Miami Vice was one of the most groundbreaking television shows and blah blah blah… Michael Mann brought his electrifying vision to yadda yadda yadda… Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas and so on… Edward James Olmos etceteras…
I’m not going to waste any more time. I have decided to watch EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of Miami Vice and I want you to come along for the ride. The rules are simple: Look sharp and keep cool. The rest you’ll pick up as we go along.
Tonight’s Episode: SMUGGLER’S BLUES
Original Airdate: February 1, 1985
Written by: Miguel Pinero
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Notable Guest Stars: RICHARD JENKINS, Jaime L. Sanchez, Richard Edson, Ron Vawter, Coati Mundi and GLENN FREY as Jimmy.
TV GUIDE Summary: Crockett & Tubbs go undercover as drug smugglers on the streets of Cartagena. Glenn Frey guest stars.
You’ve probably heard of this one, even if you’ve never watched the show. In case you haven’t, it’s “The One Where The Other Guy From The Eagles Plays A Kick-Ass Pilot.”
Ultimately, the episode is a lot better than it sounds.
It’s the sort of thing that would normally result in a bit of eye rolling. But this is just further evidence that the people behind Miami Vice knew what they were doing. At least during these early seasons. It’s the first instance of major stunt casting (it definitely won’t be the last) and it shows how they can turn that into an asset.
Despite promising something kind of retarded, the final product is a very enjoyable adventure that tells a compelling story (with a surprisingly rich scope) in a very compressed period of time.
Miguel Pinero was last seen getting machine-gunned by Sonny Crockett and doing a weird backflip into his pool. But I suppose the experience was so much fun, he decided to come back and write an episode.
Pinero’s experience as a poet and playwright probably accounts for much of the richness found here. Much like No Exit, it’s the kind of episode that could’ve been a feature film if they had slapped another hour onto it. And it’s surprisingly epic, even at 45 minutes. It’s a good story. Michael Mann certainly thought so, since his feature film adaptation of the series is essentially a remake of this thing. But we’ll get to that in about a year or two, so hold your horses.
Anyway, Paul Michael Glaser returning to the director’s chair is interesting. The last time he was behind the wheel, the results were the disappointing Calderone’s Return Part II. This time around, he redeems himself and is given the chance to deliver a complex thriller with a wide reach.
It’s very gripping from the start. We get Crockett & Tubbs on one of the standard stakeouts that they’re so fond of opening with. But there are some added bonuses this time around. First because we get to enjoy some subtitles in the spectacular Miami Vice Arial Font used for its credits; and furthermore because we get to see Zito sporting his brand new Serpico look.
It seems someone is kidnapping the wives of drug dealers in exchange for ransom. (Basically, free drugs and money) The wives are being stashed in trailers or yachts and then being blown to smithereens along with their husbands when the ransom is delivered. It’s the kind of plan that you wonder how they could ever really pull it off. But then you remember the central conceit of the series, which is that criminals in Miami are apparently stupid assholes.
This is something Crockett & Tubbs discover first hand when the guy who was speaking in Miami Vice Arial Font with some unidentified bad guys delivers the ransom and then goes to a nearby yacht to pick up his wife.
It’s an unfortunate turn of events that is promptly cleared up further when Richard Jenkins shows up, with more hair than we’re used to seeing on him but not much more, as a cool fed with an awesome plan to trap the mysterious corrupt cop who is presumably behind all this mayhem. You get three guesses and the first two don’t count – meaning it isn’t Jenkins obviously – and only one other fed we’ve never seen before shows up, played by Jonathan Demme regular Ron Vawter and the only scene in which he appears makes him out to be a heartless douchebag who condones the death of women and children if the end is justified… So, who else could it be?
But I digress. Jenkins’s awesome plan involves shipping Crockett & Tubbs (or, as they’d rather be called, Cooper & Burnett) to Colombia to buy drugs from some fat bastard, while Trudy poses as Tubbs’s wife and hides out in a Motel. That way, Trudy can get picked up by the bad guys and stashed at some trailer. They’re hoping she can be gotten to before the bad guys blow her up to smithereens. But, essentially, the awesome plan involves a lot of counting on dumb luck and providential circumstances. That’s why it’s so awesome.
The preliminaries for this adventure are really very interesting, because first they have to pay a visit to Coati Mundi. You may remember him as that cool cat with the hat that Crockett gave a lead sandwich to at the end of No Exit. But now he’s back as Tubbs’s contact – Tucker Smith.
Smith is a cool dude who enjoys hanging out at his disgusting apartment and getting baked out of his fucking mind, while his tranny “girlfriend” eats barbecued ribs RIGHT OFF THE BONE.
Tubbs proves how tight they are by bursting in and doing this weird “secret handshake” routine that also involves him simulating the snorting of cocaine as if such an act were a dance move.
I believe things like “Wha’s happenin!” and “How it is!” are said during this greeting. But I don’t remember because I was too busy guffawing.
Tucker Smith points the way to his friend with a plane.
And that’s where Glenn Frey comes in.
Jimmy is an interesting cat. He apparently lives out in the middle of nowhere inside a hangar, wherein he has built a big stage, so he can focus on his favorite extra curricular activity – which appears to be playing cheesy blues songs on an otherwise empty regulation rock & roll stage in his hangar. But that’s probably his hobby, because his true passion is for the sky.
In his first foray into the world of acting, Glenn Frey proves very adept at playing a likable dipshit. Jimmy the pilot is a kind of Zen badass who flies around the world on an endless series of dangerous drug running missions, while apparently yawning and drinking beers. It’s possible that only Glenn Frey could have pulled this off and his character, while only appearing briefly, comes to be the soul of the piece in a surprisingly effective way.
The story picks up steam when they get to Cartagena. And we know they are in Cartagena because a title card (in Miami Vice Arial Font), superimposed on a shot of marshland, informs us that we are there. And, in case we weren’t too clear, Crockett & Tubbs are soon doing some sightseeing on its lovely streets.
But they’re not here for the adventure tourism. They’re here for Grocero – the sinister drug dealer played by Jaime Sanchez.
The scene in which Crockett & Tubbs meet this gentleman is very good. In fact, I would say that the entire Colombian portion of this adventure is top flight entertainment, with some very solid writing and good acting from all involved.
I spend an awful lot of time poking fun at Philip Michael Thomas in these things. Basically, I kid because I love. And I’m far from done busting his balls, but this episode is really one of his finest hours. He even gets a chance to deliver one of his few genuinely badass moments. When meeting up with Grocero later, at his Lynchian night club, he points his gun right at the bastard’s face and says – How’d you like me to blast that coke right back out of you… Amigo?
It’s the kind of thing you see in tons of the best 70s and 80s action flicks and, God bless him, Tubbs sells the line like a fine wine.
And he’s justifiably pissed, since Grocero set him up to get manhandled by Colombia’s finest.
But that’s just a test by Grocero, to make sure Tubbs is “clean.” In this case, “clean” being the operative word for “dirtier than shit.” And Tubbs is soon on his way before ending up like Randy Quaid in Midnight Express.
Grocero has other tests too… Like the “let’s see how stupid these American drug dealers are” test, where they follow them back to the airstrip so we can have a nice shootout before the next commercial break.
But Tubbs is no chump.
The adventure soon finds its way back to US soil, so we can settle back for the traditional Miami Vice climax, with the added bonus of some ticking clock suspense and fisticuffs on the waters of Florida.
By the way, remember Trudy?
Well, those bad guys weren’t kidding around. But the race to grab Ron Vawter, before he turns Trudy into The 4th of July, while Crockett and company try to defuse the bomb, is genuinely suspenseful stuff. And a great way to end this action packed adventure.
One thing though…
One of Jimmy’s cohorts is a mechanic played by Richard Edson.
Don’t these people realize you just can’t trust Richard Edson?
Oh well… Live and learn, I guess.
And now… On with the specifics
THE TAO OF GLENN FREY
DOES TUBBS WHIP OUT THE SHOTGUN?
No. But he is very instrumental in bringing down Ron Vawter in the episode’s harrowing climax.
ICONIC USE OF MUSIC
Do you like that song? I hope you do. Because the makers of this are confident that you will fucking love it! For the full hour, we hear the title track to such an extent that you’ll think Jan Hammer was replaced by Glenn Frey as the series composer. The final moments even treat us to an acoustic version that, to this day, has never been officially released. Find it for me. I’ll give you a nickel.
Jan Hammer does put his two cents in when it counts, however.
First, when Tubbs gets picked up by the Colombia Ministry Of Police, and Crockett worries about his missing friend.
And, later, during the graveyard drug deal that sets the mood with spectacular lens flares and gorgeous statues of the pagan Catholic gods.
THE FASHION THAT KICKS YOUR ASS
Zito’s really got it going on with that eyesore.
Kick his ass for me, please.
THE SWITEK & ZITO VARIETY HOUR
Our good friends strut their stuff early on, showing they mean business by bursting into Tucker Smith’s smelly crib and scaring the shit out of his tranny.
MICHAEL MANN’S PENMANSHIP IS ALL OVER THIS
Well… Michael Mann really likes this episode, apparently, as I mentioned earlier. And there are tons of great Mann moments.
But my favorite is probably the aforementioned cemetery drug deal. It’s very well staged and tense. With very little dialog and meaningful glances doing all the talking.
A very cinematic outing and a pleasant surprise. Stunt casting and a convoluted narrative shouldn’t work. But this series has a knack for showing you how it’s done. A rich, complex story that keeps the pace lean. A master class in quality popcorn television.
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