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Miami Vice - Season 2 (Review)

Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice

Review by Jack Foley

THE second season of Miami Vice is, for many, when the show really came into its own.

More slick and less rough around the edges than its predecessor, season two cemented the show’s position as one of the defining shows of the 80s.

Undercover vice cops Crockett and Tubbs (aka Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) became pin-ups and fashion icons, while emerging directors and actors were queuing up to contribute their services.

Yet crucially the show didn’t lose the gritty edge that made its first season so distinctive. Life in Miami was still frought with danger as the two detectives struggled to hold onto their sanity while trawling the seedy underbelly of the neon-lit city.

Evidence of the show’s growing confidence was found in the season opener, The Prodigal Son, a feature length episode split between Miami and New York.

Opening with a night-time drug bust in the heart of the Everglades in which a vicious Colombian cartel is taken down, the action then cuts to a glitzy party where the surviving members of the cartel exact a bloody revenge on a Miami Vice regular.

From then on, it’s over to New York where Crockett and Tubbs attempt to infiltrate the cartel’s stronghold in the face of some pretty stiff resistance from the NYPD.

The episode, directed by Paul Michael Glaser (of Starsky & Hutch fame), possessed a cinematic feel that not only put forward some impressive action sequences, but successfully developed the buddy dynamic between Crockett and Tubbs.

It also opened up a romantic possibility for Tubbs, who became re-acquainted with a former love-interest.

The remaining 21 episodes were just as stylish, mixing some hard-hitting storylines with the odd lighter moments (such as an appearance by British pop star, Phil Collins, on an episode entitled Phil The Shill).

In truth, though, the show was at its finest when playing it straight, such as an episode entitled Out Where The Buses Don’t Run, in which Crockett and Tubbs are forced to work with an unstable former vice detective who may know the whereabouts of a missing mobster.

The episode in question guest starred recent Oscar nominee David Strathairn, as well as Bruce McGill and featured a cameo from Little Richard. But given the presence of two high-quality ensemble actors, it was little wonder the show began to carry much more of an emotional punch.

Strong, too, was an episode called Dutch Oven, which was directed by Abel Ferrara, while The Fast & The Furious helmer, Rob Cohen, leant his own sense of style to Definitely Miami, an entertaining episode that found Castillo attempting to organise the surrender of a crime boss while Crockett became romantically embroiled with a beautiful woman.

Highly-respected character actor, John Heard, played a prominent role in another season highlights, One Way Ticket (which also featured a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Jan Hammer), while the show’s penchant for using music celebrities was fully in evidence during Payback, an episode that featured Frank Zappa as a drug dealer.

In spite of such high-profile gloss, the show did maintain the melancholy tone that made the first series to striking and which partly helped to lay the foundations for some of today’s grittier cop shows, such as NYPD Blue, Law & Order and The Shield.

Season finale, Sons & Lovers was particularly downbeat given that it focused on the return of the Calderone’s – the crime family that was introduced during the show’s very first episode. The explosing conclusion meant that Miami Vice departed with a big emotional kick that proved it wasn’t just about the glamour and the glitz.

Of the returning cast members, it was Edward James Olmos as Lieutenant Castillo that continued to register strongest, although Switek and Zito were also portrayed in slightly more serious fashion that some of the earlier episodes.

But the show was ultimately about Crockett and Tubbs and it is their chemistry, sense of style and posture with a gun that helped to carve out the show’s place in TV history as one that defined an era. As dated as some of its fashions look now, it remains an impressive achievement.

Watch the NEW Miami Vice trailer