Miami Vice is one of the most influential t.v. shows of all time but it wasn’t an immediate smash hit.  The first season actually became a hit via summer reruns between seasons, paving the way for its second and most successful season.  That is the season of the show that lives up to most people’s memories of the show, delivering lots of glitz, the most pop music of any season and the biggest array of guest stars.

Read on for the first half of Schlockmania’s overview of Miami Vice‘s second season, the peak of its time as destination t.v.

The Prodigal Son: this season-opening two parter has its problems – overly episodic plotting, too many characters – but it’s still worth watching as a representation of what the show was about during this season.  This time, Crockett and Tubbs go to New York on the trail of drug dealers who attacked them in Miami, only to learn their enemies have many faces and international reach (the latter a key show theme).  The amazing support cast includes everyone from Gene Simmons to Julian Beck and the plot was later borrowed for the 2006 Miami Vice feature film.  14 pop songs were used on the soundtrack, a record for the show, including Glenn Frey’s written-for-the-episode hit “You Belong To The City.”

Out Where The Buses Don’t Run: One of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show has our cops reluctantly teaming up with an unstable ex-cop (Bruce McGill) to figure out a long-unsolved drug case.  Starts off comedic but gradually leads the viewer into darker, more dramatic territory, culminating in a memorable final reveal that makes excellent use of a Dire Straits song.  McGill really swings for the fences with his performance, plus there is subtler support work from a young David Strathairn – and a cameo from Little Richard(!).  Inspired by a real Miami case from the ’70s.

Buddies: Crockett reunites with an old army pal (James Remar) who has gotten mixed up with mobsters while trying to finance a business venture. Meanwhile, the same crooks are on the hunt for an ex-employee and young mother (Eszter Balint) who killed one of their employees (Nathan Lane) in self-defense.  As the synopsis indicates, this has got a complex script with unique web of cause and effect linking everything but the script makes it all pay off in a suspenseful manner.  There’s also an emotional, unexpectedly rewarding denouement.  Remar gives a strong performance and spurs Johnson to excellent work in their scenes – and look out for Frankie Valli as a mobster!

Bushido: another great episode that takes us into the complex backstory of Lt. Castillo.  The murder of a drug dealer in Miami is connected to the resurfacing of Jack Gretzsky (Dean Stockwell), an old C.I.A. buddy of Castillo’s.  Gretzsky is in trouble and the KGB is involved.  Edward James Olmos not only dominates the storyline but also directed this episode, which is beautifully stylized in an arthouse film manner.  Olmos’ scenes with Stockwell have a quiet intensity and there’s also a standout performance from a young David Rasche as one of the bad guys.

Back In The World: Castillo wasn’t the only one with a Vietnam War-themed backstory.  In this episode, Crockett’s past as a Vietnam vet pops up in his current life when he is reunited with journalist and fellow vet Stone, who leads him into a case involving an ex-military officer (G. Gordon Liddy!) who is tied into the local drug trade. Johnson directed this episode and does solid work, handling the theme of forgotten Vietnam vets with sensitivity.  Balaban is excellent as Crockett’s roguish ally and Liddy is weird enough to be a memorable baddy (both men would return for another episode in Season 3).  Neat musical touch: the song soundtrack consists entirely of music by the Doors.