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Nor has the show's impact been limited to the TV screen. This month MCA Records will release a Miami Vice album containing the show's theme music, several songs used in last season's shows, and three new numbers recorded for the coming season by Glenn Frey, Chaka Khan and Grandmaster Melle Mel. Meanwhile, the show's tropical-chic fashions (especially Don Johnson's typical ensemble of Italian sport coat, T shirt, white linen pants and slip-on shoes) have begun to catch on. "The show has taken Italian men's fashion and spread it to mass America," says Kal Ruttenstein, a senior vice president of Bloomingdale's. "Sales of unconstructed blazers, shiny fabric jackets and lighter colors have gone up noticeably." After Six formal wear is bringing out a Miami Vice line of dinner jackets next spring, Kenneth Cole will introduce "Crockett" and "Tubbs" shoes, and Macy's has opened a Miami Vice section in its young men's department. TV cops have never been so glamorous. Says Olivia Brown-Williamson, who plays Undercover Detective Trudy Joplin on the show: "Who wanted to look like Kojak?"
The flash and dash of Miami Vice has not been universally welcomed. Some critics have objected that the show makes violence alluring by dressing it up in pretty photography; others complain that coherent stories and fully drawn characters have been junked in favor of visual flourishes and a rock beat. Some of the show's creators admit there is a certain laxness about narrative matters. Says Lee Katzin, who earned an Emmy nomination for his direction of the episode Cool Runnin': "The show is written for an MTV audience, which is more interested in images, emotions and energy than plot and character and words."
Even the show's much vaunted stylistic breakthroughs can be overrated. Flashy visuals and rock music on the soundtrack were hardly invented by Miami Vice--or by MTV, for that matter. They have been staples of artfully directed feature films for a couple of decades. "We haven't invented the Hula Hoop or anything," admitted Michael Mann, the show's executive producer and stylistic guru, in an interview with Rolling Stone. "We're only contemporary. And if we're different from the rest of TV, it's because the rest of TV isn't even contemporary."
Yet at its best, Miami Vice has brought to TV a swift and evocative mode of visual storytelling. Points are made through looks, gestures, music, artful composition. In one of the season's best episodes (written by Playwright Miguel Pinero and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, the former co-star of Starsky and Hutch), Glenn Frey's song Smuggler's Blues both enhances the mood and comments on a tense story in which Crockett and Tubbs pose as drug dealers to set a trap for a vicious kidnaper. In the climactic sequence, the cops race to defuse a bomb that has been wired to Trudy, the detective who has served as bait. After a narrow escape, the culprit is revealed to be a police lieutenant gone bad. "I can smell 'em but I can't understand 'em," says a federal agent involved in the case, as Frey's lyrics chime in: "It's the lure of easy money/ It's got a very strong appeal/ It's a losin' proposition . . ." In a subtle and moving final shot, the agent drifts out of the frame to reveal Tubbs and Crockett comforting Trudy, the forgotten victim of this dirty but necessary operation.