This feature originally ran in January 2015 and is being republished with news of the reboot.
Welcome to Producer’s Chair, a column in which Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman offers his own career advice to artists and various figureheads in the film and music industry. In this installment, Roffman teams up with his fellow Florida-born partner-in-crime Cap Blackard to outline the best way for NBC to keep the Miami Vice franchise alive. Spoiler: It involves your living room. And several plot points in the original series.
Miami Vice changed television. With the blur of a speeding Ferrari and the shock of pink neon, the series brought an unprecedented cinematic edge to the small screen. Its brooding, music-driven sequences, calculated art direction, and gritty storylines captivated audiences and stopped the world every Friday night. Today, it was announced that Vin Diesel and NBC are rebooting Michael Mann‘s legendary series and we applaud their decision.
Artwork by Cap Blackard
Of the myriad things that made Miami Vice so special, bringing the scope of a feature film to episodic television was perhaps the most important. It’s not very difficult to link a trail post-Vice that weaves through David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, onward towards Chris Carter’s The X-Files, and eventually lands at the doorstep of HBO, where the format would be perfected by David Chase’s The Sopranos or David Simon’s The Wire. Now, episodic, small-screen cinema is rampant across every network, so it’s only right that Vice should rejoin the pack once again.
We propose a series relaunch: pushing the boundaries of television once again with a modern take on the the style, music, and storytelling of the original series, complete with an all-new cast and some familiar faces. This isn’t a nostalgia trip. For all intents and purposes, this is a full-blown reboot. But rather than reimagining the exploits of Crockett and Tubbs, this Miami Vice subtly builds on the history that modern audiences have at least a cursory understanding of while launching characters that a new generation of viewers can identify with: Crockett and Rivera.
Surprise, surprise: Billy Crockett has followed his father’s footsteps straight into law enforcement. He’s just as ruggedly handsome and sarcastic, but with his own string of hang-ups — among them, his family name. His future partner, the young yet mild-mannered Eddie Rivera Jr., is also plagued by familial demons. His own father was Sonny Crockett’s first partner (played by Jimmy Smits), whose death in Miami Vice’s pilot episode ultimately tipped off the series. Fans might recall that Rivera’s wife was pregnant at the time of his demise. Together, the two will carry out their fathers’ respective legacies.
The series opens with Crockett and Rivera, both in different departments, nearly killing each other while working undercover. The two men clash, but ultimately bond and commiserate over their broken homes and how, even though they should know better, police work was the only choice that ever made sense. Their shared pasts provide them with a brotherhood built from tragedy akin to Crockett and Tubbs. And though their origins are tethered to the original Miami Vice, Crockett and Rivera’s baggage only serves to inform them as fresh characters out to prove themselves in spite of the men they reflect.
Rivera is working vice from the original series’ office under the venerable Lt. Martin Castillo (Edward James Olmos). The old man is still as intense as ever, and though he could have long since been promoted above his station or retired, he couldn’t abide by working any farther away from the streets. He arranges for Crockett and Rivera to work the case as a cross-department endeavor. However, the scope of their first case together is far-reaching and ends in the death of Castillo at the hands of crooked vice cops. (We can’t take credit for that idea — it comes from Olmos himself.) From that tragedy comes a vengeance quest for Crockett and Rivera that in true Vice fashion offers only a bittersweet resolution. The first feature-length episode ends with the arrival of Castillo’s replacement, Lt. Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), meshing the old with the new.
With Tubbs in play, what about Don Johnson? Sonny Crockett is alive and well — and poised to become everyone’s favorite guest star. He lives a boat-bum life in Key Largo, like a modern-day Travis McGee, trying to take it easy but inevitably getting himself caught up in capers. (He even has a friendly neighborhood flamingo named Madonna.) Certainly Stan Switek, “Big Booty” Trudy Joplin, and Gina Calabrese (maybe even Izzy Moreno) are all poised to return at one point or another, but the central focus will be a new cast. Gina and Trudy provided strong female roles in the original series, but the female vice cops of this new era need to be much more than undercover hookers, love interests, and computer experts.
The new women of Miami Vice will be seen in the field, serving as more than bait or filing systems. Likewise, Rivera won’t be underutilized as Tubbs was in the original series. For five seasons, fans were led to believe that Tubbs and Crockett were heroes of equal value, but Philip Michael Thomas’ character was constantly in a supporting role to Crockett — typical of race dynamics in television. In this Vice, Eddie Rivera and Billy Crockett are on equal footing. Eddie’s Cuban heritage will be especially important in a town that’s almost completely bilingual.
There are already a number of previously established threads and characters to revisit, specifically one name: Calderone. In the original series, the drug lord family was responsible for killing Eddie Rivera Sr., Tubbs’ brother, and apparently Tubbs’ infant son. But all the Calderones were killed, right? Nope. Bringing the “sins of our fathers” conflict full-circle, the recurring villain of the new Vice should be Tubbs’ son: Rico Calderone.
Here’s where things get sort of complicated: During the original series, Tubbs unknowingly hooked up with Calderon’s daughter, Angelina, and the two had a baby. Tubbs lost both of them in an explosion when Angelina’s brother, Orlando Calderone (portrayed by a young John Leguizamo), used the mother and child as bait. But while Tubbs mourned the loss of his lover and child, audiences knew better. Rico Jr. was still alive, sent elsewhere by his evil uncle, and though Tubbs later killed Orlando, Rico. Jr. never appeared again. It’s the original Vice’s greatest untouched plot thread, and it’s a perfect foil to give the new Vice’s heroes hell.
Here we have Tubbs’ long-lost child raised in the remnants of the Calderone crime family. He’s rebuilt the empire his grandfather and uncle died for and has been raised to curse the name of the man who killed them, unaware it’s his own father. What’s more — to the viewing audience and anyone who meets him — he’s likable, charming, and has so much of his true father in him, but he’s in actuality a manipulative, cold-blooded killer. Slowly, the new Calderone claims Miami, and our principal characters find themselves in the midst of a mystery that turns into a painful blast from the past.
Super fans … try and imagine Phil Collins’ “Long, Long Way to Go”, the music that played over Rico Jr. and Angelina’s funeral, reprising as an aged Lt. Tubbs realizes who this new player is and completely loses his shit. Pretty epic, right?
Underrated actor Josh Holloway was always Lost’s own Don Johnson, so it only makes sense to have him truly step into Don Jon’s shoes as his son. By our count, Billy would be in his late 30s, and that’s an age Holloway can still sell. (He’s currently 48.) As for Rivera, it’s about time actor Jay Hernandez (Hostel, Friday Night Lights) made a comeback. Although he’s soon turning 39, he doesn’t look a day past 30, which is about the age he’d have to play. On the flip side of the coin, rising Dominican actor Victor Rasuk should star as the young Calderone, a name he’s certainly familiar with, as he played a designer named Cam Calderon in HBO’s now-defunct How to Make It in America.
How about a few veterans from Mann’s glory days for some corollary or guest-starring roles? William Petersen, Dennis Haysbert, Diane Venora, Stephen Tobolowski, Amy Brenneman, and Lindsay Crouse would all be welcome faces. A few younger names that also come to mind include Jesse Plemons, Erica Tazel, Gaius Charles, Jared Harris, J.D. Williams, and Pablo Schrieber. Really, what made the series so exciting was seeing who would pop up next.
Check out this list of everyone who ever guested on the original show. It’s pretty wild.
Changes to the Format
The original series, though redefining in nearly every aspect, had one fatal flaw: no over-arching storylines. There were a few sparse attempts, notably surrounding the series’ biggest villains, but largely, Vice’s episodes simply jumped from case-to-case. (This is a situation that Miami Vice comic author Jonathan London has expertly taken advantage of by filling in the blanks with new stories.) This modern relaunch should bring Miami Vice up to speed with a number of extensive character threads and story lines, similar to the drawn-out sting and legal operations seen in The Wire.
In fact, there should be a heavy emphasis on realism this time around. Looking back, the first and third season of Vice were particularly strong for their tangible story lines that were either tied to real-life crimes or topical global issues. (Watch “Stone’s War”, and you’ll be surprised at how relevant the episode was back in the late ’80s.) The same should apply in this redux, only with deeper stories and grittier details, and the best way to do this would be by adopting certain aesthetics from the series’ 2006 theatrical reboot.
If you couldn’t gather from our past dissection, Mann has an affinity for sticking with the facts and working with professionals on each project to efficiently showcase whatever field he’s pursuing on film. His 2006 reimagining of Miami Vice turned many die-hard fans away for ignoring the more traditional features of the iconic series — the witty banter, the pastels, the pet alligator — in lieu of a darker, more unforgiving Miami. While the relaunch doesn’t need to work off three lines of dialogue and two moody leads, it could benefit from that film’s vision of Miami.
Look at how Peter Berg adapted his gritty 2004 film, Friday Night Lights, into a serialized drama for NBC. The two entities were very similar in many of their stylistic choices, but the film — which often feels more like a documentary — was much more withdrawn from its characters than the series insisted upon. And yet, it never felt like Berg or showrunner Jason Katims had sacrificed any of the film’s realism in transition. By taking the same approach with Vice, there’s reason to believe the franchise could return with a vital edge that might get a leg up on the brand name alone. Come to think of it, just hire Berg as executive producer; after all, he has many, many ties to Mann.
Also, the series should adopt a 13-episode season as opposed to the exhaustive 24-episode medley. That way each episode is essential, and there’s little fat for the viewers to scoff over. NBC’s Hannibal has done an admirable job in this area.
The Music Remains Vital
It goes without saying that this new incarnation should reflect Miami Vice’s history of music-driven drama. Today’s music is a perfect progression of the sounds that brought Vice to life: Kanye West, Grimes, Robyn, Caribou, Perfume Genius, Darkside, Twin Shadow, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, etc. Each have expressive catalogs with songs that could easily provide the proper soundtrack, hitting on all the emotional notes previously made iconic by Phil Collins, U2, Godley & Creme, Foreigner … the list could go on forever. If the series really took off, bands could even start premiering their songs in particular episodes.
Respectfully, Jan Hammer should be asked to return as the series composer, though there’s always Moby, Todd Terje, Andy Stott, or half a dozen other eclectic talents who can capture what made Miami Vice’s score so memorable without simply rehashing what came before. There’s no reason to reuse old scores with today’s endless supply of music; instead, past themes and motifs should be integrated into the new material. What would the series be without some form of “Crockett’s Theme”?
This Belongs to the City
One entity that’s changed considerably is Miami itself. Now more than ever, it’s a perfect backdrop to tell insane stories. It’s a melting pot of cultures, criminal activities, forward-thinking arts, and environmental issues — all on the edge of a knife. The bath salts zombie: Miami. Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony: Miami. The only Art Basel in the Americas: Miami. The epicenter of U.S.-Cuban relations: Miami. Highest crime rate in Florida: Miami. City that’s already struggling with the effects of global warming: Miami. The list goes on. It’s a beautiful place vibrant with architecture, clubs, gardens, sports, wildlife, and, of course, water. Yet under the intense high-noon sun, dark shadows are cast, revealing its sinister double life.
The biggest challenge to making such a show a reality is legislation. Florida’s much-maligned Governor Rick Scott killed the state’s Film Industry Tax Incentive in 2013 — tax cuts that make filming in Florida viable and attractive to studios. Despite annual attempts from film groups to return the multi-billion dollar industry and reinstate tens of thousands of jobs, the current administration has inexplicably not renewed the incentive. NBC could make another show in the vein of Vice, but the brand and image recognition is invaluable. Perhaps the network and others that were burned by the cut (*cough* USA) could put some pressure on and make sure that 1.) Florida’s rich history of filmmaking can continue and 2.) the world can rejoice at the return of Miami Vice.