June 6, 2011

miami_vice It was hot – too hot – to spend Sunday outside, so after a quick trip to the local pool supply place, I dumped all the chemicals needed to keep the pool clean and bright during the four – count ’em, four! – months of 100+ degree temps to come and settled in for an afternoon of mindless TV watching. The Memorial Tournament was rain-delayed because of thunderstorms moving in, so Tracey started flipping through channels and came upon some channel we had never heard of before called Centric, who was running a Miami Vice marathon.

Dude, I was immediately hooked.

Hard to believe looking back that Miami Vice was only on the air for six seasons. In it’s heyday (and I’m talking the show’s 2nd through 4th seasons in 1985-87), it was the place to be on Friday nights. As one of the few television shows ever to transcend the cop/crime genre it embodied, influencing music, fashion, and pop culture unlike anything that had come before (and I might argue, since), it was a true cultural phenomena:

The Miami Vice world’s moral ambiguity linked it to the hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and characters such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe; and the film noir genre of the theatrical cinema. Television, with its demand for a repeatable narrative format, could not match the arch fatalism of these antecedents (a protagonist could not die at the end of a episode, as they often do in hard-boiled fiction), but Miami Vice adapted the cynical tone and world-weary attitude of hard-boiled fiction to 1980s television. Moreover, one of the most striking aspects of Miami Vice was its visual style, which borrowed heavily from the film noir.

As film critic Richard T. Jameson commented, “It’s hard to forbear saying, every five minutes or so, ‘I can’t believe this was shot for television!'” Miami Vice was one of the most visually stylized programs of the 1980s and it drew its stylistic inspiration from the cinema’s film noir. It incorporated unconventional camera angles, high contrast lighting, stark black-and-white sets, and striking deep focus to generate unusually dynamic, imbalanced, noir compositions that could have been lifted from Double Indemnity (1944) or Touch of Evil (1958). Miami Vice looked quite unlike anything else on television at the time.

From the killer intro that set the tone for everything that would come afterwards, until the final season or so, when the creativity started to flag, it was big – and I do mean BIG, warranting discussion at parties, bars, and get-togethers at how cool the series was.

And don’t forget the colors.

Early on, Don Johnson’s wardrobe really set the tone for the show’s image – it was all about South Beach, and pastels were all the rage. Soon, all the big designers were into linens and pastels. Then, starting in season four, director Michael Mann took the show into darker, more moody directions, and the pastels all got dumped and replaced by harder colors. But that just made for more conversation about the show.

What’s really cool about watching Miami Vice thirty-plus years on is how during it’s run it attracted the various celebrities of its day. On any given week you could see Phil Collins, Ertha Kitt, Ted Nugent, Penn Gillette, Sheena Easton, and all sort of other personalities playing both good guys and bad. It really was a cultural phenomena, and watching it now it makes you realize: a) just how bold and unique it was, and b) how good the shows were compared to the shit that accounts for the majority of TV these days. Sure, the plots were beyond believable at times, but the shows were moody, artsy, intense, and funky at any given time.

Looking back, “Miami Vice” is all about what television (and, by extension, the movies) used to be about: escapism. Nowadays, with all the loons and pathetic losers of society taking up the majority of airtime in the endless stream of so-called “reality shows” that now occupy practically every channel on TV and cable, Miami Vice’s worst episodes make you think you’re watching something from the golden age of television. And when they were good, it was mesmorizing TV.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:39 | Comment (1)
1 Comment
  1. I loved Miami Vice and my Friday night out always began with a pre-outing cocktail and MV. It was the coolest show and I have done MV marathons when they are on tv. It was an original and so well done…loved Edward James Olmos moody, dark chief.

    Comment by Jana — June 6, 2011 @ 4:57 am

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