Monday, August 19, 2013

Why we love "Miami Vice" (or at least one reason)

After a brief hiatus, I just resumed watching "Miami Vice" from the beginning via Netflix, and halfway through the first season one of my memories is confirmed: The show started strong and was pretty much awesome viewing from the get-go. Another of my memories, that the show deteriorated rapidly after the first few seasons, is yet to be confirmed or refuted.

Last week I saw "Glades," a fun episode which features Crockett and Tubbs uncovering a drug smuggling operation that uses air fresheners to conceal pure cocaine. No, actually it's the EVERglades, into which the guys venture to find a witness who bails just before testifying against a drug lord. There's a lot of hallmarks of classic "Vice" in this one: Switek and Zito bumbling, Castillo simmering, and Tommy Shaw singing (OK, that's not a staple of the series, but it stands out in this installment, and in fact the song "Girls with Guns" is used to fine effect here, but is worthy of its own post someday)...and you get several unique features like John Pankow as a sleazy swamp degenerate.

One of the best parts of "Glades" is Crockett and Tubbs' effort to infiltrate the closed swamp town community in order to track their quarry. And when I say "effort," I mean lack of effort, and that's what I love.

Now, I grant that we as viewers don't really need a 10-minute montage of the cops leafing through encyclopedias, interviewing experts, and trying to invent Wikipedia to prepare for an undercover assignment, but I do find it amusing, considering how much emphasis the series as a whole places on the toll this kind of work takes on the officers, that they often make such a half-assed go at it.

In "Glades," they're posing as fishermen looking for a tour guide they had before, and I think even they know right away how unconvincing they sound. The thing is, they don't care. It's like as long as they have cool threads and a big dose of swagger, they'll bluff their way through it. The telling detail is when Sonny Crockett, the Tony Danza of vice cops, introduces himself and Tubbs as Sonny Blake and Leroy Higgins. OK, "Leroy Higgins" is actually a sweet moniker, but Sonny BLAKE? Really? Is changing your first name too risky? Keep in mind this is the guy whose chief alias is Sonny BURNETT, which is even more similar to his real identity than Sonny Blake.

What the hey, right? We know they're faking, and the cops know they're faking, but do the bad guys know they're faking? Yeah, they do! But it doesn't matter. They all have to go through the little ritual for at least a little while before the swamp degenerates dump Higgins and Blake in the middle of the Everglades without a ride home. I appreciate the fact that everyone at least puts on a little bit of pretense.

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