Judge Brett Cullum once handed scribe Anthony Yerkovich a memo with two words, "MTV accountants." It was ignored.
Sonny Crockett: You just got to learn to go with the heat, Rico. It's just
like life. You just gotta keep telling yourself, no matter how hot it gets,
sooner or later there's a cool breeze coming in.
Miami Vice defined the '80s in many ways, or perhaps it happened the other way around and the decade defined the series. Whatever the case may be, Miami Vice and the era of its run are forever intertwined. The show was created with two words scribbled on a brainstorming memo by NBC's Brandon Tartikoff. He wrote "MTV Cops" and handed it in to scribe Anthony Yerkovich (Hill Street Blues) to develop. Yerkovich was inspired by a newspaper article about how drug lords in Miami were living high, and the police went undercover to catch them by emulating their lifestyle. Somehow the project went from being called Gold Coast to Miami Vice, and television history was to be made. Director Michael Mann (Collateral) stepped in to help executive produce, and set the strict style template for the series. He wanted to bring a cinematic quality to the show every week with slick scoring, over-the-top production values, dramatic cinematography, and incredible music. Miami Vice became a critical and commercial hit as well as the epitome of cool when it first came across the airwaves in 1984 even though it took a while to catch on. The show rode high for several seasons, becoming darker and grittier each year. By 1989 it had lost a lot of steam in the ratings, and Miami Vice bowed out quietly with the decade that spawned it. Yet we still feel the effects of the show, and often see it echoed through its heirs such as CSI: Miami and any TV project that marries music and film to elevate a story. Crockett and Tubbs live on, and thankfully Universal has taken care of their legacy on DVD.
Facts of the Case
New York detective Rico Tubbs (Phillip Michael Thomas, Fate) comes to Miami to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of a drug lord. The bad guy in question is a Colombian heavy named Calderone who has also been responsible in the death of Miami detective Sonny Crockett's (Don Johnson, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man) partner (guest appearance by a young Jimmy Smits). So starts the series which evolves to become a gritty crime drama week after week anchored by the chemistry between Crockett and Tubbs. They are stylish undercover vice detectives who have to uphold appearances as flashy drug-world operatives. This means they dress to impress, drive sports cars, and live high in the best clubs and restaurants.
What Miami Vice did accomplish over its five-year run was no small feat. It brought to television a sense of the cinematic, and the Michael Mann influences on the production values never faded in the entire run. There was a signature look and feel to the show which came from elements of Miami as a city. It was slick and gritty, and it felt real. Fashion, music, and color palettes, all swirled together in a way that had never before been seen on TV. The acting was always top-notch, and Phillip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson seemed born to play their roles.
Miami Vice: The Complete Series presents 109 episodes in an all-inclusive collection which chronicles how the show evolved over its five season run. The first season establishes everything, and showcases the two leads. Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) is introduced early in Season One's run. The first year is one of the strongest of the show's tenure, and casual fans would do fine to just pick it up as a single purchase if you're looking for an economical way to get a Miami Vice fix. It has the extras, and provides some of the most memorable episodes, including my personal favorite "Evan." All of the seasons have their high points, and the series conclusion was well-executed, capping everything off in style.
Miami Vice continued until 1989, and most fans feel it never lost its sheen. Of course some detractors contend once Crockett fell for and married guest star Sheena Easton during the running of one episode it had run the course and jumped the shark. Strange elements like an alien abduction subplot and even a cryogenically frozen reggae singer tested the limits of believability at times. Season Five kicks off with an infamous amnesia plot where Crockett slips permanently inside his cover role and begins to build his own drug empire, which left many fans crying foul when he was allowed back on the force quickly, without reservation.
Miami Vice: The Complete Series is a collection which puts all five seasons inside a stark white faux alligator-skin box with the show's logo on the top of the lid. These are the exact five sets that have been released in singular volumes, and there is no additional supplemental material or anything to differentiate it from what you've seen before. The full-screen transfers are fine, although often it's easy to see the show came out over twenty years ago. Some flaws pop up regularly including scratches and grain. There's nothing about the visual presentation that's surprising for a TV project from the '80s; it looks dated and as if not too much was done to clean it up. What most shocked people was the original soundtrack is kept intact for every episode, including songs by big names, and its delivered in a full five-channel mix. The music which was so crucial to the drama is allowed to have its rightful prominent place in the series; it's refreshing to see a show that used pop-rock hits and Jan Hammer's score remains intact despite the expense that presents to the studio. Universal spent a ton of money to make sure Phil Collins, U2, Guns N' Roses, The Cure, Public Enemy, Glenn Frey, The Who, and Aerosmith are all on here. It cost them $2.5 million to get clearance for the first two seasons alone in artist royalties. In the pilot there are cover versions of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "All Night Long," and I'm not sure if those were from the original broadcast.
The only extras are found on the Season One Collection of discs which include five short featurettes, each under ten minutes. Covered is the making of the series, stylistic elements, the clothes, and what Miami is like. These are brief yet informative pieces that talk about how the show was conceived and executed. All interviews with the cast are culled from vintage promotional appearances on the Today show and the crew is featured in vintage short video discussions. Nothing is in-depth or penetrating, and the five short featurettes serve as a nice reintroduction to the world of Miami Vice and nothing more. Hard to believe there are no commentaries or further looks back at the show considering how influential the series remains. The series deserves a more insightful look back, and hopefully some day we'll get that.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With each season running close to or above $40 in retail outlets this new value priced set should make some faithful collectors a bit angry. But if you've held off and want the whole series, it's an awesome value. I do question why they include nothing new when the general consensus holds that the show and its influence have been under-examined on DVD. The new packaging isn't too strong. The box that holds all the seasons is cardboard and will puncture easily if mistreated during shipping or handled roughly. Missing from each season is a slip cover, and the multi-disc DVDs are layered over each other. At least Universal made them all single-sided, which is a nice touch (earlier releases of Seasons 1 and 2 were double-sided), and each disc has a "play all" function for anytime you want a marathon session.
Even though the discs for Miami Vice: The Complete Series are rather bare-bones, save for five fluffy featurettes, the show still rocks thanks to the financial commitment of Universal in clearing the incredible song rights for use on the DVDs. It's hard not to see how influential the show was, and watching all five seasons is an epic experience that still packs a powerful punch decades later.
Guilty of defining the '80s and reinventing the cop drama on television from then on, Miami Vice: The Complete Series is free to go undercover again and again without socks, no belts, and plenty of pastel linen deconstructed jackets.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
• Five Featurettes
Review content copyright © 2007 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.