Posted on November 19, 2018
by matt_culloty

It’s 9:45 on a sticky summer night in 1985.  

Me and some friends are killing time under a streetlamp wasting the summer away.  They’re doing most of the talking though, because my mind is elsewhere. I’ve been anxiously anticipating the religious ritual that awaits me come 10:00.  The one that takes place every Friday night for me. I keep strict track of the minute hand on my watch and decide that it’s time to say my goodbyes and head into my cozy, air-conditioned house.  The bulky, faux-wood television is already tuned to channel 11 (NBC). The rabbit ears with the aluminum foil on them are precisely turned in the right spot and the volume is perfect. My mom was an angel!  She knew the routine.

I grab a sofa pillow, turn the lights out and make a spot on the floor-mere inches from the screen.  The illumination cuts through the cigarette-smoke haze creating the perfect foreboding mood. Then it begins.  Through my spread bony knees, I see Crockett appear first. This looks like it’s going to be a good one! He’s deep undercover as his drug-dealing alter-ego, Sonny Burnett.  Bad guys in toe. The sting is going down. Tubbs is waiting outside, ready to pounce once he gets the word. My heart is racing, and I’m absolutely immersed in this world. My teenage angst is boiling over.  Suddenly, Crockett’s cover is blown, and the deal quickly goes south. Tubbs rushes in. Guns start blazing. Holy Christ, is Crockett hit? Is Tubbs too late?

Then…the screen goes to black!  The legendary theme music begins, and I finally exhale, strapping myself in for the hour of nail-biting, sensory overload that awaits.  

Miami Vice’s creators spared no expense when it came to providing their viewers with a quality, high-end product.  Realism was in demand and that meant writers and directors were often plucked from burgeoning film careers to helm various episodic shows.  Michael Mann being a perfect example. Scripts had depth, complex plot structures and complete narrative arcs. Characters were rich, fully realized and played by top-notch thespians of the day-actual craftsman.  Set locations were massive and/or intricate. Things were actually blown-up instead of blue-screened. And it was all shot on 35mm film, giving the overall vibe a real sense of multi-dimensional truth. I could go on and on.  But in a nutshell, many episodes of this series, especially in the first two seasons, were certainly on par with any theatrical releases of the day.

Now, juxtapose Miami Vice with any of the retreads the big three networks pass off as action shows today.  The first thing that jumps out is the dreadful acting. Seems having the lead actor resemble a toothy-grinned, Ken doll trumps him having actual acting chops.  Yea, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were good-looking, but they were also classically trained actors who developed their crafts and paid their dues through many years of climbing the ranks.  The storylines are flat and contrived. The special effects look like…well…special effects. And the kicker? They’re all shot on bright, bold, digital video-which completely kills any sense of depth or realism.

Sadly, this trend is just another example of the shifting priorities and palates within our ever dumbing-down society.  But thank God for cable and Netflix! Different business models and more artistic freedom have allowed them to maintain some semblance of taste…and pride.  They regularly produce a stable of shows that, both critically and commercially, are pretty kick-ass and blow away their network counterparts. But even they get less exciting and watered down a bit by overexposure.  Too many choices and too many outlets to see them kills some of the thrill.  The hype. The excitement.

I’m sure there’s a bunch of younger cats out there who will fight me tooth and nail over this.  But I have lived through both the pre and post-technological eras and experienced the stark contrasts, and until they’ve only had one device, one channel and one single night to watch their favorite show-they’ll never understand what true longing and anticipation really are.

And that’s a fact, Jack!

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