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Miami Vice: Season 3 - Review

Miami Vice, Season 3

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

TAKE a look back at the third season of Miami Vice and you’ll probably be amazed at just how many special guests the show was able to attract. Everyone from Liam Neeson and Helena Bonham Carter to Laurence Fishburne and Benicio Del Toro made a significant contribution in some way.

But the guest list merely served to underline that Miami Vice was one of the most hard-hitting shows of its time, famed for the quality of its writing as well as its famed sense of style.

If anything, the third season was the most controversial and sombre of the lot (with several episodes either being cut or not being deemed appropriate to be shown on BBC television). Cases had a habit of turning out bad and often contained high levels of violence, while some of the issues attempted to widen the show’s scope.

The performances also seemed to get better as both Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas really grew into their roles and fully explored the dynamics of their relationship as well as confronting the realities of a life lived mostly undercover.

Primary among these was an early episode called Shadow In The Dark, in which Crockett became obsessed with finding an elusive cat burglar. The episode featured several fascinating exchanges between Castillo and Crockett about the dangerous side of undercover work and was notable for being more intense and psychological than action packed or style-driven.

Another season highlight Theresa, for example, featured a doomed relationship between Johnson’s Sonny Crockett and a drug-addicted nurse played by Helena Bonham Carter. While By Hooker By Crook, featuring Johnson’s [then] real-life partner Melanie Griffith, continued to expand on the theme of Sonny’s love life – in both cases he reached a point of despair at not being able to separate his personal life from the players.

Tubbs, too, found personal demons closing in, most notably in The Afternoon Plane, an episode that brought the Calderone storyline from seasons one and two to a satisfying close. Tubbs, of course, was lured to a remote island where in true High Noon style, he was left alone to face off against his long-time adversary.

Elsewhere, the thorny issue of Irish politics reared its head in season opener When Irish Eyes Are Crying, which was notable for featuring the demise of Crockett’s black Ferrari Daytona [a replica kit car that had angered Ferrari]. But it was never shown on BBC because of the sympathetic portrayal of the IRA, as personified by guest star Liam Neeson. And, to a certain degree, watching it now makes fairly uncomfortable viewing for both English and US viewers, especially in light of the changing attitudes towards freedom fighters and terrorists.

Crockett’s Ferrari, meanwhile, was replaced by the real deal – a gleaming white Testarossa – in Stone’s War, another hard-hitter that examined covert US military operations in Third World countries and which also featured the return of another popular character (Ira Stone, as played by Bob Balaban).

Elsewhere, season three managed to maintain a consistently high level of quality. Walk Alone found Tubbs venturing behind bars to bring down a drugs ring (and featured guest spots from Laurence Fishburne and Ron Perlman), while The Good Collar examined gang crime and featured a heartbreaking central relationship between Crockett and a desperate student (as well as a standout turn from Charles S Dutton). It was the type of downbeat episode that epitomised the series.

Baby Blues was another emotive episode that featured baby smuggling, while two-parter Down For The Count was notable for the death of one of the Miami Vice regulars. And two further favourites, Red Tape and Knock, Knock, Who’s There? benefited from excellent guest spots from Lou Diamond Philips, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McShane respectively.

There was the odd misfire where the emphasis drifted onto secondary characters – such as the Izzy-heavy Better Livin’ Thro Chemistry – but on the whole the third season of Miami Vice cemented the show as one of the finest of its day. Indeed, there’s even a sense that certain key episodes haven’t aged as much as those from the first two seasons (or the two that followed).

So, while basking in the recent glory of Michael Mann’s big screen revamp, why not also indulge in some inspired retro gazing and purchase this excellent box set? Season four – while decidedly more hit and miss (remember Sheena Easton, anyone?) – is due to follow in August.