Last year, NBC and ABC launched ambitious primetime dramas set in the swinging 1960s (‘The Playboy Club’ and ‘Pan Am’ respectively). Both proved to be ratings duds and were canceled in the first season. (In fact, ‘The Playboy Club’ was such a flop that NBC yanked it from the schedule after just three episodes.) For some reason, CBS lagged behind this trend a year, and has only this week premiered its own ’60s-era series, ‘Vegas’. Can a big-name cast keep this one on the air longer?
Lest you be confused, the series apparently is not a remake or reboot of the old Robert Urich crime drama ‘Vega$’ from the late ’70s/early ’80s. Nor does it have anything to do with NBC’s more recent ‘Las Vegas’, which starred James Caan and Josh Duhamel as hotshot casino operators. This one was created by author and occasional screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’) and seems to be greatly influenced by Michael Mann’s ‘Crime Story’. (Anyone but me remember that show?)
Dennis Quaid stars as ornery rancher Ralph Lamb, who grunts his way through the ‘Pilot’ episode with a perpetual scowl. Ralph is upset that the city’s expanding airport is disrupting and scattering his cattle. However, when the governor’s niece is found dead on nuclear testing site grounds outside town, and the sheriff has gone AWOL, former-Army MP Ralph allows his friend the mayor to rope him into investigating the crime. Ralph brings along his cocky younger brother (Jason O’Mara from ‘Terra Nova’) to help. Also major players in the story are Carrie-Anne Moss as the city’s Assistant District Attorney and Michael Chiklis as a casino owner (and presumed mobster).
After ruling out red herring suspects including the girl’s boyfriend and some rowdy bikers, Ralph eventually tracks down and captures the killer on the runway of the airport he hates so much. I’ll be honest here; I zoned out a little during the episode and missed how the killer was connected to the victim. I think he worked with her at the casino or something. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
In a final twist, the sheriff is also found dead (apparently murdered by Chiklis and his goons), and Ralph is reluctantly promoted to take over the job.
How does the show fare overall? I like the cast and the ’60s vibe. The visual effects do a credible job of recreating the setting, though the actors often feel like they’re playing dress-up rather than really living in the period. (Something about Chiklis in a fedora looks too costume-y.) An action scene where Ralph on horseback chases a biker down the vintage Vegas Strip is the right kind of ridiculous.
These elements seem promising, but the pilot episode lacks much verve or excitement. Like most CBS dramas, the story feels a little rote. I was more interested during the first half, when I assumed that the girl’s murder would be an ongoing mystery that might tie to bigger events in the city (corruption, conspiracy and so forth). I was disappointed to realize that the show will instead be more of a formulaic case-of-the-week procedural.
I don’t know. I might give this a few episodes, but I’m not ready to commit to it long-term just yet.