REVIEW: ‘Vegas’ (CBS – Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.)

EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here.

Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in VEGAS, a drama inspired by the true story of former Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a fourth-generation rancher tasked with bringing order to Las Vegas in the 1960s, a gambling and entertainment mecca emerging from the tumbleweeds.  Ralph Lamb (Quaid) wants to be left in peace to run his ranch, but Las Vegas is now swelling with outsiders and corruption which are intruding on his simple life.  Recalling Lamb’s command as a military police officer during World War II, the Mayor appeals to his sense of duty to look into a murder of a casino worker – and so begins Lamb’s clash with Vincent Savino (Chiklis), a ruthless Chicago gangster who plans to make Vegas his own.  Assisting Lamb in keeping law and order are his two deputies: his diplomatic, even-keeled brother Jack (Jason O’Mara) and his charming but impulsive son, Dixon (Taylor Handley).  Ambitious Assistant District Attorney Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss), who grew up on the ranch next to the Lambs, also lends a hand in preserving justice.  In Vegas, two powerful men – Lamb and Savino – are engaged in a fierce battle for control of the budding oasis, and for both of them, folding is not an option.  Nicholas Pileggi, Greg Walker, Cathy Konrad, Arthur Sarkissian and James Mangold, who also directed the pilot, are the executive producers for CBS Television Studios. – CBS

Score:     72 out of 100

Initial Impressions (September 6, 2012):

Shawn:  This actually appears to be really good but we have two big problems with it. First, the trailer seems to have just a whole bunch of random action scenes thrown  together to make the show seem more exciting than it really is.  Second, the show is filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico, NOT Las Vegas, Nevada and the landscape isn’t even close to matching the majestic mountains of Southern Nevada (yeah, we’re biased on this issue).  For crap’s sake, at least use some CGI and fake it.

Initial Impressions (September 8, 2012):

Redeye:  Come on dude! It’s the same guy who wrote Goodfellas and Casino.  It’s got Dennis Quaid. Could it possibly be anything other than awesome?  If CBS can resist going all ‘procedural’ on this one there might be hope.

The Review:

Shawn:  It took me a couple of episodes to get a good take on this show because the pilot really didn’t seem like a pilot at all.  It seemed like a series that had been on quite some time and was pretty comfortable with itself.  Unfortunately, though, it seemed, as Redeye feared, a procedural hidden behind the premise of an historical period piece, i.e., a serialized drama.  I actually got about 3/4 of the way through the first episode and was pretty annoyed as I felt I had been tricked but then, it actually turned out to be pretty decent.

I realized by episode two that this is how the show was going to go: murder of the week with a consistent serial arc.  In other words, it’s going to have basic timeline but, if you miss an episode or two, you don’t have to worry about missing major plot-points.  That being said, it is more procedural than serial and I’m surprisingly OK with that.

Vegas, with all of its generic procedural underpinnings, still manages to succeed very well despite those handicaps with a few gimmicks that are incorporated effectively and a strong cast that is probably the most important element of the show.  Dennis Quaid was born to play the role of the down-to-earth, old-school leathery cowboy turned lawman in this 20th century version of a classic old west, frontier town tale.  And make no mistake about it, it is a tale… right out of Hollywood.

If you think that the premise seems a little too unbelievable (and recycled) to be true of the unwillingly local becoming the incorruptible sheriff among a sea of corruption, you’d be right.  The idealized version of Ralph Lamb portrayed in this series is a shined and polished  facsimile of the real former sheriff who was known for not just “frontier justice,” but a bit more of a tarnished reputation than this show would suggest while sheriff for 18 years.  Honestly, what it comes down to is that this series has been watered down for network prime-time and the series would actually be a lot more interesting had they complicated the character closer to how he was in real-life.  Considering that there have only been a handful of episodes aired, there is still room to flesh out the character more, but it doesn’t seem that there is any intention of this.

Yep… ‘Vegas’ has the ‘Scooby Doo Endings.’

That being said, the weekly stories are pretty compelling despite that they follow the typical police drama formula and there’s a lot of the CSI Scooby Doo ending crap that we hate where the suspect, when presented with the police’s conclusions, admit everything. I really should hate this show for that alone, but the characters are all very well-written and believable and performed admirably by all of the major players.  Besides Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis (No Ordinary FamilyThe Shield) is fantastic while Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova, Life on Mars) and Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix, Unthinkable) bring the show even more credibility as do the A-list of character actors with recurring roles on the show (James Russo, Jonathan Banks, Michael Reilly Burke and Michael O’Neill, to name a few).

Though I still have my complaints about every scene where they show the New Mexican or California skyline (filming moved to Los Angeles, post-pilot), the use of blended CGI and backlot sets to represent 1960’s downtown Las Vegas is very convincing (despite the fact that for some reason EVERY television show that has casinos in it looks like they are done on a soundstage).

Flaws and all, what really makes Vegas work is the cast and the well-fleshed out characters which do a lot to bolster what would normally be only little more than better-than-average storylines.  You can do a lot better as far as prime-time drama is concerned but you could also do a lot worse.

Chance of Renewal:  50%

Honestly, I am so stumped on this one that it could either way.  It has very similar numbers to the show that it replaced from last season in its timeslot, Unforgettable, which was cancelled and then uncanceled by CBS for a shortened season next summer.  That being said, if the wheels fall of completely as far as the writing is concerned it could just disappear altogether.

Watch Vegas, here.