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Holy Cow, the 1984 Miami Vice Pilot Is Amazing

Do you like blowing away bad guys while dual-wielding automatic weapons? Do you like car bombs and double-barrel sawed-off shotguns? How about a pet alligator detoxing from too much LSD? This is not a wish-list for the next James Bond installment. This is just a portion of some of the amazing things that happen in the two-hour, 1984 pilot for the NBC show Miami Vice.

Written and Created by Anthony Yerkovich, who came up writing for such shows as Starsky and Hutch, Fantasy Island, and Hill Street Blues, the pilot script for Miami Vice can be found here. It’s a dynamite read with such soaring poetic excerpts as the following:

However, I should point out, the pilot was made around 36 years ago and does have some problematic moments. One of the cops asks Crockett if he “rolled a fruit” in order to get his too tight shirt. Tubbs egregiously catcalls multiple women in bikinis and Crockett refers to Tubbs as “Dr. Voodoo” at one point. Problematic. Not excusing the moments. Just, consider this your pre-Gone with the Wind disclaimer.

Available to watch now with a Starz subscription, Miami Vice stars Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo Tubbs. Two clashing Type A personalities who come together over the mutual desire to stop the same criminal. The show starts where any show about Miami would begin, on the crime-riddled streets of New York.

Ricardo Tubbs is on a stakeout when he’s accosted by a trio of street tuffs out looking for some trouble. And they find it when they try to divorce Tubbs from his money and find themselves at the business end of a double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun.

This appears to be Tubbs’s primary weapon of choice as he uses it throughout the pilot. (And it’s used in a lot of the promotional materials.) I didn’t know the NYPD handed out department-issue, sawed-off shotguns to their cops, but I’m here for it.

As the punks scatter, Tubbs spots the target of his stakeout, criminal drug dealer, murderer, and man with an impeccable manicure, Esteban Calderone. A man who, we learn through flashback, killed Tubbs’s brother in a drug bust gone bad.

Tubbs tails Calderone to a nightclub, whereupon he slips a hundred dollar bill ($250 in today’s money. Where does it come from? It’s never explained) to a waiter in order to spill some champagne on Calderone’s nice suit. Furious with the waiter’s clumsiness, Calderone excuses himself to go to the bathroom. Tubbs follows. We get a pretty good glance at who Tubbs is right out of the gate.

Sounds an awful lot like Tubbs was about to execute ol’ Calderone on the dirty bathroom floor. Now, some people may think he was just pulling his gun in order to arrest Calderone, to which I say poppycock. This is gritty, porn in Times Square, 1980s New York. You bet he was gonna exact revenge for the killing of his brother. But alas, he’s discovered by one of Calderone’s henchmen and Calderone escapes.

Here’s the other reason why I believe Tubbs wasn’t interested in arresting Calderone. Once discovered by Calderone’s goons, instead of identifying himself as NYPD, Tubbs engages in a shootout which leaves both henchmen dead. Then he just bails and it’s never talked about again.

Smash cut to Miami Beach. Palm trees. Ocean waves.

Sonny Crockett.

Seen here looking hot as hell and appropriately Miami badass. We’ll see later, Crockett’s so busy busting bad guys, he doesn’t even have time to put on socks. Crockett talks to his partner who just happens to be Jimmy Smits!

Who is then promptly killed three scenes later by a car bomb. (Spoilers? I guess?) Crockett is left to tell Smits’s pregnant widow the bad news and then rolls straight to his son’s birthday party (late) still filthy from that day’s bombing. But despite all his flash and hard exterior, Crockett’s really a good guy at heart.

This is important because it’s going to allow Crockett to get away with a lot of wild ass shit later on that we will forgive him for because he loves his son so much. All a hardened cop needs to do is fall asleep next to his kid one time and he can get away with literal murder.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, does he really have his loaded gun still in the holster, inches away from his sleeping son?

You betcha.

Let’s see if Tubbs is doing something heartwarming as well.

If your idea of heartwarming is hanging out with your shirt unbuttoned in a sweaty strip club throwing hundreds at a bored woman with big hair, then buddy, have I got a show for you.

Tubbs is in Miami, undercover as a Jamaican drug dealer looking to buy some heavy weight from Calderone. He makes a deal to meet with a supplier but doesn’t know the deal he’s making is with an undercover cop.

So, Tubbs, who was undercover, sets up a buy with an undercover DEA agent, who then comes to the meeting only to find out the other party is a third undercover cop… one Sonny Crockett. So, basically —

When the unis show up to arrest the one person at the meet who’s not an undercover cop, Tubbs bails in order to keep his cover intact. At least, that’s what they tell us. In reality, though, it’s so they can set up the next sweet action sequence. What’s better than a car chase? A car chase… but one of them’s a boat.

I know, right?

When Tubbs bails, he steals Crockett’s one hundred thousand dollar Cigarette boat. Crockett then does the logical thing and jumps in a car and gives chase, swerving in and out of traffic, causing several near miss, multi-car pileups. Ultimately, Tubbs gets away… or so we think. Crockett gets the jump on Tubbs and a punch out ensues until we find out they’re both cops.

As they sort this all out, they realize they’re ultimately looking for the same guy. The man who killed Tubbs’s brother, Esteban Calderone, is “the Colombian” who’s been one step ahead of Crockett for the last two years. And now, the big moment we’ve all been waiting for…

And so begins the start of a beautiful friendship. It should also be noted this doesn’t happen until like forty-five minutes into the pilot. If Miami Vice were made today, the two leads would be on the case within the first seven minutes so they can pack in as much action as possible. It sometimes makes pilots feel rushed and overstuffed. I call this Pilot-itis ™. Which is why I’ll give a show a couple of episodes to really hook me. It’s hard to judge a whole series based on the pilot… unless it’s Miami Vice!

The next morning, Tubbs shows up at Crockett’s houseboat. This is part of Crockett’s cover. He tells Tubbs “Far as the locals are concerned, I’m just one more hard-partying ocean guide of questionable means.”

That might work for the locals, but how about the audience? My dude lives on a houseboat, has a hundred thousand dollar Cigarette boat, and drives a black Ferrari, all on a cop’s salary. It’s never explained. But I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt and say it was due to civil forfeiture law, which was really cranked up in the mid-80s. The place was probably lousy with confiscated drug boats.

But Crockett doesn’t live alone. His roommate is a questionably capacitated, ten foot alligator named Elvis, former mascot of the University of Miami football team, who recently “ate a flight bag full of LSD on a Key West lab bust.” What he was doing on a lab bust, is anyone’s guess. Maybe he was backup?

Okay, so as if alligators on drugs weren’t ridiculous enough, there’s this scene the next morning where Crockett goes to the bail hearing of this guy Leon (Mykelti Williamson!), who was the only civilian at the all-cops bust the night before. Now, it’s hot in Miami and at one point the power goes out due to the air conditioners being overloaded. The power is out for, like, two seconds max and as soon as it comes back on, EVERYONE HAS A GUN and is pointing it at poor Leon as if he were going to try to escape under the cover of darkness.

And when I say everyone has a gun, I mean…

“Miami Judge Pulls Shotgun on Defendant” is probably not the most shocking thing to happen in a Florida courtroom.

I don’t even know who this woman is but she’s packing some serious heat.

This woman wants to shoot Leon real bad. I’m sure all this hullabaloo is likely because Leon is a criminal and not because he’s the only Black person in the room.

Then, with a huffy joke about the Second Amendment, everyone continues on as if this were just a normal day in Florida, which, probably, it is. What’s double weird about the guns, is Leon is ultimately released on his own recognizance after being lauded for helping out the police. If you’re just gonna let him go, why pull an arsenal on him? Maybe it’s because he’s wearing two belts and neither one of them are doing the job for which they were designed.

But Leon’s worried his cooperation will get him killed and so later he calls wanting to roll on Calderone in order to get protective custody. Nice. They got their man.

Or do they?

Because as Leon is waiting for Crockett to come get him so he can spill the beans, he’s killed by a fancy woman in a big hat. Right from under Crockett and Tubbs’s noses.

Next, they go to Leon’s house to look for clues and find it trashed. Sensing their case is getting away from them, Crockett feels the need to crack open a beer while on the job in the middle of the day…

… while smoking a cigarette at the crime scene. By the way, so much smoking in this show. Here’s Crockett’s boss sucking down a cigar in the workplace.

Crockett is still uneasy about his and Tubbs’s partnership, so he has a cop friend of his look into who this Tubbs guy really is.

Then, Crockett and Tubbs set out to meet with one of Calderone’s men, a guy named De Soto. They meet De Soto in a restaurant, undercover, pretending to have dinner with their girlfriends, two cops, Gina and Trudy. After the terms of the deal are set, Trudy is heading home and Tubbs asks her to drop him off. They leave together. Hubba hubba.

After Tubbs leaves, Crockett accidentally calls him by his real name instead of his cover name. This is when Gina drops a bomb. Tubbs, who introduced himself originally as Rafael, is not who he says he is. Rafael Tubbs has been dead for three weeks!

Now, at this point, their friend and colleague has left with a man who lied about his identity and they have no idea who he is or what his intentions are. So they immediately jump up and rush out to warn Trudy.

Just kidding, Crockett and Gina go back to Crockett’s boat for a romantic evening, leaving Trudy high and dry with some stranger. Hey man, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Turns out, Tubbs lied about his job title, lied about who he was, and forged his paperwork to come down to Miami. He was going by his brother’s name, Rafael, because… I guess he’s so deep undercover his cover has a cover?

Despite what I’m sure is an actionable offense in forging official paperwork, Crockett and Tubbs press on with the case. Crockett discovers there’s a leak in the department and if that’s true, then De Soto, Calderone’s right hand, knows Tubbs is a cop and he’s in danger.

Tubbs, we see, is about to be killed by the same woman who killed their witness, Leon. Except that’s no woman…

It’s Calderone’s man, De Soto, in drag! Fortunately, De Soto is unable to kill Tubbs as Crockett and the cavalry show up just in time. Now, they set off to the big meet with Calderone.

This is where the beginning of Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight begins to play. What follows is a badass sequence where we get cool shots of Crockett’s car —

— Tubbs dropping shells into his double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun —

Casually swerving through traffic and calmly running red lights. The mood is being set for the final showdown and our guys are ready.

They hijack a boat and surprise Calderone and his men, after which, you guessed it, a firefight ensues.

I mean, we got lens flares, we got Crockett unnecessarily dual-wielding guns for some reason, shooting an automatic rifle one handed, shooting from the hip, we got it all.

And finally, after all this time, Tubbs comes face to face with Esteban Calderone, the man who gunned down his brother in cold blood, and man, he wants to canoe Calderone’s head with that shotgun, but Crockett talks him down.

After being arrested, however, Calderone gets a judge who’s presumably on the payroll, to get him out of jail just before Crockett and Tubbs show up to move him to a secure location. And on the wings of a dove, Calderone escapes. He lives to fight another day.

And so do our heroes. As they drive off into the rising sun…


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Seth Boston is an LA-based writer hailing from a small town in midwest Arkansas you've never heard of. He's worked in various positions on numerous TV shows including Eleventh Hour, The Forgotten, and The Mentalist. His prolific writing earned him the work for which he's best known, as a writer and producer on the Emmy-winning series Gotham for Fox.

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