written by Nicholas Pileggi & Greg Walker / directed by James Mangold
I was looking forward to Vegas on account of its arresting premise (outmoded cowboy takes on slick mob boss), its beautiful setting (Las Vegas, 1960), and the fact The Shield's Michael Chiklis will be locking horns with The Right Stuff's Dennis Quaid, but this well-made pilot didn't grab me as strongly as I'd hoped. It certainly wasn't bad; oozing style courtesy of James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma), and doing something slightly different to other shows in its genre, but Vegas' pilot ultimately offered tweaks on things we've seen many times before. I personally only have room for one continuing gangster drama in my life, and that's Boardwalk Empire.
Based on the real-life story of cattle rancher Ralph Lamb (Quaid), Vegas tells the story of how old-fashioned cowboys of his type were ultimately phased out by the rise of the famous Las Vegas Strip—which in this pilot has attracted the attention of Chicago mobster Vincent Savino (Chiklis), who intends to setup shop as Sin City's kingpin. Lamb, a former cop now trying to make a living off the land with his younger brother Jack (Jason O'Mara), is drawn back into his old profession when the governor's niece is found murdered, and he's essentially promoted to Sheriff by the Mayor. Meanwhile, Savino is starting to build his new empire by getting the plush Savoy casino into shape...
It wasn't a chore to watch Vegas, but beyond the performance of Quaid and the beautiful period setting, I had a hard time caring about yet another murder-mystery and the age-old clash between the law and organised crime. There has to be something unique to get me invested in these types of stories, or characters too charismatic to simply ignore, and Vegas didn't tick those boxes. I like Quaid, even if he's still the poor man's Harrison Ford, and this is a fantastic role for him at this period in his career, but I'm not sure he's enough to make me stick with the show unless Lamb turns into a crotchety version of Justified's Raylan Givens. I also like Chiklis, to a lesser extent, but it's too early for the show to have made their contrasting characters into people you'd watch this show for. By mid-season we'll see how much "Quaid vs Chiklis" has come to dominate viewer interest in Vegas.
I've heard it said that Vegas' writers are taking a leaf out of The Good Wife's book (a fellow CBS drama that expertly balances weekly stories with complex serialised plots), and that's very good to hear. I just hope this show's standalone stories are as well-written as the ones on The Good Wife. At least CBS had the courage to put something like this on the air, as it's significantly more challenging fare than their conservative audience is used to (a cable drama by stealth), yet retains a very marketable "cowboys versus wiseguys" concept to draw in a crowd. I just hope it favours ambitiousness over simply turning in dispensable weekly crime stories.