Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pilot Review: Vegas

Vegas (Tuesdays at 10:00 on CBS)

Seriously, CBS? You can't just let a show tell a story? I wasn't aware that the pilot of Vegas, a show about as bland as its snooze-worthy title suggests, was setting up yet another police procedural at The Eye. Early word focused solely on the larger premise but failed to mention its crime-of-the-week element. So instead of a period drama about Las Vegas politics, we're getting a standard cop show with a Western flare.

Vegas fictionalizes the life of Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) as he goes head-to-head with mobsters on The Strip in the 1960s. Lamb is a simple cattle rancher who just wants the planes from the airport to stop scaring his animals, so he agrees to return to his detective days to find the murderer of the governor's niece. And he gets the planes to stop flying over as payment. Speaking of, the latest plane is carrying Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), a mobster looking to make it big in the desert. Unfortunately for him, all signs of the murder point to his casino.

The throughline of Vegas doesn't make very much sense to me. Lamb is nothing more than a cattle rancher, yet he is hired to help find a murderer and given a phony title in case people ask questions (since he, you know, doesn't have police ID or anything). So he immediately hires his brother Jake (Jason O'Mara, Terra Nova) as a deputy to follow him around and carry giant rifles, but also to deal with people since Ralph isn't too good at that stuff. Say what? It's a jarring mix of lawlessness and law enforcement, a mix that doesn't always blend well. Where is the line drawn? Ralph can break into Savino's casino and lock lawyers in jail cells but be above the law... as he's trying to bring down mobsters who are also breaking laws. I don't understand it much, but perhaps I just wasn't playing close enough attention.

It was easy for my mind to wander during this pilot. The desert landscapes are gorgeous, but they're also lazy. There are only so many scenes of Dennis Quaid on horseback I can take, though there's one in particular that's pretty great as Lamb out rides a motorcyclist and ropes him in. But there's something about a twangy country score, the show's slow (and I mean slow) pace, and a lack of an interesting crime that just made me want to change the channel or crawl into bed. The script from creators Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas) and Greg Walker (Without a Trace) is decent enough in its structure and setup, but it just isn't much fun. The murder is dull, and so is the process Lamb goes through to solve it. The only truly interesting parts of the pilot are when Lamb and Savino are face to face; Quaid and Chiklis are both powerful actors, and their chemistry is wonderful in these short moments.

Unfortunately, neither fares very well without the other, especially Quaid. He does little more than scowl and frown really hard, like a petulant child who is refused ice cream. He's all hard lines, no personality. Chiklis gets a little too melodramatic in his first scene, and he plays a little safe the remainder of the episode. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) is simply window-dressing, the only hint of estrogen on display in all of the pilot as the ADA of Las Vegas. O'Mara's character is forgettable and unnecessary. Film director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) lets things move at a pace more appropriate for a movie, and it gets a bit tedious. The use of green screen is also one of the most distracting I've seen recently, probably since the boat scene in last year's pilot for Ringer (incidentally, that was also orginally a CBS pilot). It's a rather boring hour of television that not even two big actors could make totally work. Not enough really happens, and I can't imagine Vegas getting much better down the line considering it's already designed as a procedural. Definitely one of the bigger disappointments so far this season.

1 comment:

  1. I think TV paints a rather stark depiction of characters because they think the American TV audience is simple minded and shallow. I don’t blame these actors, but usually the actor talks about the character with the writer over time, and something deeper develops. My DISH coworker says it’s getting decent ratings too, which I figure should guarantee even more success and money to keep it a class act show. I found out about it when my Hopper PrimeTime Anytime feature I enabled, automatically recorded it. I like the fact that I find lots of new shows to watch, since every major network show records each day.