Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Dr. Mystery guide to "Miami Vice" for gentlemen and gentlewomen of leisure (Part 4: Season 4)

When I began this odyssey, this quest, to watch every episode of Miami Vice and report my findings here on the blog (probably one of the greatest quests of the modern era, but I'll leave that for the historians to sort out), I went down some crazy rabbit holes of rabid Vice fandom. There are many disputes, debates, and differences of opinion among the online fanatics, but most of them can agree on one thing: that Season 4 is the worst season of the series. This is the season where the train went off the tracks, where sharks were jumped, where actors began openly criticizing the quality of the scripts. Miami Vice is commonly regarded today as lovable kitsch and nostalgic '80s goofiness, but I will go to bat for the first three seasons being a damn good show. Miami Vice really looked like nothing else on television at the time and was a unique blend of '30s and '40s film noir shadows-and-light formalism, '70s-style cop show action/thriller, '80s music video and neon-and-pastel flash, and shot-on-location documentary-style Miami local color. Most television up to this point had looked very stagy and flat, but Miami Vice had a cinematic look and style that jumped off the screen.
Season 4, on the other hand, dials down some of the stylistic formalism that made the show ahead of its time and dials up some of the silliest, most ridiculous episodes in television history. The ratings dropped, and the show went from being a huge hit to a minor one. I can see why this season turned off a lot of the fanboys, but as a time capsule and a piece of mostly unintentional hilarity and absurdity, it's pretty entertaining in hindsight. A handful of episodes have some serious pacing problems and listless acting, never a problem on this show before, and I can see the writers, producers, and actors struggling to find new places to take the series. Even so, there's something really, really weird about this season. It plays out not like another season of the show, but like filmed Miami Vice fan fiction written by slightly unhinged superfans. Most episodes seem like alternate reality Vice. In honor of this bizarre development, I have added a new category to my episode-by-episode wrapup. In addition to guest stars and out-of-context quotes, I've included the fan-fiction element.
General fan-fiction element for the entire season: The women detectives on the show, Gina and Trudy, used to wear long, flowing, billowy dresses, which was strange enough office wear for detectives. This season, they sexed it up about 92 percent by wearing tight, short skirts. Trudy also has a nameplate on her desk reading "Big Booty Trudy." That can't be regulation nameplate.

"Contempt of Court"
Guest stars: Stanley Tucci is a mob boss. Philip Baker Hall is a federal judge. Meg Foster is a U.S. attorney.
Out-of-context quote: "Common decency demands that we dismiss this indictment, which is a stew of rancid meat that makes me want to retch and vomit." (knocks all papers off desk in anger)
Fan fiction element: Though the plot of this one is pretty standard Miami Vice boilerplate, the acting is so volcanically over the top that I imagine the director's instructions were, "Act like people are watching your performance on a television that is on the opposite end of a football field." Tucci's mob boss regularly cracks wise in court, even ordering cannoli and veal cutlets from the courtroom. It's like an SNL Miami Vice skit turned actual episode.

"Amen... Send Money"
Guest stars: Brian Dennehy is a televangelist named Reverend Bill Bob Proverb who preaches that God rewards the greedy and loves material wealth. Anita Morris is Bill Bob's wife who has some illegal hobbies. James Tolkan is another televangelist. Ben Stiller is a sleazy guy named Fast Eddie who sells religious paraphernalia.
Out-of-context quote: "I love this Italian silk $750 piece of matter we call a jacket."
Bonus quote: "I've been to jail. Jail sucks."
Fan fiction element: The televangelist's studio looks like a cross between some Scientology bullshit, Morton Downey Jr.'s show, and a portal to hell. The preacher character is such an exaggerated piece of satire that it makes no sense on a cop show.

"Death and the Lady"
Guest stars: Paul Guilfoyle is an "erotic performance artist" who has directed a porno that's also a fake snuff film ... or is it? Kelly Lynch is a stripper who appeared in the snuff film ... or did she? Penelope Ann Miller is the sister of a woman who appeared in the film ... or is she? Yeah, she is. Miguel Ferrer is a district attorney.
Out-of-context quote: "Mr. Crockett, you're fixated on dead people. Are you a necrophiliac?"
Fan fiction element: Guilfoyle's performance artist character is, in a season trend, wildly over the top. We also have the is-it-or-isn't-it element of the snuff film, possible twins who are possibly just one person pretending to be twins, and a murder victim who may be still alive, or dead but not murdered. This is a really weird episode.

"The Big Thaw"
This episode is commonly considered one of the worst, but I happened to find it very amusing.
Guest stars: Bill Raymond is the head of a cryogenics lab. Alfred Molina is an attorney.
Out-of-context quote: "There's a big difference between making instant coffee and trying to bring a Rastafarian back from the dead."
Bonus quote: "He looks stoned." "He is. Stone cold frozen."
Fan fiction element: This episode is about a legal battle over the cryogenically frozen corpse of a Jamaican reggae singer named Robillard Nevin, who was frozen after he died from Fugu poisoning upon eating incorrectly prepared blowfish while on tour. Enough said.

"Child's Play"
Guest stars: Ving Rhames is a career criminal mixed up in some bad stuff. Danitra Vance is his girlfriend ... with a secret. Isaac Hayes is a gunrunner named Holiday. Belinda Montgomery is Crockett's ex-wife.
Out-of-context quote: "Man, it's like holding two volleyballs underwater. Can't be done for long."
Fan fiction element: Other than reintroducing a few characters from the first season, not much in the way of fan fiction elements here. This one's actually a pretty effective piece of crime drama that has more in common with the earlier seasons.

"God's Work"
Guest stars: Film director Alfonso Arau is a crime lord. Esai Morales is his closeted gay son who wants to turn the family business legit.
Out-of-context quote: "I think this guy took a wrong turn at the cheese and wine shop."
Bonus quote: "That's original. I love originality. But in Homicide, they don't give a damn."
Fan fiction element: Again, this one's mostly straight-ahead drama, but there's a lot of speechifying here about raising money to fight AIDS and treat AIDS patients.

"Missing Hours"
This episode enjoys a reputation as the absolute worst one in the entire series, but its off-the-charts absurdity and ridiculousness make it well worth seeing.
Guest stars: James Brown is a James Brown-like soul music superstar famous for singing James Brown songs named Lou DeLong who is also a government agent, a man who was abducted by aliens, and/or an actual alien. Chris Rock is a precocious young go-getter in the Central Records department who is also a UFO conspiracy theory buff. Charlie Barnett returns as The Noogman.
Out-of-context quote: "Why don't I reorient your intergalactic desirability?"
Bonus quote: "One thousand bucks and two dozen one-pound peanut butter jars in his shopping bag." "Creamy ... or crunchy?"
Double bonus quote: "Two men with weird eyes and purple auras. That's all she can remember right now."
Fan fiction element: Are you kidding? Trudy is abducted by aliens, one of whom may or may not be James Brown. Alien abductees somehow feel the need to buy multiple jars of peanut butter, travel to an empty house boat, and stare into the face of James Brown, which then disappears and turns into blue sky and clouds. Chris Rock's character is treated like an old series regular, even though he never appears on another episode. Chris Rock also reads about aliens on the pre-Internet computer message board groups. Sci-fi writer Thomas M. Disch wrote this episode. Peanut butter?

"Like a Hurricane"
Guest stars: '80s pop star Sheena Easton is '80s pop star Caitlin Davies. Xander Berkeley is a sleazy band manager who's running a payola scam. Tony Hendra is a music executive who's into some shady criminal underworld stuff. Teller (of Penn & Teller) is Hendra's very chatty and very sleazy attorney. Yeah, you get to hear Teller speak. The MCs of Rap play themselves performing in a nightclub. Yeah, The MCs of Rap. Also on the bill but unfortunately cut out of the episode were opening acts The Rockers of Rock and The Jazzmen of Jazz.
Out-of-context quote: "What the hell is that?" "'Rubber Love' by The Blowguns."
Bonus quote: "The drummer OD'ed on reds, the guitar player joined a cult, but the bass player got a lawyer and sued."
Fan fiction element: Crockett is forced to act as protection for Caitlin (Sheena Easton) when her life is threatened. As a working stiff detective, he hates this pop star celebrity. As a pop star celebrity, she hates the surly detective. However, as we learned in the 1990s from the live action human on rapping cartoon cat bestiality of Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat's "Opposites Attract," opposites attract. Crocket and Caitlin soon fall in love and get married. They also enjoy an oddly violent makeout session soundtracked by a flute solo. Don't worry about Crockett's cover getting blown. Sure, he's an undercover vice cop pretending to be a middleman for drug lords and gunrunners and pimps and he's marrying a famous pop star, but, as Crockett puts it, "she likes her privacy, so it's not gonna jeopardize my cover." Caitlin's big comeback single is a cover of "I Got You, Babe." Though it's a duet, she sings it alone, unless you count the children's choir on the last verse. Last but not least, three words: exploding demo tape!

"The Rising Sun of Death"
Guest stars: Sheena Easton is back. R. Lee Ermey is a corrupt homicide sergeant. James Hong is a Yakuza higher-up.
Out-of-context quote: "They just jerked a floater out of the bay."
Bonus quote: "Latin machismo."
Double bonus quote: "Look in the yellow pages under full-body tattoos."
Fan fiction element: This is basically a one-hour generic yakuza and samurai movie with small supporting roles from the regular cast. There's a big samurai swordfight in the rain with lots of talk about codes and honor and seppuku. There is also a strip club scene where the strippers are dancing to "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" by The Smiths. I haven't been to a strip club in years and have never been a strip club regular, but I'm willing to bet this song, one of the most melancholy Smiths ballads, has never been played in any strip club at any point in our nation's history.

"Love at First Sight"
Guest stars: Sheena Easton is back. Iman is a woman using a video dating service. She's got some secrets. Annabelle Gurwitch is a wisecracking prostitute. Lori Petty is an enthusiast of S&M who is using the same dating service as Iman. Christopher McCann is an FBI agent.
Out-of-context quote: "Somebody's not too fond of male genitalia."
Bonus quote: "A woman's eyes can tell you a thousand stories about her. Does she dig Mantovani or Manilow? Is she high for Club Med Guadeloupe or Club Med Martinique?"
Fan fiction element: This is actually a pretty scary, exciting, and suspenseful episode. Crockett goes undercover at a video dating service to bust a prostitution ring, but the focus of the investigation shifts when several men using the service are murdered. Crockett fits the killer's type, so he becomes the bait. The killer has a split personality, each one a different gender. Don Johnson directed this episode, and it's an effective piece of horror.

"A Rock and a Hard Place"
Guest stars: Sheena Easton and Tony Hendra are back.
Out-of-context quote: "This Fremont and Wiggins, they're a couple of tubesteaks."
Bonus quote: "Your reputation sucks."
Fan fiction element: Crockett goes to LA with Caitlin, who is doing a press junket for her new album and appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, even though he's an undercover cop. The paparazzi go crazy over him when they think he's his undercover persona, and a scandal hits the press: pop star marries drug dealer, killer, pimp, and gunrunner.

"The Cows of October"
Guest stars: Harry Shearer is an overzealous, bumbling FBI agent. Gerrit Graham is a Texas businessman, and like all Texans, he wears a huge cowboy hat and speaks in a broadly fake Southern accent.
Out-of-context quote: "Obviously, you two have a little to learn about the chess-like interaction of international intrigue."
Bonus quote: "Our side just won a major battle in the cold war of animal husbandry."
Double bonus quote: "You're a credit to the free-enterprising vertebraes of this planet."
Fan fiction element: Several of the previous episodes have put the basic series template into an entirely different genre: satire, mystery, science fiction, backstage show business drama, samurai movie, horror. This one mixes the western with the screwball comedy and is about the international smuggling of bull semen, particularly one virile bull named Gargantua. The soundtrack is drawn from the scores of several classic westerns. Again, this is not very good, but it's incredibly entertaining.

"Vote of Confidence"
Guest star: Larry Pine is a gubernatorial candidate busted with a prostitute, which is only the first piece in a vast government conspiracy.
Out-of-context quote: "It's a little early in the morning for coffee."
Bonus quote: "That booger Pearl Harbored me."
Fan fiction element: This one starts as a satire of political campaigns before turning into a missing person whodunit.

"Baseballs of Death"
This is a rare old-school, solid episode, directed by character actor Bill Duke, who also directed the underrated '90s crime thriller Deep Cover.
Guest stars: Tony Plana is a bad dude. Please don't fuck with him. Lisa Marie and Michael Des Barres are con artists running a lucrative scam. Lisa Marie pretends to be a prostitute, using her womanly charms to lure rich businessmen. Des Barres takes their photos, and the pair blackmail the rich old philanderers. Mark Metcalf is a DEA agent with the trademark Metcalf intensity. Oliver Platt is a weapons smuggler named Speed Stiles.
Out-of-context quote: "Your mother can't satisfy your needs anymore. I can."
Bonus quote: "Is this for your gun club or are you planning to invade Uruguay?"
Double bonus quote: "Good morgen!" "Anything since last night?" "Couple of dogs fell in love and started a family about six hours ago."
Triple bonus quote: "I guess Guerrero was home makin' chile rellenos through all this."
Fan fiction element: Other than a spectacular speedboat explosion, nothing too bizarre here.

"Indian Wars"
Guest stars: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young drummer Joe Lala is a drug dealer. Joseph Turkel and his amazingly square, amazingly huge eyeglasses are a major drug smuggler.
Out-of-context quote: "I cannot be responsible for the peccadilloes of my associates."
Fan fiction element: This episode focuses on drug smuggling on the Native American tribal reservation of the Miccosukees, which gives the series the opportunity to feature lots of big speeches about the white man vs. the Indian, old ways vs. modernization, income from allowing drug dealers to use their land vs. going clean but losing all the money, youth vs. the elderly, idealism vs. business, etc. Plus, one character is a schizophrenic with his own vigilante army, and Tubbs goes undercover on the reservation as a doctoral student working on his thesis "Oppression in the Land of the Free." He convinces as a doctoral student because he puts on glasses.

"Honor Among Thieves?"
Holy shit, this episode is crazy.
Guest star: Dylan Baker is a homicide detective.
Out-of-context quote: "That's real heat, when they start arresting your horses."
Bonus quote: "Someday, you and me are gonna dance." "Strike up the band, baby."
Fan fiction element: A serial killer with a huge doll collection thinks his dolls can talk to him. They tell him to rape and kill young girls. The killer speaks in a high, squeaky voice whenever he's doing the voice of the dolls. He kills the girls by injecting them with an overdose of very pure cocaine. He then rubs cocaine all over the bodies and dumps them in a public place and rests a doll on top of the corpse. Crockett is undercover at a major drug dealer's compound, pretending to be a lawyer advising the dealer how to launder his drug money to make it look legal. The killer's use of cocaine is putting too much heat on the drug trade, so this dealer puts out feelers to catch the guy themselves. When they catch him, the dealer invites every other major Miami drug dealer to a kangaroo court on a nightclub dance floor. The club is closed for the night. Thinking Crockett's a lawyer, the dealer makes Crockett defend the killer. If Crockett can convince the assorted dealers the killer is too insane to know right from wrong, they'll turn him over to the cops. If Crockett can't convince them, they will torture and murder the guy. If you think that synopsis is crazy, wait until you see the concluding scene.

"Hell Hath No Fury"
Guest stars: Don Harvey is a convicted rapist recently released from prison. John Michael Higgins is the sleazy host of a Geraldo and Maury-style talk show. John Finn is a survivalist gun nut hit man for hire.
Out-of-context quote: "That's what rules are for, so you don't have to think."
Fan fiction element: We get both a satire of sleazeball talk shows and a ripped-from-the-headlines subplot about hired hitmen in the Soldier of Fortune classifieds. Also, Trudy is good friends with the rape victim as well as the arresting officer of her rapist, and the episode pretends like this has been an ongoing story even though this is the first and last we'll see of it.

"Badge of Dishonor"
Guest stars: Reni Santoni is lieutenant of a special ops drug unit. Barbra Streisand has a bizarrely brief cameo as a pedestrian walking down the street, so brief I didn't even notice it.
Out-of-context quote: "Great, couple of bad apples set back minority recruiting another 400 years!"
Fan fiction element: Weird Barbra Streisand cameo. Actor Julio Oscar Mechoso, who was a regular on the first season as a member of the vice team before the network decided to phase out the character, plays a drug dealer in the opening scene.

"Blood and Roses"
Guest stars: Stanley Tucci and Meg Foster are back from the first episode of the season. Michael Wincott is a sleazy guy with underworld connections. Frank Stallone is one of Stanley Tucci's goons.
Out-of-context quote: "Definitely not al dente."
Bonus quote: "Bottle of Dom P., two straws."
Fan fiction element: This episode has the exact same plot as an episode from the first season, and it's one that makes me feel gross and unpleasant. Why do it again? Gina is undercover and she's forced to have sex with a guy who creeps her out to avoid blowing her cover. She breaks down and is consoled by Trudy. At the end of both episodes, she kills the guy in a shootout and then stares deep into Crockett's eyes to let him know silently what went down. Freeze frame. Credits. Such a weird plot to repeat out of all the storylines from the past three years.

"A Bullett for Crockett"
Guest star: Fame's Jesse Borrego is a drug smuggler.
Out-of-context quote: "I never should have let him take Loco Mendez alone."
Bonus quote: "She's beyond the moral laws of this or any other world."
Fan fiction element: This is a fucking clipshow. Crockett is shot by the girlfriend of the dealer he's just shot. He's in a coma in the hospital, which happens to be the most dimly lit hospital in North America, which gives each character the opportunity to visit him and flash back to a scene from a previous episode. "In the Air Tonight" is brought back from the very first episode of the show to score the opening scene. Crockett's shooting will never come up again, and he's completely recovered by the next episode, even though he was in a coma with a bullet lodged in his spine. Fucking clipshows.

"Deliver Us From Evil"
Guest stars: Sheena Easton is back. Guy Boyd is back from Season 3.
Out-of-context quote: "This guy knows the difference between Baccarat and Lalique."
Bonus quote: "Did I ask for a lukewarm beer, Julia?"
Fan fiction element: This episode brings two completely separate storylines from earlier episodes together. We also get to see Sheena Easton perform "Follow My Rainbow" in its entirety, which is exactly the kind of song you imagine it is from the title. Also, several people in the audience give her bouquets of flowers after she performs. I thought this only happened to opera singers and theater actors and directors on Broadway.

"Mirror Image"
Guest stars: Antonio Fargas is a drug lord. Chris Cooper is a dirty detective. Julia Roberts is a drug lord's assistant. Brent Jennings is a vice sergeant.
Out-of-context quote: "Vice? I love vice."
Fan fiction element: Crockett gets a head injury during a boat explosion and wakes up with amnesia, which makes him think he's his undercover persona, so he turns evil. There is a weird Lynchian dream sequence. The episode ends on a cliffhanger.

One more season to go.

Crockett and Tubbs pose with Tubbs' bird, Pepito, star of the short-lived spinoff series Johnny Pepito, Tropical Bird Detective