CBS premiered its new drama Vegas last night. Starring Parent Trap’s Dennis Quaid and Fantastic Four’s Micheal Chiklis, the show attempts to fill the 60s period piece void that was recently left open by the cancellation of Pan Am and last year’s cancellation of The Playboy Club.
Vegas is a simplistic and unthrilling mixture of several popular and well-established TV genres. It is primetime’s favorite hour-long criminal investigation with some voyeur gangsterism, and cowboys. It mixes those genres quite awkwardly and offers nothing to any of them. It was very bland, very mediocre. Every aspect of it has been done better by another already well-established TV show.
I’ll start with the plot. The show is essentially the new Walker Texas Ranger, except that it’s less ludicrous, more awful, and Dennis Quaid is not Chuck Norris.
To sum it up more simply, as Hollywood often loves to do: Cowboys vs. Gangsters.
The show splits its focus between two characters: rancher/ war vet/ sherrif Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) and casino owner/ Italian mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis). Mobsters are trying to get a foothold in the growing city by opening up casinos; Dennis Quaid is trying to run his dude ranch without having airplanes flying overhead or highways cutting up his land.
The sheriff is out of town when a body is found and Vegas’ mayor goes to Quaid (Ralph Lamb) for help, because (as if being a self-reliant, conservative, cattle rancher ain’t red-blooded American enough) the character Ralph Lamb is also a WWII vet who had been tasked in solving war crimes.
Over the course of the pilot, Ralph Lamb goes through all of the predictable motions of the hour-long murder investigation plot — finds an abstract piece of evidence, which points to a key player that runs from the police when approached; he is caught, he gives up key information, and the process repeats.
There were so many times during the episode when tension started building only to be released immediately in a cheap and expected way to allow the show to continue on with its neat and tidy detective process.
In one scene, Ralph Lamb and friends are trying to round up a Hell’s Angels biker gang for questioning. They corner them, but their leader manages to escape. “Oh no, he’s getting away,” I thought woefully for a split second, until Ralph Lamb took off after the biker on horseback, and in some amazing disregard physics and geography, suddenly appeared in front of the baddy. Lamb swung his shotgun like a baseball bat and sent him flying off the bike, which led tidily to our interrogation room. The action sequences were horribly choreographed and horribly shot.
CBS advertised the show primarily as “Dennis Quaid’s (“America’s favorite big screen actor’s”) television debut!” I can’t say this debut was very momentous. His character was dull, predictable, and though the action frequently sets him up to deliver some charming punchlines, those moments fall flat because Quaid’s character is neither clever nor charming. Michael Chiklis’ character was just as uninteresting. Vincent Savino fit the gangster archetype too cleanly, with no nuance. None of his scenes made any impression on me.
I will say this: Dennis Quaid looks good in a cowboy hat, Chiklis good in a fedora. The choice in hats for their characters’ was the only part of the show’s aesthetic that was well-thought out. There are very few shots of the town of Vegas itself, which would help create a sense of environment and set the scene. The 1960s feel only shows up only in the choice of cars, old Cadillacs for the gangsters and old Ford pickups for our heroes. It looked dreary and lifeless, and not in an artful way.
I realize that this show was not intended to be brilliant story-telling or aesthetic masterpiece. Am I being too hard on a primetime major network TV show? I don’t think I am. The network will be harder on it. It will be cancelled.
Boardwalk Empire does the period-gangster character study better; NCIS, Law & Order, CSI, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, Perception all do the hour-long murder investigation better. Everything about Vegas is bland and/or ridiculous. Unless the show’s super cowboy Americana style really “rings true” with people in Nevada, or Montana, or Oklahoma, I doubt it’ll run for an entire season.