Miami Vice: Season One(Universal Home Video, 2.8.2005)
Italy had neo-realism. France had The French New Wave. Germany had New German Cinema. But what did the United States have? Nobody has come up with a name for it yet (that I know of) but, in the early 80s, an extremely tacky (but oddly appealing) style took over American cinema. It didn't have the prestige, credibility or historical impact of those other movements but it produced one of the most distinctive TV shows of the era, Miami Vice.
What is this movement I'm talking about? I'm tempted to explain it but the films in question are so preoccupied with surface -- even making it their subject, in some cases -- that serious analysis seems almost morally wrong. It's a form of Pop cinema, not unlike the Pop art movement that preceded it. The key offenders (Adrian Lyne, Paul Schrader, Giorgio Moroder, Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer) teamed up on the key films of this movement (Scarface, Foxes, Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, American Gigolo, Cat People) and, although the films experienced variable box office success, a new kind of American blockbuster was born. Put all these pieces together and you'd get something approximating Miami Vice.
When I was a little kid I watched Miami Vice and, after re-visiting season one, I realize that I remembered it all wrong. For one, Crockett and Tubbs aren't particularly perceptive, strategic or even competent. Almost all of their elaborate "plans" end in shoot-outs, their lives spared only because it's a TV show and they have to return next week. In that vein, however, it's humorous to note that the writers simply kill-off any cast member they don't like anymore (the original lieutenant falls victim to this in episode 5).
As I see it, there are at least 5 reasons to buy this 3-disc set. Here's the countdown:
5. Crockett's pet alligator, Elvis. The show never really explains this half-baked attempt at comic relief -- Crockett claims the alligator does police work -- but you gotta love an alligator that lives on a boat. On occasion, when he's feeling rebellious, Elvis even goes swimming with the locals.
4. The many eccentricities of Tubbs. With his fake Jamaican accent, Michael Jackson-inspired spin moves, and even the occasional stab at break-dancing, Tubbs is one of the weirdest cop characters in TV history. Crockett is a close second.
3. The soundtrack. Rock legends (The Rolling Stones, U2) are mixed with period-defining one-hit-wonders (some of whom appear on the show), while Jan Hammer provides the electronic score, a Michael Mann trademark.
2. The guest stars. Some were up-and-comers, some were washed-up stars of yesteryear but all were vital to the show's appeal. Among many others, season one includes appearances by Michael Madsen, Dan Hedaya, Ed O'Neill, Burt Young, Jimmy Smits, Joe Dallesandro, Dennis Farina ("You're under arrest." "On what charge, conspiracy to commit lunch?"), and Bruce Willis ("I tried to tell you fellas, I got the juice!"). In the early 80s, these appearances lacked the novelty value that makes them so enjoyable in 2005. I don't want to say that Miami Vice has improved with age -- it definitely hasn't -- but the guest star surprises keep things interesting.
1. Noogie (aka "The Noog Man"). I don't even know if I spelled his name right but this one-of-a-kind comic live wire is the closest this show comes (in season one, anyway) to pure, bizarro bliss (that might not have been their goal but they achieve it, admirably). Yes, he's kind of annoying but he really is the vastly superior, 80s answer to Chris Tucker. This guy (Charlie Barnett) should have been a superstar.
One reason not to buy this set is the extra material. In fact, no features might have been preferable to these features. There isn't much here, just a series of 5 short featurettes totaling about 28 minutes. With hackneyed voice-over, stock footage, and way too many clips of "The TODAY Show" (there are at least 7), these extras are a major disappointment.
I don't know if it's a deliberate, creative choice but the features have a tacky 80s quality, far more tacky than anything on the show itself (this is no small feat). In this regard, watch out for "Miami After Vice," a particularly baffling extra. It even includes Miami tourist info from "The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau." Bad idea, guys. The show speaks for itself.
In spite of the embarrassing presentation style, there is some worthwhile information here. Let's see if I can list it all in one sentence: Michael Mann was the show's obsessive stylistic guru (including visual style, clothes, etc.), the show spent more money on clothes than any previous show, and they wanted to cast Don King more than they wanted to cast Don Johnson. That was pretty easy.
Okay, the features aren't that great but the show rocks. With about 22 hours of episodes -- some bad, some good, some great (yeah, Noogie!) -- and a reasonable price, this is an obvious buy for any serious fan of The Vice. -- Jonathan Doyle