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The Series
Back in 1984, Friday nights were ruled by two CBS dramas, Dallas and Falcon Crest, and rival NBC needed something to give the competition a run for its money, something different than anything ever seen on network television at the time. Anthony Yerkovich pitched a different type of cop show to NBC, one that would capitalize on the increasingly popular music video craze since the inception of MTV a few years earlier and bring more cinematic elements to viewers each week.

Miami Vice: Season One
That series, Miami Vice wouldn’t catch on right away. After the initial success of the show’s premiere, the show languished in the ratings and continued to fall, almost becoming a casualty of cancellation mid-way through its first season. After some changes to the cast and tone of the show in the second half of the season the ratings began to pick up and once viewers got another glimpse of the show they had been missing all year thanks to summer reruns, it become a hit going into its second season. Soon the show would eclipse the competition and become a Friday evening juggernaut, setting trends in music with its chart topping soundtrack and clothing for four more seasons until its cancellation in July of 1989.

For those that don’t know or have never seen it, the series revolved around two Miami-Dade vice cops, Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Rico Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) who went undercover to root out the illicit criminal elements in the Miami underground and did so in style, wearing the most expensive suits and driving the most expensive cars to better fit into the world of the criminals they worked to apprehend. Drug lords, gun smugglers, pimps, racketeers and other seedy types all came under the crosshairs of the duo and their fellow officers, led by the hard nosed Lieutenant Martin Castillo (Edward James Olmos), in the course of each week’s episode.

Anthony Yerkovich created the show, but producer Michael Mann brought a cinematic flare to the series like no other show on television had exhibited before. Each episode was filmed using the thematic elements of stylized cinematography and slow motion, extensive location shooting, and a marriage between music and pictures that closely emulated what all the kids were watching over on MTV. Miami Vice was different than anything that television had ever produced, a gritty and action packed drama that gave people a reason to stay home on Friday nights, or at least get one of those new fangled VCRs set up correctly to record it.

Flash forward and here we are in 2005, just over twenty years since the show’s premiere where VCRs have been overtaken by DVD players and discs, and more importantly in the case of this review, the first season of this landmark show receives its DVD release from Universal Studios. Now the real question becomes whether the series has held up since it first aired, or has it become a piece of nostalgia like Flock of Seagulls or jelly bracelets? For the most part, the answer to that question is yes, the show has withstood the test of time, but other, smaller aspects heavily date it.

Miami Vice: Season One
Miami Vice, although ahead of the curve in the way it was made, is still very much a product of the ‘80s. The pastel colors, the cars and the music are all so thoroughly an integral part of the show that it tends to date things more than these elements might have dated other programs of the time. Miami Vice was such a trendsetter and has become such an iconic show for the period that for many it is the resounding image that is conjured up when thinking back on the ‘80s, and in being such it’s a bit ironic that one of the pieces which made it so wildly popular back then makes it seem like you are watching a period piece now. But maybe that is the best way to watch the series now, kind of like combing through a time capsule from two decades ago. You might even remember a time when you too wore suits with a sleeveless shirt underneath and matching sandals and sported a perpetual five o’clock shadow around town (or at least wanted to if you were too young at the time) and slyly grin a bit about how it all seems so silly now.

But that issue aside, Miami Vice is still a great show, let alone a great cop drama. The reason that we still read Shakespeare is that good drama will always be good drama and stand up after several years or decades. Now I’m not comparing Miami Vice to Shakespeare mind you, but simply using an exaggerated example in pointing out that solid, well told stories do hold up over time, and Miami Vice is as well told as television dramas go. The stories still hold relevance today, and the acting and writing are of such quality that it should hold up for years to come.

The first season presented in this three-disc set represents some of the best and most powerful episodes, but it also has a few duds thrown in here and there. Episodes such as the program’s pilot episode and the two-parters, ‘Calderone’s Return’ and ‘Golden Triangle’, stand as a clear reason why the series’ first season was nominated for fifteen Emmy Awards, while other episodes, like ‘Little Prince’, ‘Glades’, and ‘The Great McCarthy’, are better left forgotten. The season also sees guest appearances by several, well known actors such as a pre-Moonlighting Bruce Willis as an arms dealer, Married With Children’s Al Bundy himself, Ed O’Neil, as a renegade FBI agent deep undercover, Pam Grier as an old flame of Tubbs from New York, Dennis Farina as an unscrupulous racketeer and a host of other faces that you’ll recognize almost immediately, including series music contributor Glenn Frey as a smuggler who takes Crockett and Tubbs to Columbia on an assignment. Almost as much fun as pointing out the guest stars is listening for which popular song would show up in an episode, and if hearing Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ during what is probably the show’s most memorable moment doesn’t give you a bit of a charge then I don’t know what will.

Video
Universal Studios has presented Miami Vice: Season One in its televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 fullscreen for its debut on DVD. There are several instances of pops and artefacts as a result of dirt or scratches on the prints, grain is prevalent in a number of scenes, especially darker ones, and at times the image is soft and blurry. The colour also seems to be a bit muted and seems darker than it really ought to be in many shots, while the quality of the image differs slightly from episode to episode. That being said, I didn’t expect Miami Vice to look like a just released television program and I was pleasantly surprised at how good the image quality of the release is when considering that these episodes are over twenty years old and seeing how the set compares to other television programs that have been released onto DVD recently. It certainly helps that the show was shot on actual film stock and not on video so everything has a nice, theatrical-quality texture to it. Overall, the video transfer on these discs represents the best the program has ever looked and is one of the best for an older television series that I have yet to see.

Miami Vice: Season One
Audio
The series is presented here with re-mastered audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Some of the sound and dialogue comes across as muffled at times, but for the most part it is crisp and clear. Like most other television programs, there isn’t a lot of heavy usage of the LFE or rear channels, but the 5.1 audio is a most welcome addition to the set, especially when the series’ renowned soundtrack, which remains totally intact, kicks in at just the right moments. I would have preferred an audio track that represented the program’s original audio in addition to the newly re-mastered sound, but in the end that’s a very minor aside. Overall, just like the video transfer, the audio track here is one of the best for an older program that I have come across.

Extras
Along with each of the first season’s twenty-two episodes, which include the one-hundred minute pilot episode, are five featurettes focusing on different aspects of the show with a running time of five to seven minutes located on side A of the first disc. Each featurette has a fairly self-explanatory title: The Vibe of Vice deals with the shows impact on television, Building The Perfect Vice focuses on bringing the show to television, The Style of Vice handles the clothing and costuming of the series, The Music of Vice features Jan Hammer and discusses the role music played in the program’s run, and Miami After Vice shows the city of Miami in the years since the show last aired.

Unfortunately there isn’t a play all option for the featurettes and none of them were made with the involvement of any of the stars or producer Michael Mann, who are all seen within the featurettes through vintage interviews; only new interviews with the show’s costume designer, composer Jan Hammer and series creator Anthony Yerkovich are included. The featurettes aren’t the most entertaining around, but do offer up a few nuggets of information about the show. Ideally it would have been great to hear from Michael Mann in a new interview or a commentary track for the pilot episode, and I guess both Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas had better things to do. Maybe we’ll get to see their involvement in future seasons of the show as they come to DVD.

The episodes themselves, however, do feature a play all option and include main menus with synopses and four chapter stops for each, approximately fifty minute episode. As for the set’s packaging, Miami Vice comes in Universal’s standard, dual-layer, double-sided disc layout and digipak plus outer slipsleeve packaging. I’m not a fan of either these types of discs or the packaging and would have preferred dual-layer, single-sided discs and THINpaks for each disc since both are more durable choices for the set. I hope Universal wises up soon before releasing more of their television programs to DVD.

Miami Vice: Season One
Overall
Miami Vice: Season One was a landmark in television that was ahead of its time by bringing the theatrical experience of adult drama to television on a weekly basis. The show itself is a bit dated today some twenty years later, but for the most part it still holds up well enough to be as gripping as it was back then. Universal Studios has presented the series’ first season with a package that has its good and bad points; the video transfer and the audio are actually better than expected and a pleasant surprise, but the special features are a letdown and mediocre at best considering the show’s place in television history. For fans of the program though, it’s great to be able to watch each episode back-to-back and in such good quality, and it might just make you take that mothballed, pastel jacket out of the closet just to see if it still fits.


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