Both Miami Vice and Bergerac were popular TV crime shows on either side of the Atlantic during the 1980s, and both shared a lot of similarities that perhaps made them the success that they were.
Ok, I know what you’re thinkin’: “Holy shit, what the hell is this? I’ve been following Soft Riot’s ‘Film Klub’ religiously since the first post and now he’s doin’ TV? And two TV cop shows? This is fucking UNBELIEVABLE.”
Yeah, these ain’t films, and were probably on all the time if you were either a kid in North America (Miami Vice) or Britain (Bergerac) but I’ve always wanted to do some stuff in this section of the site that looks at things with different angles. You know, the type of things that most people don’t have the time for. Overall, it’s just some fun observations collected after watching a lot of the two shows.
In this case it’s a comparison of the similarities between two very popular 80s police detective shows on either side of the Atlantic. Miami Vice, being the most iconic, follows two pastel suit-wearing, lightly stubbled vice cops around the warm and stylish environs of Miami whereas Bergerac, a British show from around the same time, follows maverick law enforcement officer and recovering alcoholic Jim Bergerac around the tiny UK crown property of an island that is Jersey with all of its wealthy residents and all the dodgy things that apparently go on there.
In the mainstream Miami Vice gets parodied a lot and like myself when I was a lot younger, was just another American cop show with the two attractive, handsome men running around in flash cars tackling criminals. I was mainly a bit too young to digest a lot a lot of the other details buried within the show and as the 90s arrived, for the grunge, faux-grit styled Gen-Xers the show seemed a bit garish and something to poke a bit of fun of. It was only years later that I was re-introduced to the show again by my partner MM Lyle when we first started seeing each other, that I viewed it again with fresh eyes and a whole new appreciation for the show.
Sure, Miami Vice was a cop show where crimes would be taken on at plot level where most cases were solved within one self-contained episode, but it was also revolutionary for its time: very stylised sets, careful use of cinematography, colour palettes, design and framing that were a visual treat to take in. Plus its heavy emphasis on incorporating popular music of the time was definitely a first, especially when most police procedurals at the time tended to use an in-house composer to score the music. Miami Vice did have an in-house composer as well, and that was Jan Hammer who filled the show with synth-driven incidental music. His “Crockett’s Theme” is a track you’ll even hear in clubs these days, or mashed up and remixed by other artists.
After a period of re-discovery with Miami Vice, it was recommended I watch Bergerac, as I was told that there were some similarities between the two. Being from Canada I never heard of the show and opted to check it out. Although Bergerac lacked the flash and glitz of Miami Vice to some degree, the show itself, much like Miami Vice, dealt with the wealthy, depraved, sinister and criminal element of Jersey; that has a known reputation to this day of being a tax haven and a home to those with lots of money that don’t want to part with it.
After watching numerous episodes from both shows, there are a lot of similarities between the two, even to the point where I jokingly call Bergerac the “British Miami Vice”. So here’s my obvervations in a point-by-point fashion of the similarities between the two shows:
Not your average cop
Don Johnson’s “Sonny Crockett” is a well-dressed vice cop with a troubled past, failed marriage and a few ghosts in the closet. Early in the series his partner gets blown to bits in a car bomb. He is eventually paired up with Philip Michael Thomas’s “Ricardo Tubbs”, a vice cop from New York City that shares a similar background to Crockett. Both are well-dressed, keyed in to the latest trends, classically handsome and tend to drive around in fancy cars, as part of their façade as vice cops for the Miami-Dade police force. Oh, and Crockett lives on a boat with a pet alligator.
Jim Nettle’s “Jim Bergerac” is a cop returning to the force and a recovering alcoholic. He’s recently split up with ex-wife, Deborah Hungerford, daughter of cigar-chomping, Yorkshire-man entrepreneur Charlie Hungerford. Bergerac doesn’t go by the book, lives in a cottage in the woods (at least, at the beginning of the show) and has his own methods for how he goes about doing his job.
Strong instincts and a commitment to the job
In both shows, the protagonist police officers would often get a gut feeling about a case, especially when any leads for the case would stop dead in it’s tracks. Often these “hunches” would be frowned upon by the powers-that-be but they would act on them anyway. And, Crockett, Tubbs and Bergerac’s commitment to their jobs would often see them working long hours, all through the night or even days undercover, which put a lot of strain on their romantic relationships throughout the series.
Head to head with those in charge
Crockett, Tubbs and Bergerac were often at opposing views with their superiors, and at times getting suspended due to conduct that was against the rules but what the cops seemed to be was the best course of action at the time. In Miami Vice we had the slow-burning Costillo (Edward James Olmos). In Bergerac, Jim was always at odds with his superior, Crozier (Sean Arnold), who was a bit “by the book” and didn’t really have the gut instinct that Bergerac or even Costillo had. Crozier was always seeming to pick the most obvious and logical path to solving a crime and at times put Bergerac on suspension for breaking procedure or in some cases, overstepping the law.
If you ask “your average joe on the street” about either show, one thing they’ll comment on is the cars! In the early seasons of Miami Vice both Crockett and Tubbs can be found ripping around the empty, wide streets of late night Miami in a Ferrari Daytona Spider, and then a bit later in a very over-the-top Ferrari Testarossa. As for Bergerac, Jim was always driving a dark maroon coloured 1949 Triumph Roadster on the narrow and speed-restricted (40mph for the whole island I think) roads of Jersey. I know pretty much fuck all about cars compared to many but they do make for a bit of eye candy on both shows.
Dealing with the wealthy, glamourous, traffickers and organized crime
Watching both shows it would seem that both Miami and Jersey were overflowing with wealthy playboys, femme fatales, devious criminals and shady underground worlds of organised crime, conflicting with the somewhat working class ethos of Crockett, Tubbs and Bergerac, who sometimes took a bit of a socialist moral high-ground when dealing with the more minted echelons of the sometimes out-of-touch upper class or nouveau riche characters of both shows. I suppose the main reason for having all of this money thrown around on both shows made for some very stylish wardrobe, especially with Miami Vice, which showcased the best and worst excesses of 80s fashion (for me, the best).
Import, export and being a port city
Both shows are set in locations that have a lot of traffic going in and out by air and sea, providing a good breeding ground for plot lines involving smuggling, drugs, criminals on the run and on occasion some visually entertaining high-speed boat chases. For Miami Vice, it was, well, Miami and for Bergerac it was the isle of Jersey.
Dark issues from the past and relationships with ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, current girlfriends, etc.
Along with the usual plot lines of both shows dealing with solving cases and catching criminals, Miami Vice and Bergerac‘s story threads also involved its key characters dealing with un-resolved relationships with former romantic partners, as well as the strain trying to balance their current romantic relationships with the demands of their jobs. In Miami Vice the majority of the romance plot lines involved Sonny Crockett, with notable partners played by Sheena Easton and Melanie Griffiths just to name two. To a lesser extent we see into the personal lives Tubbs and Castillo and their love interests. Bergerac and his ex-wife Deborah have a love/loathe relationship throughout most of the series, where at times they’re almost at each other’s throats and at other times coming to each other’s aid. One of the running plot devices in Bergerac is the strain Bergerac’s commitment to his job, especially with his most memorable female companion in the whole series, Susan Young (played by Louise Jameson of The Omega Factor and Tenko).
Colourful and camp characters
Although both shows dealt with a lot of serious subject matter, there were plenty of camp, weird and interesting characters to break the mood a bit and provided some colourful entertainment. There’s so many to choose from and you’d have to watch both shows to pick literally dozens of them out.
For Miami Vice, some notable characters included actors Brian Dennehy & Anita Morris as theatrical televangelists with a penchant for wearing shiny, metallic clothing. Or perhaps the legendary James Brown as a cult leader / UFO-specialist in what has been dubbed as one of the most weirdest episodes of the series ever. Phil Collins makes a good appearance as a sweaty, anxious game show host with a little business of selling drugs on the side.
And with Bergerac, its more colourful characters take on a more camp, British theatrical flair. How about Charles Grey from The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a posh, devious Satanist? Or my favourite, Elizabeth Spriggs as May Lou Costain, a leader of a crack team of thugs on the island. There’s a good scene of her in one episode, putting on a cold-as-ice malicious persona while drinking a massive fruity coloured cocktail in a deck chair by the pool, while wearing some sort of technicolour “mumu” dress. And of course, the re-curring role of Phillipa Vale by actress Liza Goddard; a sneaky diamond thief with a skill of changing disguises at the drop of a hat, and providing a bit of romantic tension with Bergerac, who finds himself running around in a game of cat and mouse trying to keep up with her whenever she does arrive on Jersey.
All-star support cast and guest slots
Miami Vice was one of those shows that contained early roles by now famous actors, including Ben Stiller, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen, Helena Bonham Carter and Chris Rock. The show also pushed getting musicians into acting roles including John Taylor (Duran Duran), James Brown and a full episode called “Phil The Shill” where Phil Collins played the roll of a garish drug dealer and fashion victim. We even had Scottish pop singing sensation Sheena Easton playing a character very similar to herself as a major plotline in Season 4 of the show being a love interest to Crockett.
Bergerac on the other hand pulled many of it’s guest acting slots from a lot of familiar faces from British television at the time and take someone who has watched a lot of British TV to point out. These include appearances by Bruce Payne, Bill Nighy, Alan Ford, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone, Beryl Reid, Sarah Douglas, Greta Scacchi, Dudley Sutton, Michael Gambon and many more.
Soundtracks of the day
As mentioned earlier, Miami Vice was ground-breaking in its inclusion of popular songs of the day in its soundtrack, some examples being tracks by The Damned, Glenn Frey, Chaka Khan, Roxy Music, Lindsey Buckingham, Laura Branigan and loads more. Bergerac was noticeably more reserved in its usage of popular music, but there’d often be an episode where the plotline would move into a restaurant, club or party where popular UK hits of the day would be heard in the background, including The Human League, Spandau Ballet, Blondie, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music and more…
Memorable theme song
Both shows had theme songs with Miami Vice‘s hammering electronic, roto-tom driven slice of driving synth-rock composed by the show’s in-house composer, Jan Hammer.
And for Bergerac, we had popular British pop/rock composer George Fenton draft up the show’s jazzy reggae number “a la The Police” that ran the whole series:
In the later series of the show, the theme got a bit of a awkward get intriguing sounding synth-y revamp:
Those abrupt endings!
And a final observation, both Miami Vice and Bergerac loved those abrupt endings! Many modern shows opt for the climax of the story and then a closing up of the story (episode, film, etc.) where the characters reflect on what happened and then make some decision in how they change the way they see things. However, with these two cop shows, episodes would often end with someone being shot, being punched or someone being killed and then instantly cutting to the credits and the end music. Or in some cases one of the characters would make a wry comment or light jab right after a riveting climax, bringing everything for a brief minute to a lighter level and then… wham… credits. No resolution or anything. You often don’t even find out what happened to any number of the key characters. But I suppose that’s like life really.
That’s it! Well, some additional comments.
So now that you’re intrigued and are gonna spend a whole night on YouTube looking at clips, here’s two other shows that I thought would be worth mentioning:
Van Der Valk
A British crime show that had five seasons spread sporadically between the early 70s to 1992. The show revolved around Piet Van Der Valk (played by the curly, lamb-haired British thespian Barry Foster) and his dealings with crime in the city of Amsterdam including murder, drugs, vice and a lot more. His methods were somewhat unconventional and his character just had the right amount of that air of being jaded and sarcastic to make it work. Some of the episodes dealt with some progressive things at the time: drugs, counter-culture, crimes of passion and more. And unlike many shows, Van Der Valk’s wife, Arlette, takes an active interest in his cases and often her ideas and hunches are keys to solving a number of crimes. There’s even one episode where she goes on a vigilante mission against a group of beatnik criminals that kidnap Piet and hold him on a canal boat.
Having a bit of a cringe-worthy name for a show, Silk Stalkings made an attempt to pick up the torch from Miami Vice in the late 80s/early 90s with a lot of familiar features: two young cops Rita Lance and Chris Lorenzo (played by Mitzi Capture and Rob Estes) working in a sex-crime unit set on the Florida coast (albeit shot in San Diego, you can even see the mountains in the background of some shots). Again, like Miami Vice, a large focus on that mid/late 80s fashion and interior design, at some points taken to an even more over-the-top level. The show doesn’t live up to the quality of Miami Vice but does offer some of same vibes for those looking for more. The interior design of Rita’s apartment and the police station that they both work would be more suited to a nightclub more than anything!
Thanks to Gavin Brick for tipping me off to both of the above shows. Both enjoyable!