Judge Daniel MacDonald never wears socks. Never.
"Those chumps have the timing of a hippopotamus in heat."—Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas)
Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson, Tin Cup) and Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas, Fate) are back. Originally airing in the 1986-1987 television season, Miami Vice: Season Three sometimes takes a dark path, often featuring downer endings and cruel ironies, but it continues to spotlight the music and attitude that made it a hit show. Twenty years later, does it still hold up?
Facts of the Case
Miami Vice: Season Three eschews the two-hour season opener precedent set in its previous two seasons, opting instead for a standard episode (albeit one featuring Liam Neeson (Kingdom of Heaven). But while there is nothing as stand-out here as Season Two's "The Prodigal Son," the vast majority of episodes are solid police tales with political undertones, human drama, hot cars, and shooting aplenty. This is the season when Sonny gets his Ferrari Testarossa (replacing his amusingly-destroyed Daytona) and falls in love with a junkie doctor. Tubbs gets an island showdown episode all to himself. Gina (Saundra Santiago, The Sopranos) becomes a singing sensation, Switek (Michael Talbott, Manhunter) deals with the loss of a partner, and Castillo (Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver) revisits his military past. All good stuff.
Across five single-sided discs:
• When Irish Eyes Are Crying
Miami Vice: Season Three is all about guest stars and gun battles. Nearly every episode features a recognizable name, including Neeson, Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man), Larry Fishburne (The Matrix), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Spencer (The West Wing), Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), Willie Nelson (Wag the Dog), Bill Paxton (Aliens), Wesley Snipes (Major League), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club), Vincent D'Onofrio (The Cell), Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence), Annette Benning (Bugsy), Melanie Griffith (A Stranger Among Us), Ian Mc Shane (Deadwood), Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), and others. It's a steady parade of not-yet-famous faces that is fascinating to look back on, knowing where many of these actors ended up. (Others, like Captain Lou Albino, kind of reached their peak with the cameo).
And in stark contrast to today's cop dramas, which tend to feature the occasional foot chase but rarely show any bullets fly, the villains in Miami Vice tend to shoot first and ask questions later, immediately pulling out a fully automatic piece and letting hundreds of rounds rip before Sonny can shout, "Freeze, Miami Vice!" While not entirely believable, it sure is exciting, giving us the kind of action that the 80s knew best. And that Don Johnson sure knew how to do a barrel roll.
Standout episodes include "Walk Alone," where Tubbs infiltrates a prison to take down some crooked prison guards, "Duty and Honor," as Castillo tracks down a killer he once chased in Vietnam, and "Knock, Knock, Who's There," as Crockett and Tubbs deal with a crooked DEA agent who's stealing from dealers, but for all the right reasons. Perhaps the most memorable is the two-parter "Down for the Count," notable for the death of series regular Zito (John Diehl, Fail Safe). It's a strong episode given lots of room to breath over nearly two hours, and was likely pretty shocking when it first aired.
Miami Vice shows its age mostly in the comic relief segments, often involving the ever-changing career of informant Izzy. These sequences tend to stop the story dead and run on far too long, but must've been popular back in the day or they wouldn't have continued. Similarly, the exchanges between colleagues meant to show their friendship often comes across as stilted and forced, Tubbs and Crockett laughing as if their partner were Don Rickles no matter how cheesy the line was.
However, many of the show's scripts could easily be filmed today, with a few minor changes, as a gritty and engaging contemporary series. There is almost no continuity between episodes: each plays as its own story making little or no reference to previous events. The dialogue is generally sparse and snappy, the storylines complex, and the stakes high. Visual storytelling is the order of the day, with long stretches of word-less action; "Shadow in the Dark" opens with an extended, and rather disturbing, home invader's ritual that carries on for several pre-credits minutes. While many episodes revolve around a real-life political or moral issue, only one ("Baby Blues") lets the preaching overtake the story, although that one instance does so in a rather spectacular way and you may want to skip to the next. Looking past the ridiculous but trendsetting fashions (was anyone comfortable in the 80s?), the occasional hammy line reading, and the often-poor attempts at comic relief, this was quality television for adults that still entertains today.
This 5-disc set features decent print quality without too much grain, save for the occasional piece of stock footage, and it captures all of the pastel polyester glory. It's probably better than the show looked when it originally aired, but there are instances of dust and scratches from time to time, and the picture is less dynamic than today's film stocks. The audio has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, making little difference to the limited dynamic range of dialogue and sound effects, but springing to life in the frequent musical interludes, usually as Crockett dramatically speeds along in his Ferrari. Universal's done a great job in keeping all of the original music, featuring Peter Gabriel, Bon Jovi, Corey Hart, John Lennon, Depeche Mode and many others, and in remixing it all to a full-sounding 5.1. The show's music made the series, and I'm glad it's all been retained.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, no extras are included.
The continuing adventures of Crockett and Tubbs make for a fine hour or so of television if you can bear in mind that 80s fashions were, in fact, once cool. If you have seasons one and two, save room on your shelf for this one.
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Scales of Justice
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