‘Miami Vice’: How the Showrunner Defended the Aliens Episode With Chris Rock and James Brown

Miami Vice got started with a pilot focused on exactly what you’d expect for a TV show about vice cops. It begins with Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Hall) chasing a drug lord who killed Tubbs’ brother. Eventually, the chase leads to Miami, where Det. Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) enters the picture.

With Michael Mann as showrunner and executive producer, the show established its highly stylized identity over the next two seasons. But when Mann left to pursue other projects, Dick Wolf entered the picture. And the future Law & Order creator had a different vision as showrunner.

Wolf planned to focus on the stories, and he got off with a bang in “When Irish Eyes Are Crying,” the season 3 opener that guest-starred Liam Neeson. From there, Wolf kept exploring.

By season 4, he took it to another level with “Missing Hours,” an episode that dealt with the vice squad’s encounter with alien life forms. Looking back on his Miami Vice years, Wolf said he considered the poorly received episode one of the highlights of his time on the show.

‘Miami Vice’ dealt with UFOs and alien abductions in season 4’s ‘Missing Hours’

Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas pose in a 'Miami Vice' promo
MIAMI VICE: Don Johnson as Detective ‘Sonny’ Crockett, Philip Michael Thomas as Detective ‘Rico’ Tubbs | NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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If you haven’t caught “Missing Hours” (season 4 episode 7), it’s a doozy. It begins with an ostensibly healthy man, approximately 30 years old, suddenly dying of a heart attack. Then things get really weird when Trudy (Olivia Brown) checks out a houseboat in connection with the investigation.

While there, Trudy encounters Lou De Long (James Brown), who’s introduced with a snippet of Brown’s “I Feel Good.” But while De Long smiles, the frame freezes. His face disappears, revealing a cloud-filled sky behind it. Then Trudy’s face replaces the space where De Long’s face was.

It’s certainly a wild twist, but the episode — penned by science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch — is only getting warmed up. The body of the man who died in the beginning disappears, with Trudy’s signature suggesting she somehow removed it. Guest star Chris Rock offers advice on chasing these leads.

Later, when Crockett (Johnson) and Tubbs (Thomas) arrive at a hotel, Crockett’s car mysteriously stops working. Then, a bright blue-green light blinds them from above. Tubbs refers to it as a UFO, though Crockett doesn’t want to hear about it.

‘Miami Vice’ showrunner Dick Wolf loved how ‘out there’ the ‘Missing Hours’ episode got

Don Johnson and Michael Talbott in a scene from 'Miami Vice' season 3
MIAMI VICE: Don Johnson as Detective James ‘Sonny’ Crockett, Michael Talbott as Detective Stan Switek | Robert DeStolfe/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Speaking with the Television Academy in 2003, Wolf didn’t sound like he agreed with IMDB users who rated “Missing Hours” as the worst Miami Vice episode. When asked about standout episodes, Wolf said he preferred ones that strayed from the usual formula.

“There are ones that I really liked that were kind of aberrant,” Wolf said.
“Ones that went off in different directions, that were unexpected, that were kind of out there — those were the really fun ones. The James Brown episode with aliens and everything — that got way out there.”

To Wolf, an episode like “Missing Hours” set Miami Vice apart from the rest of TV shows of the era. “You couldn’t do [“Missing Hours”] on any show but Miami Vice,” he said. While it’s left fans scratching their heads for years, you can’t argue with Wolf on that point.