the series were groundbreaking. The archetypal pastel “look” of the show was planned and there was actually a directive that said that earth tones were not allowed on the set so there could be no reds or browns in any props. The music too was a big part of what made Miami Vice so 80’s. The producers would spend thousands per episode to use original recordings of songs by well known artists, rather than, as was accepted at the time, made for TV music. Some singers even guest starred in episodes, like Phil Collins and Gene Simmons and, of course, Sheena Easton, of whom we shall say no more. Fashion too was an influence on, and influenced by, the show, with the dress code of t-shirts under Italian suits being copied all over the catwalks.

Miami Vice, all palm trees, flamingos, pastels and Ferraris, was very much of its time because of all the pop culture references and should never have been touched as the 2006 Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx film showed up painfully. It didn’t stand up well to the updating, the casting lacked the charisma and it received mundane reviews across the board, despite being helmed by the original TV show’s Michael Mann. 

Image - IMDb.

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