MIAMI VICE. “Brother’s Keeper”, or the foreshadowing of the TV revolution

“Brother’s Keeper” is an excellent pilot and an episode that heralded a revolution in many areas of pop culture.

Przemysław Mudlaff

20 January 2023

miami vice

In the early 1980s, Miami was seen as paradise lost. The epidemic of violent crime, the booming drug trade, as well as waves of refugees have almost killed the tourism of Florida’s largest metropolis. The fear of traveling to Miami was intensified by the press, as well as the cinema (see Scarface). No wonder that local officials were completely resigned when they found out that on September 16, 1984, a new crime series, set in their city, would premiere. Within a year of airing the two-hour pilot episode of Miami Vice, it turned out that their suspicions and concerns were completely unfounded. Thanks to the production, the perception of Miami by Americans has changed dramatically. Although the problems of crime, drugs and refugees that plagued the city were still noticed, from September 1984 they were overshadowed by visions of luxury cars, as well as beautiful half-naked bodies taking sea and sun baths. Miami revived and began to smell like expensive perfumes and suntan oils. However, the series did not only influence the perception of Florida’s largest metropolis among Americans. With all firmness, it should be written that this production has forever changed television, and by the way, the lives of many people around the world.


Michael Mann's Miami

miami vice

The legendary executive producer of the series, Michael Mann, takes the credit. Although he did not direct any episode of Miami Vice, he had a decisive influence on the final look of the series. Based on interviews with both Mann and individual directors of subsequent episodes of the production, we know, for example, that the famous creator of Heat (1995) forbade the use of earth tones (e.g. red and brown) during the recording of subsequent scenes, and also repainted buildings to match his colors, because Miami from the creator’s vacation memories was bright and eye-catching. As a result of these actions, viewers received something they had not seen before. Bathed in the scorching sun, a buddha cop crime story made in pastel colors. The original appearance, however, is only one of the components of the uniqueness of Miami Vice. Equally important, and sometimes even more important element of the series was its unique style. Creators of Miami Vice can be proud of the innovative editing known so far from music videos broadcast on MTV. The energy and strength emanating from such shots convinced younger viewers to watch. Maintained in perfectly matched colors, energetic and atmospheric scenes were conquered by popular pop songs (one of the first series broadcast in stereo technology). At the prime time of Miami Vice, every song that appeared in an episode of the series could expect to triple its box office and chart success. Speaking of style, you can’t forget about the influence of Miami Vice on the fashion of the 1980s. The characters of the series were able to change clothes several times in one episode. Of course, none other than Michael Mann was responsible for the selection of clothes, who carefully looked through the catalogs of the greatest fashion designers (e.g. Armani and Versace). A T-shirt or polo in combination with an elegant jacket with often rolled up sleeves, linen trousers and light loafers is a style that has been copied by millions of guys around the world.

Anthony Yerkovich

While speaking about the opening episode titled Brother’s Keeper, apart from Mann, we should mention one more name, which in the entire history of production is quite unfairly underestimated, and which perhaps had the greatest impact on its creation in general. I mean, of course, Anthony Yerkovich. It is this American producer and screenwriter (he wrote the script for Brother’s Keeper) that should be mainly thanked for the idea of creating Miami Vice. Fascination with the city, as well as the then resolution of local government officials, according to which law enforcement agencies were allowed to take over the property of gangsters and use it in the fight against more criminals, eventually developed Yerkovich’s vision for this production.

Crockett and Tubs

miami vice

The Brother’s Keeper episode, the pilot of the Miami Vice series, established the rules of the new game in an exemplary way and introduced its most important characters. Interestingly, the first scenes of the episode take place not in Miami, but in the dark streets of New York. As the first of the legendary two cops, we meet Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), a tough guy who wants to hunt down a man who looks like a gangster boss on his own. In the context of the rest of the episode, as well as subsequent episodes of Miami Vice, it is worth stopping for a moment at the opening scenes taking place in New York. After all, Miami Vice is a series made in the noir style and the first sequences of shots completely confirm it. After the actions is moved to Miami, we still remain in the trend of black cinema, but the series begins to play with this trend.

After a failed attempt to capture the mysterious man with the mustache, we get the iconic intro, and then literally all in white, Don Johnson enters the stage as James “Sonny” Crockett. Crockett’s first words in the production refer to Michael Curtiz’s classic, Casablanca (1942). The sentence: “5000 street corners in greater Miami and Gumby here has to pick ours” is after all a paraphrase of the famous words of Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine ”, which is confirmed by the words of Yerkovich, who admitted in one of the interviews that he thought of Miami as the American Casablanca.

In Brother’s Keeper, Sonny’s and Tubbs’ paths will cross. However, before that happens, we will learn the story of both men and learn that each of them is marked by personal tragedy and problems. Rico’s past seems darker because he lost his brother. His appearance in Miami is related to this case. The man he was chasing in New York is now in Florida. This is Calderon, the killer of Raphael Tubbs. Crockett, on the other hand, is emotionally shattered after the death of his partner, who died during the operation to capture a criminal called the Colombian. As it soon turns out, Rico and Sonny are on the trail of the same person.

miami vice

Although both characters are well written at the level of the pilot episode, most of the recipient’s sympathy flows to Crockett. Johnson gives Sonny a lot of depth and humanity, and his dilemmas seem closer to the viewers than Rico’s motives. Crockett is also a much more charismatic person than his new partner. He is also just a cool guy who lives with the alligator Elvis on a yacht. But Sonny and Rico are at their best when they work together. Brother’s Keeper is an episode about building that relationship. The chemistry between the characters grows every minute here is simply amazing. In the last scene of the pilot we will again find echoes of Casablanca. Crockett’s question to Tubbs: “Hey Tubbs, do you ever consider a career in southern law enforcement?” and Rico’s answer: “Maybe” is after all a different version of the famous: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

In the Air Tonight

miami vice

Noticing the growing popularity of MTV among the audience, the creators of Miami Vice came up with an innovative idea, brilliant in its simplicity. Namely, they decided to allocate part of the series’ budget to purchase the rights to popular songs to illustrate more important scenes. Today, the use of musical hits in movies and series is an everyday thing, so it can be safely said that Miami Vice was ahead of its times in this aspect. Michael Mann also showed an excellent sense, who hired Jan Hammer, a virtuoso of electronic music, to compose the music for the series. The main musical theme by the Czech composer was extremely popular and ranked in the TOP 10 of the American charts. Hammer’s biggest hit, however, was a project called Crockett’s Theme, which viewers could hear in the fourth episode of the first season of Miami Vice. In Brother’s Keeper, apart from Hammer’s music, we will hear songs by the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie and of course the famous In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

I think that each of us, even a person who has never watched even one episode of Miami Vice, knows perfectly well the scene illustrated by Collins’ song. This extremely evocative and atmospheric sequence of shots takes place at the end of Brothers’s Keeper. Crockett and Tubbs go to war with drug dealers. They move around the city of Miami at night, lit by the lights of the city in a black, shiny Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder (although it was actually a replica of this car built on the chassis of a C3 Corvette). The hair of the heroes is ruffled by the warm summer wind. Sonny’s eyes are on the road, but his mind is far away. Rico is equally lost in thought while loading his shotgun. In the background you can hear the first sounds and words of a Phil Collins song. In the Air Tonight perfectly harmonizes with the perfect cinematography by Robert Collins. The Ferrari glides along the already chilled asphalt, its polished body reflecting the lights of the city. At some point the car stops. Sonny gets out to call his ex-wife. After a touching conversation, he returns to the car. The cops move on, the music becomes more dynamic, and the montage follows.

Here is one of the most epic and atmospheric scenes in the history of television. Every time I watch it, I get shivers down my spine and wonder what impression it must have made on NBC television viewers on September 16, 1984. I definitely envy them being exposed to that sequence at the time. It was a turning point, as well as the most influential moment in the history of television, which since then has been forever integrated with popular music. Although Brother’s Keeper is certainly not the best episode of Miami Vice in terms of content, and it took some time for the series to achieve the status of a television phenomenon, it is safe to say that the pilot episode of Miami Vice, which aired on September 16, 1984, was the most complete preview of the upcoming style revolution in various areas of pop culture. And that, in turn, makes Brother’s Keeper an excellent pilot.

Przemysław Mudlaff

Przemysław Mudlaff

He appreciates the truth and sincerity of the intentions of its creators in cinema. He loves to be emotionally kicked and abused by the film, but also happy and amused. A hunter of film curiosities, references and connections. A fan of the works of PTA, von Trier, Kieślowski, Lantimos and Villeneuve. What he likes the most is talking about the cinema over a beer, and the beer has to be cold and thick, you know what.

See other posts from this author >>>