Nothing represents the best of the 80’s better than Miami Vice. From the pastel colors to the sock free loafers, from the fast Ferrari’s to the sizzling speed boats, the adventures of Vice Detectives James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs were not only influential to an entire decade, but also a huge part of my own childhood representing all things cool. This new great sounding 5.1 & 2.0 Surround Sound set houses the total series and contains every Miami Vice episode in its entirety – the good, the bad and the ugly. Normally product of this type gets the DVD Roundup treatment from me, but with a set this massive more detailed dissection felt warranted.
So for this DVD Review of Miami Vice: The Complete Series (out now from Mill Creek Entertainment) I’m giving the 20-disc set a full lush listing by looking at the various show wares from season to season. Included along with an overview of all five seasons in this set (and of course the tech specs always posted at the end for your convenience!), I’m also picking the best and worst episodes, the coolest moments and the most notable guests stars for each season to help fans flicking through the multitudes of discs gets some extra panache perspective. So grab that Armani jacket and Ray Bans and let’s hit the streets – Miami Vice style!
THE SHOW – OVERVIEW
When Miami Vice is at its best its damn good TV. Character wise the dynamic between Don Johnson’s rough around the edges chain-smoking Sonny Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas’s slick former NY cop Ricardo Tubbs is cool chemistry 101 and carries the show through some of the less than spectacular moments. Not to mention that the arrival of moody and quietly powerful Edward James Olmos (in at the episode seven mark!) as killer stare boss Lieutenant Martin Castillo is not only unlike anything seen on TV before, but is frankly the best character on Miami Vice hands down. Visual and sound wise the first few seasons are pure Michael Mann bravado, with enough pastels, pop songs and Jan Hammer score styling to carve out a time capsule the size of Miami. And as far as episodes go there’s certainly some memorable stuff that shapes the way fans would watch TV later – groundbreaking indeed. Unfortunately when Vice is not so good it’s clearly evident. The two gals on the Vice team Saundra Santiago’s dedicated Gina Calabrese and Olivia Brown’s “Big Booty Trudy” (her actual name plate on the desk – sexual harassment at work anyone?!) Joplin have a few good episodes, but in a show where the look was key to the tone, the ‘could have been dynamic’ duo was mostly relegated to being mere background beauty. Plus side guys Michael Talbott and John Diehl provide so little in terms of actual comic relief that it’s welcoming when the focus lands back on leads Johnson and Thomas. Not to mention that the latter seasons under the eye of more hard-story based Dick Wolf begin to take on goofy storylines (amnesia alert!) and the tone goes more gritty than sunny. But overall the excess of the 80’s themes hold up well and makes for some serious episode awesomeness.
Overview: Even though there are times that the first season of Vice feels like it’s just getting its bearings, there’s still so much innovation running rampant. The matching of cool visuals (Miami is a ripe setting!) with great music (Jan Hammer’s score is sinfully sweet!) and gritty characters makes for some great work. Don Johnson’s Sonny Crockett is certainly the unkempt everyman with a rough exterior (the five o’clock shadow is in full force here!), plenty of back baggage (he’s estranged from his wife and son!), angst (his partner in the form of one Jimmy Smits promptly gets killed in episode one!) and a hothead attitude to boot. Philip Michael Thomas on the other hand oozes charm and class as Ricardo Tubbs, a nice counterpoint to the cracked-up Crockett. The season starts off with pushover boss Gregory Sierra who thankfully gets killed after six episodes and then gets the novel idea to stick intensity plus Edward James Olmos in as the new guy and boy does it make a dramatic difference. Plus we get introduced here to two reoccurring over-the-top snitches in the form of the late great Charlie Barnett (D.C. Cab rules!) playing Noogie and Martin “eaten by a dino in Jurassic Park” Ferrero as the slimy Izzy. Romances include a short stint for Crockett with both fellow Vice member Gina (a hot romance that fizzles fats and goes nowhere!) and Kim “Manhunter” Greist in episode twenty-one Nobody Lives Forever. (They even use the Red 7 song Heartbeat making it a Manhunter reunion of sorts!) For Tubbs it’s all about Foxy Brown herself Pam Grier as Valerie Gordon who continues to show up season after season to torture the well-dressed bachelor. (Well, there is Calderon’s daughter…but more on that later!) Memorable episode work includes a great boat race in episode nine The Great McCarthy, some Castillo baggage background in episodes thirteen and fourteen Golden Triangle Parts 1 and 2, a great hostage situation with Tubbs inside storyline in episode eighteen title The Maze, plus notable directors include Rob “The Fast and the Furious” creator Rob Cohen and Abel “King of New York” Ferrara (home invasion!) – a great start.
Best Episode: Calderon’s Return: Calderone’s Demise (Part 2)
Paul Michael Glaser’s first time at bat truly captures the spirit of Miami Vice with a ton of style, savory close-ups and musical montages. Even the end forgoes the typical end credit tropes to see Crockett and Tubbs hitting the seas via speedboat to Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It. Plus the glow on the Vice title is more evident, the guitar in the opening theme is now present and Edward James Olmos finally gets his on-screen billing – it’s on!
Worst Episode: Made For Each Other
Focusing on the hijinks of Michael Talbott and John Diehl by giving Switek and Zito their own episode is a big mistake. Add to that a shrill Ellen Greene as Switek’s unruly girlfriend and you’ve got an episode even a mother could not love.
Coolest Moment: In the Air Tonight Sequence
The visual of Crockett and Tubbs getting gun ready for a big battle in the quiet stillness of the dark Ferrari to the sounds of Phil Collins In The Air Tonight in the pilot is picture perfect.
Notable Guests Stars: Ed O’Neill shows up a believable FBI guy, Dennis Farina plays a reoccurring mobster, Bruce Willis plays a woman abusing arms dealer (sorry Bruce, not your finest work!), both Michael Madsen and Eric Bogosian have small blink and you’ll miss them roles, Terry O’Quinn shows up (viva la The Stepfather!), Richard Jenkins enters with a moustache, Glenn Fry tries to be a plane criminal (not great!), John Turturro dons some early bad guy and the underrated William Russ adds some inspired insane crazy character to Crockett’s life.
Overview: Season Two sees its fair share of ups and downs with a five-star first episode, but also weird storylines weaved in here and there. (Eartha Kitt shows up as a priestess!) We do get some interesting directors with both Johnson and Olmos taking the reigns alongside their acting duties and Seinfeld creep Bob Balaban has a great storyline as a hard- nosed journalist. Crockett’s love life is fairly dry (the episode French Twist has a chemistry-free tryst between him and Lisa Eichhorn – nah!), but Tubbs not only gets a second shot at Calderon’s daughter Angelina, but also finds out that he may indeed be a daddy! (With a little early John Leguizamo’s angry brother running interference of course!) Plus this season is chocked full of more up and coming celebs than any other – not bad.
Best Episode: The Prodigal Son
So slick is this ‘lets go to New York’ episode under the direction of Glaser once again that it has double the fun. With two musical montages (Glenn Fry’s You Belong to the City with Crockett walking the empty streets sullen and Thomas and Grier making love to Phil Collins Take Me Home), hot forbidden romances (previously mentioned Tubbs/Gordon ongoing thing, plus Crockett gets hooked up with hot thrill seeking femme fatale Susan Hess!) and great co-stars (go Charles S. Dutton!), Glaser hits the second season head on and it’s bold and beautiful.
Worst Episode: Tale of the Goat
A wacky episode that sees Clarence Williams III coming back to life as a zombie – yipes!!!!!
Coolest Moment: The Prodigal Son Look Back
The slow-mo turn and reaction of Crockett and Tubbs to the shots heard inside the hut behind them with moving music in the opening moments of The Prodigal Son show why Glaser was king of single shot style.
Notable Guests Stars: James Remar shows up as Crockett’s unstable buddy, Dean Stockwell gets directed by Olmos, Phil Collins courts a bubbly Kyra Sedwick, Michael Richards plays an unconvincing heavy, Gary Cole gets right what Glenn Fry got wrong as an airplane criminal, Richard Beltzer is a radio DJ, Benicio del Toro is in a small side role (give that guy the lead!) and Tommy Chong, John Heard and Clayton Rohner alerts to boot!
Overview: Lots of change in Season Three with John Diehl’s Zito getting iced (he wanted off the show – fool!) and the iconic Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4 getting blown up and Crockett getting the white Ferrari Testarossa. (Both cars are good!) Dick Wolf’s vibe is starting to get become evident here with Liam Neeson showing up in the first episode as an Irish revolutionary who may or may not be reformed (but he does get with Gina!) and a lot of storylines involving cops crossing the line. (Bill Paxton plays a good part in episode ten Streetwise!) But there is also a great end episode that finally gives the underused Saundra Santiago some challenging dual work to do, a Manhunter inspired episode that sees Crockett channeling Will Graham’s profiler (episode six Shadow in the Dark!) and finally one that has the titular visual game of Jai alai in it. Romance wise we got Crockett falling for a very young looking Helena Bonham Carter (yes, that one!) for a few episodes, plus then wife Melanie Griffith shows up to flirt in one stint directed by her hubby, but poor Tubbs is pretty much relegated to a few unmemorable one night stands and such. (Have him marry Pam and end it!) Highs and lows abound.
Best Episode: Walk Alone
This is a great one with Tubbs forced to go undercover inside a prison as an inmate with no backup run by creepy guard Laurence Fishburne and warden Kevin Conway. (With a little Ron Perlman thrown in for good measure!)
Worst Episode: The Afternoon Plane
Kind of a High Noon rip off with Tubbs on vacation on a small Caribbean island sans Crockett being hunted by the likes of Leguizamo and Vincent D’Onofrio – should have been way better.
Coolest Moment: The Good Collar Crockett car freak out
There’s what almost seems like an unplanned moment in the episode The Good Collar when upon discovering the dead body of a boy he swore to protect inside a car, a grieving Crockett loses it and freaks out smashing walls, doors and anything in sight – raw, real and riveting.
Notable Guests Stars: Willie Nelson plays a Texas Ranger, Steve Buscemi a sleaze, Wesley Snipes a gangster, Lou Diamond Philips and Viggo Mortensen play cocky upcoming cops who get humbled, plus Annette Bening, Melanie Griffith, Vanity, Captain Lou Albano, George Takei all get recruited by Director Don Johnson for By Hooker By Crook – good show Don!
Overview: This season starts off the longer-haired Sonny actually more sullen than he’s ever been and Dick Wolf is in full control with the tone here equally somber. (Plus Tubbs gets a beard!) With wacky storylines (there’s a televangelist episode, one with a frozen body in the office and something with Harry Shearer about trafficking in high-quality cattle sperm – oh man!) mixed with hard-hitting themes (kids shot, domestic abuse, 8MM style snuff flicks) this is a rough season. But there are diamonds in the rough with a great heist sequence at the beginning of episode fifteen Indian Wars, good Jan Hammer music in episode three Death and the Lady and Crockett even stops smoking. But this season is ripe with the storyline of Crockett and his new ladylove Caitlin Davies played by Sheena Easton. And even though their very quick The Bodyguard style romance isn’t amazing, it’s interesting.
Best Episode: Baseballs of Death
Proving once again that A Rage In Harlem and Deep Cover were no fluke, an early Bill Duke directs this very cool episode. You got two great musical montage scenes (to Big Pig’s Breakaway and M|A|R|R|S Pump Up The Volume!), cool characters (Tony Plana as a ruthless killer and Oliver Platt as a geeky arms dealer!) and Duke’s all around amazing signature style – the Duke is A#1!
Worst Episode: Missing Hours
Thomas M. Disch, known mostly for The Brave Little Toaster stuff, should have his WGA card rescinded for writing this shameful episode that sees Trudy being abducted UFO style by an unintelligible James Brown on a mystery boat – WTF???? (And the inclusion of Chris Rock does not help!)
Coolest Moment: Like a Hurricane – Teller Speaks
In a rare moment Penn & Teller folks have been waiting for years you get to hear the always mum Teller…..SPEAK!!!!
Notable Guests Stars: Stanley Tucci plays a great cold gangster, Ben Stiller shows up in a small fast talking role and there’s even early high-pitched voiced Michael Wincott action, plus there’s Kelly Lynch, Miguel Ferrer, Alfred Molina, Ving Rhames, Issac Hayes, James Hong, R. Lee Ermy, Lori Petty, Iman and even Frank Stallone. (He’s muscle for Tucci!) Did I mention there’s also early Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper – did everyone do this show?!
Overview: Not that much to see here with Sonny in full amnesia denial mode for a lot of the season thinking he’s alter-ego Sonny Burnett bad guy. (How he comes back from all the carnage makes no sense!) There’s no more Jan Hammer music (sucks!), Crockett is sporting a ponytail (is this Miami Vice or Melrose Place!) and Rico is sans beard. (Good or bad you decide!) The whole Switek gambling addiction thing is getting very old (does anyone really care?!) and seeing him partner with Tubbs is disturbing to say the least. (At least Blue City gal Michelle Manning gets to direct some episodes!) There are inspired casting bits with David “Cherry 2000” Andrews showing up as Crockett’s scheming cousin, Karen Black playing – what else – an unstable gal out to do harm, a super-hot Melissa Leo as a damsel in distress Crockett must save (chemistry off the charts!) and a pre-The Shield Michael Chiklis as an artsy NYPD detective. (Way to be diverse Mackey!) But all in all a shell of the show it once was.
Best Episode: The Cell Within
This is a great Saw like episode with recently released convict John P. Ryan deciding to honor Tubbs who caught him by ridding the world of evil in his own sick and twisted scheme – nice!
Worst Episode: Borrasca
With Sonny of finding himself Tubbs is partnered with Switek who even slicks his hair back to try and seem suave – he’s not.
Coolest Moment: Crockett and Tubbs gun down plane
In what turns out to be the final episode Freefall, Crockett and Tubbs decide they have had enough and gun down the plane of a vicious dictator about to go free – to cool for school. (Though they are out of a job now!)
Notable Guests Stars: Amanda Plummer plays a surprisingly quiet lawyer, Stephen McHattie a great big beautiful villain, Rita Moreno a corrupt politician with her back against the wall and Ian McShane plays the said dictator.
EXTRAS – THE “LOST EPISODES”
A gaggle of cheese ridden episodes that never made it to air (I wonder why?!) include World of Trouble (more Dennis Farina!), Miracle Man (with José Pérez playing a dim self proclaimed super hero against crime!), Leap of Faith (a shameful mix of 21 Jump Street and Band of the Hand they were most likely hoping would lead to a spin off – it even had Laura San Giacomo as one of the team!) and Too Much, Too Late (with more Pam Grier and some tasty C.C.H. Pounder!)
Encoding: MPEG-1 NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio Formats(s): Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, 2.0 Stereo
Lost Episodes (World of Trouble, Miracle Man, Leap of Faith, Too Much, Too Late)