While the airing of Miami Vice’s final episode, entitled Freefall, was anticlimactic — the show had been declining in both quality and popularity for at least two seasons — it was consequential enough that NBC aired the two-hour movie on a Sunday evening, instead of in the show’s normal Friday evening slot. But the significance of Miami Vice was not its death; it was its life. It’s hard to imagine any television show today having the cultural influence of peak Miami Vice. In the mid 1980s, it defined what was cool in fashion, music, cars, and of course television. Don Johnson even made the mullet stylish. For about a week.
One oddity of the Miami Vice finale is that it wasn’t the final original episode of the show to air. Four episodes from the final season aired subsequently: Three on NBC the following month, and one — considered too controversial for prime-time broadcast television — for the first time in January 1990, on the USA Network.
Freefall was far from the show’s best effort; like many of the final season’s episodes, it was a caricature of the elements that had originally made the show a trendsetter. If you’re not familiar with Miami Vice and are looking to see it at its best, check out Miami Vice, Twenty for Twenty, a blog post I wrote back in 2004 on the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere. The post lists my favorite episodes and explains how I chose them. Many of the links in the post are broken, but the content still holds up.
Miami Vice episodes, even the best ones, come across as hopelessly dated when viewed today. Which is kind of the point: A show that was so intrinsically of its time cannot be judged by the standards of modern television. To the contrary, it serves as a finely-preserved remnant of its era, an opportunity for those who didn’t experience 1980s pop culture to gain an appreciation and for those who did to reminisce.