Note: I’m re-tasking this old song post for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Moved by Music over at The Daily Post.
Episode Title: Definitely Miami
Episode #: 12
Series #: 34
Original Airdate: January 10, 1986
Written by: Michael Ahnemann & Daniel Pyne
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Song of note: Cry (written by Godley & Creme)
Performed by: Godley & Creme
The groundbreaking, and thoroughly American, Miami Vice was the epitome of the 80s in a television series. For me, anyways. It may seem almost quaint by today’s standards (particularly, if you compare to something as dark and critically acclaimed as Breaking Bad). But back then, it was cutting-edge. The fact that it was produced by Michael Mann and Anthony Yerkovich meant it was no surprise I became hooked on this show when it debuted on NBC in 1984. Mann had hit my radar after I caught his absorbing, gritty, and underrated ABC-TV film, The Jericho Mile, in ’79 (which is, sadly, still not available in the U.S.).
His feature début, Thief (which I highlighted on its 30th anniversary earlier this year) all but guaranteed he’d be one I’d follow in any future film releases afterwards. Plus Yerkovich, as a writer and producer of another of my favorites during this same decade, Hill Street Blues, was going to get my attention, no matter what. Thus, the show Miami Vice impacted like few others on network television. It would go on to exhibit all the touches of both the influential filmmaker and the writer/producer would become known for.
Unlike the police procedurals to that point, nothing like it had come down the pike beforehand. From its very first scene, Miami Vice was in tune with that distinct Florida metro city, its multi-cultural nature (which remains very Casablanca-like), and the reverberation of that decade’s music had on it all. The swagger of style and bravado that became a trait of its cast, and the stories it had to tell (many speaking to the effects and day-to-day ins and outs of the drug-trade back then in that part of the Caribbean), was eye-opening to television viewers.
Between the cars, the people and money, and even the fashion statement this program had on full display, it exhibited a flair no other series could match for years. And its sway ranged far and wide once it landed on to Miami’s shores and TV sets. The echos of which are still being felt — fans can see proof of that in such offerings like Burn Notice, Nip/Tuck, and hell… even CSI: Miami (I’m sorry to say).
Nevertheless, as good as Miami Vice was when it began in the mid-80s, especially for its initial two seasons, sustaining that level quality wasn’t to be. While there were always some good episodes in the subsequent later years, it lost momentum as its uniqueness faded and the quality of other shows caught up. Still, when the show hit on all those notable touchstones that made it uncommon, it could be great actually. And the second season episode, Definitely Miami, was one of those.
This was one of the infrequent installments where Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs were split up into separate narratives: Crockett becoming involved with a pair of deadly grifters (Arielle Dombasle and Ted Nugent) while Tubbs worked with Lt. Castillo to organize the surrender of a certain crime boss. Obsession complicates both ventures. For Sonny, it’s his emotional involvement with the beautiful femme fatale (understandable as Arielle had one of the best entrances and appearances ever on network TV), and the federal agent (Albert Hall) working with Castillo wants the criminal leader so badly that he’s willing to risk a government-protected witness to get him.
Giving credit to the writers, the character development and superb writing in this went a long way for a short one-hour program. But, when you added the gorgeous scenery, hauntingly shot by Tom Priestly and directed by Rob Cohen (way before his film career started with the likes of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Daylight, The Fast and The Furious, etc.), it separated the show from the standard, less sophisticated fare of the time by a mile. Yet, what really made this episode rise to the top was its proven use of music (key at the beginning and at the end) and how well it was all spliced together.
While Gato Barbieri’s Europa and Nugent’s appropriate Angry Young Man tracks were also featured, ask any fan of the show why this one chapter in the series stands out. They’ll tell you it is due to its singular, tuneful finale. Incorporating Godley & Creme’s 1985 hit, Cry, the episode put that song to its best use ever story-wise, outside of its distinctive and very 80s music video. Nicely re-cut (credit I reckon goes to Jan Hammer and Jerry Cohen) to fit the final sequence, the song does all the talking needed to close both story threads like nothing ever could. When I give thought of the use of music on TV, this is the one I happily recall.
If you’re interested, you can stream this entire episode on NBC.com.