It was the 1980s.
America had fallen in love with a sharp-dressed detective in sunglasses and his racial minority sidekick fighting bad guys, with heaping helpings of drugs, murder, and mayhem all amidst the sunbaked glitz of Miami.
You know the show.
What you may not know is that there was actually a similar show before that one, airing on NBC, one from which Fuji and Muraco may have borrowed from just a smidge.
It was called Miami Vice.
It was a huge hit, making waves by taking complex drama, mixing it with the proverbial car chases and shootouts, and presenting it all with hip filmmaking. The setting was south Florida which, despite its underbelly of crime, sparkled with the glamour of big money, tropical settings, and stylish cars, clothes, and architecture. Equally glamorous was Vice’s parade of guest stars and celebrity cameos, especially from the music world. And on one occasion, Vice treated us to a guest star who didn’t know how to rock, but definitely knew wrestling.
In fact, he knew it so well, that he wrote RD claims is the worst book ever on the subject!
Will this show be worse than that book?
It better not be!
Taking place after Lou and his Wild Samoan companion Afa had moved on from the WWF, Vice (Miami, not Fuji) decided to bring them in for an episode called “By Hooker by Crook.”
And if you thought they were heels before, this episode makes their WWF personas look as virtuous as praying, vitamin-popping Hulkamaniacs.
Did you boo Lou when he feuded with Cyndi Lauper? Did you hate Afa when he whacked Scott Steiner with a bamboo stick at Wrestlemania IX? Be thankful he didn’t whack whack him—as in, homicide, a fate he and Lou don’t hesitate to dish out on Vice.
But to carry out their reign of evil over Miami, they’ll have to contend with a babyface tag team. Leading Miami Vice are Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett, and Philip Michael Thomas as his partner Rico Tubbs.
They typically go undercover as rich drug dealers “Sonny Burnett” and “Ricardo Cooper.” Their cop paychecks aren’t great, but the perks of Sonny and Rico playing these roles (and Johnson and Thomas playing theirs) give them access to a lot of swanky cars and clothes.
And lots and lots of Phil Collins songs for some reason.
Not as many Phil Collins songs as Jan Hammer songs, but plenty nonetheless.
The manager of this tag team (i.e. their boss at the police station) is Lt. Martin Castillo. In contrast to Sonny and Rico’s flamboyant fashions and high-rolling personas, Castillo dresses like Paul Bearer and sounds like the Undertaker (and talks just as often).
He also has a mustache that would make Magnum TA jealous.
To kick off the episode, roulette wheels are spinning and drinks are flowing at a seaside charity fundraiser.
Casino games for charity? As the age old Vegas saying goes, the Ronald McDonald House always wins.
Sonny and Rico start their investigation tailing a banker named Charles Symington. The episode never makes clear why, but later Sonny mentions Symington was probably a money launderer. Symington has a comely lady in tow, but Sonny won’t be outdone. Showing what a conscientious cop he is, he zeroes in on some chick instead of working. Well, with a name like Christine von Marburg, I guess you’re more than “some chick.”
Waitaminute…isn’t that Melanie Griffith?
And isn’t she Don Johnson’s past and future (but not present) wife?
By Joe, she is!
We learn that Christine is a business tycoon.
A business tycoon with wacky, wacky, WACKAY hair.
Like I know it’s the 80s and all, but the hair on this show is out of control.
TOTALLY out of control.
Symington and his lady friend leave the party in a scene that looks like its ripped out of a 1975 Brut champagne (or maybe cologne) ad and stumble up to his hotel room for an even wilder party.
It gets so out of control she turns into Miss Elizabeth and Woman circa 1996 and starts throwing her high-heeled shoes at him in the hallway.
Remember, kids – it ain’t a party til the shoes start flying!
But someone is already inside, ready to jump Symington before the opening bell – Capt. Lou Albano in a suit and tie, but still sporting rubber bands and cheek piercing.
She does what anyone would do at the site of Lou Albano – runs for the hills.
Or more accurately, the elevator.
Despite getting there before it is even close to closing, Lou looks completely perplexed as the door slowly, SLOWLY shuts.
Had the man never seen an elevator before?
She may have escaped, but Symington isn’t so lucky. While Lou’s running around, the banker is stuck in the clutches of Afa.
(Note to any aspiring musicians out there – “Clutches of Afa” would make for a tremendous band name.)
So Sonny and Rico sit in a Caddy, adjusting their ties, listening to Glenn Frey, all whilst waiting for their quarry Symington to exit.
Which he does from 80 stories up, as Lou and Afa have hauled Symington to an outdoor railing, where they turn him into the scrawniest Royal Rumble entrant ever and throw him over the top rope (er, bannister).
A pretty sick dummy shot follows as the banker plunges and lands just out of sight behind the Caddy, right next to our heroes. I like to think it was this show of unrepentant bloodlust that Lou’s agent parlayed into his next job…
Lou in his even more murderous tag team. (All those goombas they stomped!)
…the title role on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.
As you have no doubt deduced, Lou and Afa are hitmen. Not in the Bret Hart tough-guy wrestling nickname sense of the word, but actual paid murderers. However, their execution is not so excellent. Their boss, shady businessman Kenneth Togaru, scolds them for letting Symington’s date get away. Dialogue reveals that the lady was working for Togaru. But she’s a witness, so he tells the hitmen to go fix their mistake.
Remember when we mentioned that Vice was full of guest stars? A camera spin shows us that Togaru is none other than…
…George Takei—star of Star Trek and social media!
Well, not social media back in 1987 because it didn’t exist yet.
Anyway, he not only chews out Lou and Afa, but chews the scenery. And not just a little bit – it’s like he’s trying to out-Shatner Shatner!
And yes, as any Asian archvillain in Hollywood must, Togaru wears an exotic robe and keeps a bunch of big fish tanks in his office.
Like you even needed to ask.
“Boudior” is a typo. “Tastily” is not.
Years before Jurassic Park’s T-Rex was rudely interrupting his bathroom break, Martin Ferrero appeared on Vice semi-regularly as Izzy Moreno, a snitch who always bounced between odd jobs and get-rich-quick schemes. This week, he’s set up shop as a photographer who coincidentally specializes in shoots of attractive female models, including Ali (the girl our heroes are tracking).
A great photographer (wearing a killer combo of Vince McMahon’s neck brace from the steroid trials and Todd Pettengill’s outfit from Donnybrook Theater!) can immortalize women, but the malaprop-prone Izzy accurately claims he “immoralizes women.”
Sonny orders the “Hispanic Hugh Hefner” to cough up Ali’s address, threatening prison rape. Great, some dated 80s humor (not that dated, sad to say). But Ali has vanished. The cops stake out her apartment building in case she shows up.
On the side, Sonny gets Christine von Marburg’s unlisted number and address on the Commodore Amiga (that somehow had a screen that looked more like a Vic-20) at Vice HQ so he can ask her out. Her being so rich, he holds off on revealing he’s a lowly cop, and brushes off her questions.
The next day, at HQ with Rico, Sonny gushes about what an amazing range of interests Christine has. She minored in Theatre at Brown, she can quote everything from Shakespeare to Buddy Holly, and she likes Post-Impressionist art.
And completely insane hair.
But Sonny’s new flame has a surprising connection to the case. The missing Ali turns up at Christine’s penthouse, frightened and begging for help. She reports something Rick Steiner wishes he could’ve heard. “They killed Chuckie!”
Turns out both women knew the victim.
Christine shelters Ali for now—which she sure needs, ’cause Lou and Afa are hot on her trail. They’ve learned about her photo shoot at Izzy’s, and they pay their own visit to the scrawny photographer, which includes some stellar dialogue from the good Cap’n as well as Izzy.
Izzy has no choice but to give them Ali’s address. This bothers Sonny and Rico, who are also ticked when Izzy reveals he wasn’t upfront that Ali the model’s actual job is closer to the Godfather than to Rick Martel. A lot of Izzy’s photo work is done for an escort service named Caprice—where Ali is a call girl.
Danger looms more than ever. With Christine dropping hints that she and Sonny will need her place to themselves, Ali figures it’s time to skip town.
To make one last stop at home, Ali decides she can disguise herself from the baddies by donning a wig.
And maybe dressing up like a cat.
Unfortunately, it only disguises herself from Det. Switek, busy staking out her apartment building.
You’d think a sudden new arrival who matches the target in almost every regard would raise a flag with Switek, but see, her big 80s hair is lighter than the big 80s hair in the photo Switek received.
You start to realize why Switek is relegated to stakeouts in the van, while Sonny and Rico tool around Miami in Ferraris and Caddies.
Christine makes full use of her empty penthouse with Sonny, who still has no clue Ali was here just hours ago. For an 80s series, Vice could get rather “Attitude era”. The encounter is so risqué, I was worried a real-life vice squad was going to go knock on NBC’s door.
One way Vice innovated is that it employed more cinematic filmmaking than TV had usually seen. Besides Jan Hammer’s synth scores, the series included contemporary pop songs on the soundtrack. It also made striking use of camera angles, montage, and other techniques—to the point where you could say “artsy cop drama” became an actual thing.
This made for fresh TV. Going the cinematic route, though, you have to accept that now and then, the series will maybe go overboard on style.
This all comes together when Lou and Afa lie in wait for Ali. Overlaid with a Luigi-green filter, the hitmen bind and gag Ali so that Lou can strangle her with his bare hands.
This is taking a chokehold too far, and arguably the filmmakers did the same with their artsy montage. Besides the Luigivision, they actually splice Christine and Sonny’s romantic night with Ali’s brutal demise, curiously playing the upbeat pop song “Split Decision” on the soundtrack during what’s definitely not a funny sequence.
Vice wasn’t a kid’s show, so hopefully no youngsters ever caught this episode—not just because of Melanie Griffith’s barely-concealed chest, but also the sight of Super Mario strangling hookers. (That was more Grand Theft Auto’s line, wasn’t it?)
Time to investigate Caprice, the escort service where Ali worked. The heroes don’t know that Ali was working for Togaru, they don’t know Christine knew Ali and Symington, they only just learned Ali was a call girl, and now we learn Caprice happens to share the same building as Christine’s company, but that’s not foreshadowing at all.
Caprice’s less legal side is hidden by a legitimate business—”legitimate” meaning a 1-900 call center, the kind not run by Gene Okerlund, where kids definitely won’t get their parents’ permission. The employees really get into character, holding props even though callers can’t see them.
The boys press the secretary to look up info on Ali on her computer, and get them in touch with her boss. “Maybe he could help us,” says Sonny. Amazingly, the secretary no-sells their offense. Frustrated, Sonny warns that her boss had better call or Sonny will “make his life a living hell.” I think we know what that pronoun’s up to.
With Christine having been named one of Miami’s Businesswomen of the Year, Sonny excitedly tunes in to watch her get interviewed on a news show. He hasn’t seen what we have, so what a shock he gets when the smarmy interviewer swerves everyone, breaking Christine’s kayfabe and revealing the fact she runs a prostitution ring. It’s like Exposed! Pro Wrestling Secrets Revealed, telling us secrets we already know, only the host’s even worse than Salem the Cat.
This being a vice squad Sonny works for, his team has to take her in. It gets worse, because they also discover business connections between Christine, Kenneth Togaru, and Symington, the banker Togaru sent the Wild Samoans to kill.
Sonny approaches her in the interview room. Tension is thick. Even their wardrobes are fighting. She’s in a monochrome necktie getup, and he sports an unbuttoned purple shirt, white trousers, and sockless white loafers. Hey, it’s Miami.
The insecure cop still hadn’t told her what his job was. She doesn’t believe him when he says their romance wasn’t just a setup. Oddly, Sonny doesn’t press the issue. He’s more interested in what she has to do with Togaru and Symington.
She admits Togaru was her mentor (and unrequited lover!) who remains involved in her conglomerate. Symington was launderering money, but he started skimming.
She also admits that Togaru had her send her call girl Ali out with Symington the night Lou and Afa murdered him. The episode fudges how well she knew this would end in murder, and even whether she was knowingly jeopardizing Ali.
At any rate, Sonny needs her help to sting Togaru, but his remarks are less than polite. Christine seems to hit back in just a bit. The squad sends her to plead for Togaru’s help, pair him up with Sonny and Rico’s cover personas for a crooked deal, and secretly catch him incriminating himself with her bugged purse.
Togaru agrees, but the future gay icon sets the condition that she finally requite his love. Stuck on the other end of the mike, Sonny can only listen to his ex walk off with Mr. Sulu. And you thought Capt. Kirk was a skirt-chaser?
The sting requires Sonny and Rico to join Christine in character and meet Togaru the next day. Lou and Afa stand guard. Sonny can’t help peppering his ex with snide remarks.
“Burnett and Cooper” make their pitch, but in an unexplained twist, Togaru has caught on that Christine and the boys are trying to bust him.
A thug with an uzi makes a balcony run-in to help Togaru and his tag team rub out our heroes. In true Vice fashion, they won’t take this lying down (unless that means dramatically diving for cover before popping off a few rounds at the bad guys).
Like those fish even stood a chance.
Togaru almost gets Sonny—but someone rescues him. Along with Shakespeare and Buddy Holly, you’ll have to add target shooting to the list of Christine’s hobbies. She pulls out a handgun and blasts Togaru.
The Samoan tag team’s run finally comes to an end as they perish in the shootout, though the filming obscures this. You can hardly tell Lou gets shot by Rico. Then Sonny offs Afa. Kind of a jobber’s exit for these two toughies, but it’s arguably more flattering than Togaru’s, as he sports a death grimace that would make his buddy Kirk proud.
We finish with Christine coming to Sonny’s houseboat to say goodbye. They stare moodily at the sunset like everyone in every tag scene ever, while the soft rock standard “Holding Back the Years” plays.
Despite a plot hole or two, this episode’s been quite good overall, but its plot finishes in questionable territory, more like the movies and TV this site usually reviews. Annoyingly, Sonny never pushes to clear up that he wasn’t stringing her along. Christine complains about the “bastards” she’s dealt with and tells him he may have been the biggest of all.
He deals with this the way any normal man would…
…sitting on his fancy boat fishing.
Wait, something is missing.