James Lyon. Miami Vice.
US: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. 144. ISBN 979-1-4051-7811-2.
1Despite the shortness of its length, Miami Vice by James Lyons is a meticulous study of NBC’s series of the same title, attempting to provide an overview of the show’s social, socio-cultural, and industrial-economic circumstances surrounding its production and distribution in order to highlight its status as a “defining show of its era” (3). The series starring Don Johnson as James Crocket and Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo Tubbs appeared in 1984. As a continuation of the cop shows of the previous decade, Miami Vice focuses on the adventures of two undercover police detectives as they attempt to fight crime and corruption. Critical discussions have largely rejected the show on the premise that it does not qualify for what they call “quality television.” Lyon’s study comes to rectify this, following the post-modern tendency of expanding the ‘canon’ to include series as worthy of critical attention and analysis.
2The first chapter focuses on the dynamics of network production discussing how creative and commercial influences determined the show’s distinctive characteristics. According to Lyons, one of the most important influences on the show was the transformations occurring in the media industries in the 80s due to the rapid increase in cable TV, VCRs and independent stations. Within this context, Miami Vice can be seen as a product of both the “Classic Network Era,” and the era of “neo-networks” as Lyons maintains (19). Lyons also mentions how the transformation of network television entailed a turn to a storytelling characterised by excessive style, a point that he examines more thoroughly in the next chapter where he discusses the show’s “obsession with sound, image and spectacle” (30). Interestingly enough, Lyons, in contrast with other critics, does not approach Miami Vice’s style as being devoid of meaning. On the contrary, he attempts to prove that the excessive stylistic devices employed by the show became in essence the means of conveying meaning to the viewers. Lyons continues to explain that due to the need to survive within the era’s highly competitive environment of audio-visual technologies Miami Vice both followed the conventions of the police procedural genre in which it belonged while simultaneously pushing them to their limit.
3Chapter three looks once more at the context of network competition vis-a-vis the show’s plot in an attempt to demonstrate how its storyworld changed and adapted to existing demands. Indeed, far from being static, the show’s plot varied considerably throughout its five-season run with an emphasis, for example, on “more serious storytelling”(72) during the third season. Finally, in relation to the stories dramatised by Miami Vice, the last chapter examines the dominant cultural ideologies of the 1980’s in order to highlight their influence on the show. For instance, as Lyons argues as early as the introduction, Miami Vice reflects to a great extend the 1980s ‘ethos of risk’ which is inextricably linked both in the film and throughout the decade with the notion of self-development. It is noteworthy, as Lyons notes, that even though its style and plot evolved what remained unchanged throughout the five seasons Miami Vice played was “the dramatic animation of risk as a governing logic uniting cops, criminals and victims” (94).
4All in all, the careful, detailed analysis of the various contexts of network television turns this study into a useful handbook especially for film students who can use it as blueprint for analysing other series. What is more, the contextual analysis that Lyons resorts to is definitely an asset since it offers a new approach to the show which has been dismissed by several critics on the grounds that it is meaningless, characterized “by a postmodern blankness that was all surface and no depth”(85). The film’s apparent blankness, Lyons now comes to posit, can be really “loaded” (105) with meaning, turning Miami Vice into an emblematic show of its era.
Chrysavgi Papayianni, « James Lyon. Miami Vice. », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2011-1, document 10, Online since 17 April 2011, connection on 22 May 2013. URL : http://ejas.revues.org/9148Top of page