'Miami Vice' Killed Off a Major Character Way Before 'The Sopranos' Did

If you’ve done some reading or listened to podcasts about The Sopranos, you might start to take the show’s purported laurels at face value. HBO’s classic mob show brought cinema to the small screen for the first time, people say. No one handled music the way The Sopranos did, they’ll add.

To both claims, you can feel free to reply, “Did you ever hear of Miami Vice?” “Brother’s Keeper,” the 1984 Miami Vice pilot that runs 92 minutes and kicks off on New York’s cobblestone streets at night, is about 10 times more cinematic than the 1999 Sopranos premiere.

After the stunning opening and credit sequence of “Brother’s Keeper,” the action picks up with highly active camera work (including an impressive tracking shot) in another great location: Miami. The way some people talk about it, you might think The Sopranos invented gritty location shoots.

What’s more, the Miami Vice theme and planting of “In the Air Tonight” in the pilot matches bests the Sopranos‘ use of music. And while we’re on the subject of ahistorical takes, let’s talk about the death of a major Miami Vice character in season 1. You might have heard The Sopranos did that first, too.

‘Miami Vice’ killed off a major cast member early in season 1

Looking back (or rewatching) Miami Vice in the 21st century, you can’t take your eyes off Edward James Olmos, who shined as Lt. Martin Castillo for 107 episodes. If you go back to the beginning, Castillo didn’t command the vice squad in the pilot episode and early in season 1.

That job fell to Lt. Lou Rodriguez, played by Gregory Sierra. In the first four episodes of the series, Rodriguez’s presence as an old-school cop plays like a weak point. Still, you could feel the history between him and Sonny Crockett, played by Don Johnson.

When Crockett worries Rodriguez could be on the take (i.e., receiving bribes), Johnson’s character seems terrified that it’s true. But viewers soon learn that Rodriguez is indeed a good cop — and a loyal cop.

In his final scene, he goes to Crockett’s boat so he can get his detective to safety. And that’s the end of Lt. Rodriguez — a sniper picks him off right then and there. By episode’s end, Rodriguez dies of the gunshot wounds.

Gregory Sierra had prime billing as Lt. Rodriguez in ‘Miami Vice’

By 1984, Sierra already had dozens of prime screen credits to his name. He’d played recurring rolls on Sanford and Son, Barney Miller, and Hill Street Blues in addition to his film work (The Towering Inferno). And Sierra received high billing on Miami Vice.

In the credits, Sierra has the billing Olmos later got — right at the end of the starring actors. By comparison, that’s where Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano) ended up in the Sopranos pilot credits. In brief, Sierra was being billed as a major character.

Thus Rodriguez’s season 1 episode 4 death counts as a major kill-off. While you’ll keep hearing how the death of Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero marked some first in that department for a major show, it’s simply not the case.

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