28 March 2017

The Anglosphere on Television: Miami Vice

[A television channel available here in South Florida shows the classic 1980s television show Miami Vice in syndication every weeknight. I have been writing some commentary about the episodes I see for another audience, and I thought to provide some of those posts here, with a slightly different emphasis.]
Miami Vice was relatively popular in Britain when it ran there on the BBC. I know several of my friends in London at the time watched it, although I haven't been able to track down actual ratings yet. As I recall, the violence was at first somewhat controversial, and there was even discussion about how the BBC was editing out some footage of shootings. (One bullet would do where Americans got three.) 
Despite the obvious links between Latin American drug traders and the main thread of the show, the Anglosphere was a constant presence from the start. Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas, frequently acted as a West Indian when undercover. And then, starting in Season 3, the relationship appeared to deepen. The first episode shown (although not the one planned) even featured an IRA-based plot and a young Liam Neeson. But I prefer to look start looking at these connections further into the season.  
Season 3, ‘Theresa’
The preceding episode, 'Duty and Honor,' featured a youthful Helena Bonham Carter in a cameo role as Crockett's girlfriend. 'Duty and Honor' itself focused on Lt Castillo's Southeast Asian past, and therefore the American experience in Vietnam. (The Vietnam Vet is another constant underlying presence in the show.) Bonham Carter, however, was given greatly expanded duty in 'Theresa', the title itself being the name of her character. Watching again after all these years, it is clear she was too young for the role. Contrast her efforts here with her much more self-assured performance a decade later in Fight Club, and you can see what I mean. That said, a baseball simile comes to mind: like a young pitcher’s sequencing, her work seemed callow in the earlier one, and she lacked the command that the veteran brought to bear in the later stint. But he talent was undeniable.
Nonetheless, the fact of her Britishness is entirely irrelevant to the role. There is brief mention of it, but the script could easily be re-written to make her character Canadian, Bajan or even a non-Anglosphere country like Argentina. But this is how the Anglosphere works in culture -- the subliminal impact is that we are somehow related in a way an Argentinian is not. This was perhaps more true in 1987 than it is today. It is somewhat ironic that if it is less true, Miami Vice the show probably contributed to that happening. Miami Beach went from the home of a chubby white comedian, to a multi-cultural, open-air, crime-infested gallery of the Art Deco

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