Generally, the first three seasons of Miami Vice are the most popular with viewers.  Though it has its defenders, Season 4 is where the show went into decline for many viewers. Ratings were declining so the network began to cut the budget.  The production team shifted away from the dark tone of Season 3, resulting in some comic episodes that are amongst the least popular of the series run (more on than momentarily). Also, the character of Tubbs began to get pushed to the background and the show lost a lot of its partner-driven chemistry as a result.

That said, there are a still a number of worthwhile episodes in this season for series fans.  This is the first half of an exploration of the season’s top entries, including one controversial choice that Schlockmania hopes to make an alternative case for…

Contempt Of Court: This compelling season opener downplays the expected action to create an episode that is a hybrid of courtroom drama and exposé of the justice system’s flaws.  Crockett and Tubbs get nasty mobster Frank Mosca (Stanley Tucci) into a courtroom and have to look on helplessly as he tampers with the trial multiple ways, including getting Crockett thrown in jail on contempt charges for protecting a source! Strong script and performances, with an excellent cast of guest stars that also includes Mark Blum, Meg Foster, Steven Keats and Philip Baker Hall.  Tucci is excellent here as the preening, ruthless villain.

Death And The Lady: This episode harkens back to the dark themes of the previous season, presenting a plot where Crockett and Tubbs investigate a pretentious porn film director (Paul Guilfoyle) who may have murdered the leading lady on-camera in his award-winning latest effort. It’s the kind of premise you’d expect from a Brian DePalma film and this episode does it justice despite the content limitations of network television with a strong plot, slick direction and another excellent guest cast: Kelly Lynch, Penelope Ann Miller and Miguel Ferrer. Strong work from Don Johnson, whose macho righteousness is balanced nicely by Guilfoyle’s sleazy arrogance. Their final scene together really generates sparks.

Child’s Play: Season 4 leaned heavily on Crockett – wags referred to this season as “The Don Johnson Show” – but this episode shows Johnson was more than up to the task. The premise has Crockett thrown into an existential crisis when he shoots a gun-toting attacker, only to discover it was a young boy. As he deals with the fallout of the situation, he tries reestablish ties with his own son, who he sees too little of due to work and a divorce. A really compelling mix of domestic drama and social commentary, with some unexpected twists thrown in. Johnson carries it all with skill and gets quality support from Belinda Montgomery as his ex. Look out for Isaac Hayes and a young Ving Rhames in the support cast.

Missing Hours: This oddball entry is easily the most controversial episode of Miami Vice. It’s also often voted the worst episode of this series run by fans… and yet Schlockmania appreciates it from a different vantage point.  The plot is best discovered in the fractured way the episode lays it out but this much can be said: it involves a body disappearing from the morgue, some extra-spacey sci-fi and James Brown.  The underappreciated Olivia Brown gets to step to the forefront here, slapstick humor gets mixed with gonzo visual FX and Brown’s performance is as mind-melting as the plot. It’s best to look at this as a less of a Miami Vice episode and more of an experiment in subverting episodic storytelling with surrealism.  Network T.V. wouldn’t dare to be this weird again until Twin Peaks – and fans of that show are likely to groove on the prime-cut eccentricity displayed here.

The Rising Sun Of Death: Castillo (Edward James Olmos) plays a key role in this episode, which again finds him coping with Eastern crime making itself felt in Miami’s crime scene. In this case, the Yakuza murders a businessman and a Japanese detective (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) shows up to investigate. Castillo and the team find themselves dealing with police and business corruption as well as issues unique to Japan. Just a good, solid cop procedural with plenty of action, style and Eastern exoticism plus Olmos providing the gravitas to anchor it. Tagawa makes a good foil for Olmos and the supporting cast includes R. Lee Ermey and James Hong. Interesting Brit-centric song score, too: Billy Idol, The Smiths and two tracks from Yello.