Vegas Series Premiere Review: Okayfellas

Vegas S01E01: "Vegas"

CBS's new drama Vegas, based on the real life of 1960s Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb, comes to us from the mind of Nicholas Pileggi. He's the screenwriter behind some of the greatest mob movies of all time: Goodfellas and Casino (and he didn't write Married to the Mob, so that's a plus). But this is CBS, and this is network television, so expecting Vegas to feature slow-motion car bombs, mob men with their faces dusted with cocaine, or fatally mis-executed pen tracheotomies—scenes we all remember from the aforementioned movies—isn't even an option. Instead, we'll get a much tamer version of those things, buttered up for comfort and told from the point-of-view of television's next great over-50 hero.

Vegas's series premiere wasted no time identifying its key players. The episode opened with the man of the hour, a freshly shaved, doppelganger-to-the-Marlboro-Man Sheriff Lamb (Dennis Quaid), going about his business herding cattle like the good old folk do, all to the uppity twangs of a stock Americana tune. Moments later, Chicago mob boss Vincent Savino (the return of Michael Chiklis to a role he's better suited for) emerged from a Spruce Goosey plane (the same damn plane that spooked Lamb's moo cows!), and the audio accompaniment—sinister jazz—revealed that he's a bad guy. Subtlety is not welcome in Las Vegas, and it's not welcome here, either.

Like all-in gamblers, everything is laid out on the table in Vegas, which is ready to show you what it's got. The good guys wear cowboy hats, the bad guys wear fancy suits. This is plain-to-see TV. Vegas is one of the least-edgy new shows of the season, but I mean that in the best way possible. The series is not only set in the '60s, it also seems to have a '60s television mentality; it's a capable show that is so comfortable in its well-worn jeans that it doesn't try to do too much more than the bare minimum.

But the key to Vegas's success, and I'm guessing it will be a hit for CBS, is in that reluctance to overreach. Instead, the show goes through the process of really making sure that what it does do, it does very well. So here we've got a very likeable classic cowboy in Lamb who's fond of dust-ups and the simple way of life, and he's standing in the way of a driven criminal who commands the underground elements in a burgeoning metropolis built on gambling, sex, and booze. It's old versus new, blue collar versus a criminal corporate element, natives versus invaders. There was a chase scene between a rifle-toting Lamb on a horse and a bearded biker on a Harley through the streets of downtown Vegas, for crying out loud. In addition to Quaid's performance, which has more than just a bit of Indiana Jones in it, there's also competent pacing and good-looking location shots and sets, and it all works well. But it doesn't offer anything more, which will leave adventurous television viewers bored.

Lamb is justly the main attraction here and one of the best new characters of the season (because he likes to roll into casinos with big guns), but he does have help. Terra Nova's Jason O'Mara plays Lamb's subservient brother Jack, who wouldn't steal a scene from his sibling even if there was no chance he'd get caught. Taylor Handley plays Lamb's extroverted son Dixon, who brings the most life to the family and joins the very long list of TV characters we first meet as they're crawling out a bedroom window with an angry husband looking to string them up by their nuts and a nether-region-sore housewife clutching her pearls and fondly remembering being treated like a rodeo bull. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) is also around as an assistant district attorney and likely possible future love interest for Lamb, but she was largely forgettable in the pilot. Chiklis does what he can with Savino, a business-first villain who knows violence isn't always the answer, but remains a good fallback plan (I expect Savino to develop more in later episodes because the pilot was all about Lamb). However, the man I was most impressed with was the familiar Michael O'Neill as Mayor Ted Bennett, an ally of Lamb's who is wrestling with keeping the criminal element out of Vegas but not totally against the business it brings in. He's a couple inches of mustache away from being the next Sam Elliott.

The decent and well-defined characters are accompanied by outstanding sets and location shots, and if the rest of the episodes continue the work that went into the pilot, Vegas will be a weekly visual treat for owners of gigantic HD screens. Furthering the black-and-white, good-guys-versus-bad-guys theme are the alternating shots of the deserts of Vegas where hard-working men and women wear denim and name cows, and the luxurious, over-the-top classiness of the casinos where the bourgeois and the burnouts hand over cash to the mafia. That's the duality of what Las Vegas is, captured on camera, and it's a perfectly simple monochromatic setting for what's going on here.

Right now it looks like the series will go case-of-the-week, with occasional run-ins between Lamb and Savino—the correct and obvious creative choice—with much of the satisfaction coming from Lamb's ability to use old-school -ranch police work to pull one over on the monolithic casinos and snappy mobsters running them. And CBS's audience will eat that up. The pilot's case was copied straight from Intro to Old West Procedurals and involved the murder of a young woman (just as A & E's similar Longmire opened with), and [spoiler alert] it was solved with a few interviews and knuckle sandwiches. Next week, it's the murder of a craps dealer, to remind you that this show takes place in Las Vegas.

And now for the big Vegas-pun finish! Vegas doesn't hit the jackpot, but the odds are definitely in your favor for an enjoyable hour that will come out somewhat profitable and won't take your shirt. You're only here for the free cocktails anyway, right?



NOTES

– There's always the chance that this show will add some complexity, but I don't think it will, and I don't think it needs to. For those who are looking for something similar but a little more substantive on the character side, I'd highly recommend A & E's Longmire, which recently concluded its first season.

– I'm pretty sure you could watch this with your eyes closed and instantly be able to tell who the bad guys are by the sounds of their voices. No drawl? Bad guy! Slight Italian or New York/Chicago accent? Bad guy!

– Sarah Jones (Alcatraz) joined the cast after the pilot, and she'll be playing a mobster's daughter. It's like a redo of her turn in Sons of Anarchy, when she played Ethan Zobelle's daughter.

– Potential supercut: all the times Ralph Lamb puts on or takes off his hat.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Comments (30)
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Quaid needs to loose the gravely voice. Then the show will be perfect.
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Excellent show, excellent cast. I will watch every episode in anticipation of greater character development and interaction. The crimes being solved should be secondary to the conflict between the leads. Stop making it a matlock knock off and add the underlying tension of a casino.
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I fell asleep in every scene that O'Neill was missing. But this is comfort food for a certain demographic, which I'll dub the modern Matlock crowd. I'm betting it will get good enough ratings, but not from me.
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guaranteed to be a bomb....cancelled after a few episodes
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again it sounds like tim surrette is bashing vegas at the end of his review. I found Vegas excellent and very entertaining. was not bored at all.
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Don't forget that Jesse Pinkman was another character we met as he climbed out of a woman's window...
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When the premises and casts for all of the new shows were being announced several months back, one of the shows I was most excited about was the Ralph Lamb project (now Vegas). But after I screened a preview clip, I had to greatly temper my expectations because it was boring as heck. Fortunately the pilot episode fell somewhere in-between and held my attention for the most part. I'll keep watching for now to see where they go with it.
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Meh ....

I like Boardwalk and Magic City more. Didn't care for the murder and every time I saw Chiklis made me miss The Shield again ...
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The premiere wasn't anything special, but I'll probably keep watching. If it continues like this, I'd put it in the same boat with shows I watch like Hawaii Five-0 and Castle... and maybe The Mentalist which I recently stopped watching. They aren't particularly fun, entertaining, or surprising, but they're not particularly bad either. Kind of boring, but not enough to make me fall asleep. It'll be in a group that I'll look to first if I decide to cut down on my TV watching.
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Whats with the period pieces these days? Its like one company makes a successful show set in the 1960's or something, and everyone's getting cancer. Seriously though its easy to spot the period based shows worth watching, (psst they're on AMC or HBO, Mad Men, Hell on Wheels, Boardwalk Empire.) Im surprised no on has said it yet, this should could easily be called "Walker 'Vegas' Ranger" or or Touched by an Officer Quinn Medicine err' Lawman. Clearly somebody over at CBS loves there "60 to grave" demographic they got and arent willing to try for anything else.
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I was bored, not enough grit about it. Won't be tuning in again, but I agree with you Tim, more than likely will be a hit for CBS.
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Pretty disappointing. Too much of a procedural. Too much of a typical CBS show. Not sure if I'll watch another episode.
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I liked it. Will watch again.
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We are luke warm about this show and what's with no one smoking? 2012 sensibilities don't apply to a plot set in Las Vegas in 1960. Yikes!
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I wanted to like this, but damn it was too boring and by the numbers. I'd rather watch the movies than this! Even Dennis Quaid and MIchael Chiklis (for whom I watched) couldn't spark some life to it.

Its the 60's! Vegas! And nobody smoked!! I can't get past that! And him catching the guy on the bike was ridiculous!
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Knew I was watcing tv the whole time this show was on......I like Dennis Quaid very much but he seems to be overacting or I just need more time to get use to this character....he's great when he's smiling....
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I enjoyed it, if it breaks away from the Procedural format it can separate itself and bring something fresh and original to tv....but I cant see it break away
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I would have also accepted "mehfellas".
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Seem to be a hanging on the coat tails of Longmire, even down to the jacket.
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Great cast, but not much else to it.
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well as Tim said, I was bored with this episode.

good thing(s) for this show are: MIchael Chiklis, Carrie-Anne Moss



will watch 1 or 2 more to see if I will stick with this show( though I think it will least only 1 season...sorry if anyone is offended by this comment)



reasons why I was bored:

- corny ( he chases dude on bike, while he is on horse and of course he will catch him....guy runs with car, he walks with his gun and waits for guy with car to come back to him-> of course he will shoot his tires and catch him)

- 60's setting...I always have problem with shows that wanna do show in past....difference is 50 years in this case and I wonder how old are writers who write this show....do they know what it was like back then? "throwing" joke about building dam is just lame and like GlenTippetts said...they got it wrong with naming it....this is what I am talking about.... they live in 2012,wanna do 60's episode and they are using 2012 mentalitly to write show

- cops don't find grave,but rancher finds it

- every show that has cops portrais them as being stupid....they can't solve it,but random guy comes and does their job better and faster then them
More+
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I grew up in Las Vegas (actually Henderson) in the 60's. And there is a scene in the pilot where they refer to "Hoover" (as in Hoover Dam), when in reality everyone in that area at the time referred to it as Boulder Dam, since that is the name it was built with and had for almost 20 years after that. Since the parents in the 50's grew up with it named Boulder Dam they called it Boulder Dam, their childern then referred to it as Bouder Dam into the 60's. It wasn't until the early 70's that there was any real acceptance of the name Hoover Dam.



I would assume that the show would have someone that grew up in the area during that era as a consultant (if not I'm available) :-)
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I kept feeling like Dennis Quaid's character was a poor-man's Han Solo. I would definitely like to see them recreate the Cantina scene and possibly bring some "Lando Calrissianesque" person in to play both sides of the law and the mob.
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I'm a stickler for accuracy when it pertains to period pieces. Just about every vehicle was from 62 and 63 when this takes place in 1960. Producers assume audience won't remember or notice.
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...or care ;)
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I liked it, but there is something bland and "been there, done that" about it.



It's kind of cool how they created a Las Vegas, Nevada set in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which did not seem too bad. I couldn't figure out if mountains are so readily seen in the real Vegas, as they were here though, or are they more distant?



The only other thing was Jason O'Mara seemed out of place to me playing second banana to Quaid after being a lead in past shows he's done.



Also, anyone catch the the very brief appearance of the brunette credit office clerk? It was Sunny Mabrey who I know from Species III. In closing credits, she was noted as "office girl" or something. Made me wonder what happened to her career to go from one to the other like that, but looking it up on IMDB, I see she's been guest starring here and there.
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In my house we've decided Lamb is a cross between Gibbs and Reese, aka, total badass.
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