"Miami Vice" may be a dubious contribution to western civilization, but at least there is a trace of synthesized originality to it. Following dutifully in its tire tracks tonight is ABC's attempt at an imitation: "The Insiders" (at 8 on Channel 7), which details the exploits of a maverick investigative reporter and his hotshot accomplice.
They're unorthodox, oh, they're unorthodox, and their methods are unconventional, oh, they're unconventional, but when all is said and done, and sung (since "The Insiders" has one of those infernally insistent thumpa-thumpa rock tracks), this team is not so much unorthodox and unconventional as simply uninteresting.
Seeming somehow as reminiscent of Hall and Oates as of the black-and-white cop team of "Miami Vice," Nicholas Campbell as reporter Nick Fox and Stoney Jackson as Mackey, the straight-arrow ex-con, wear very fashionable attire and drive very fashionable cars. They're as neatly turned out as Interview magazine, in which they will probably also turn up should this series log enough weeks on the air. But their maiden voyage tonight in pursuit of a car theft ring doesn't have quite the echt ache eked by Crockett and Tubbs during their existential encounters with the dope trade.
"The Insiders" aspires to the kind of melancholy chic perfected on "Vice," and many of the intrusive sound track tunes are of the anguished "Whither goest I?" variety. Director Edward Zwick hits his mark in this area only once, when a reluctant car thief is executed in a garage by the lord of the ring. He falls dead over the hood of a heisted Mercedes. This of course precipitates the requisite revenge by our heroes, who up to then had only been after a good story for Newspoint magazine.
Other than the killing, everything that happens seems inconsequential in concept and execution. Campbell lacks charisma to an almost unprecedented degree, but costar Jackson does have a certain cheeky charm. He has been compared to the rock star Prince, but seems entirely more wholesome. It's too bad he is saddled with trite jivey dialogue ("Yo mama!" and "Kiss my $100 deductible!") and an essentially demeaning role. Why couldn't the white guy be the ex-con who knows how to steal cars and the black guy be the magazine reporter? At least that would overturn the television cliche'.
The ex-con says he is indebted to the writer for helping with his parole three years earlier. This seems a ploy by the producers to keep him in a relatively submissive position. It could be argued that Mackey surmounts this stereotyping with his ingratiating, Eddie Murphy-influenced delivery, however, and by being decisively cuter than his cohort.
He does get one good material-guy line from the script when he lectures his senior partner on proper credos for our times. "You're such a '60s casualty," he says. "You've got to wake up to the '80s. He who dies with the most cars wins." Yup, that's the '80s, all right.
A "photographic consultant" as well as a production designer is listed in the program's credits -- signs of the times but not necessarily signs of quality programming. Gail Strickland, as the magazine's editor, is merely playing the same role as the by-the-book lieutenants in all those cop dramas about would-be Serpicos. This one's about would-be Geraldo Riveras instead, albeit armed Geraldo Riveras, a terrifying thought.
Even if there had been no "Miami Vice," "The Insiders" would have a fatal aura of de'ja vu to it. Like many TV shows, it's de'ja from first vu.