TV Preview: Vegas

By Nick Grant

Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis in 'Vegas'. Photo / Supplied
Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis in 'Vegas'. Photo / Supplied

At first glance Vegas, Prime's new crime 'n' cowboys mash-up, promises the same kind of expertly engineered entertainment its neon-lit namesake uses to entice the unwary before emptying their pockets.

Set in Las Vegas in 1960, when the haven for legalised gambling was just starting to get serious about earning its 'Sin City' nickname, the series boasts the involvement of a whole host of folk with impressive track records.

For starters, it stars Dennis Quaid (The Big Easy, Far from Heaven) as rancher-turned-reluctant-sheriff Ray Lamb and Michael Chiklis (The Shield) as new-in-town Chicago mobster Vincent Savino.

There's a strong supporting cast that includes Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) as Assistant District Attorney Katherine O'Connell.

James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3.10 to Yuma) directs the first episode and is one of the show's producers.

Most encouragingly of all, one of Vegas' creators and writers is Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote that 24-caret classic of cinematic crime, Goodfellas, as well as the highly regarded Casino, another Las Vegas-set tale of gangsters and gambling.

All of which makes it doubly disappointing that, on the evidence of the pilot at least, the show fails to hit the dramatic jackpot. Despite brawls, beatings and a couple of murders in the series' first hour, Vegas' biggest crime is just how boringly by-the-numbers the whole enterprise is.

Yes, it looks a million bucks and would have cost a great deal more to recreate the Las Vegas of half a century ago in such lovingly accurate detail. But while lavishing all that attention on its appearance, the programme makers should have spent at least the same amount of time considering what would make for a satisfying story. Alas, it doesn't seem they did, with the result that Vegas is all dressed up with nowhere to go except in what I suspect will be ever-diminishing circles.

The show is presented as being about the clash between Quaid's morally upright, old-fashioned lawman and Chiklis' ruthless gangster, which is hardly groundbreaking stuff but makes a solid foundation for a series. In the first episode there's even the interesting intimation that Chiklis' character is more concerned with legal niceties than Quaid's (when Savino complains that the warrantless, gun-toting sheriff is trespassing in his casino, Lamb growls back, "I'm the law here and I'll decide who's breaking it."), which suggests the potential for more satisfyingly complex characterisations than a simple standoff between white hats and black hats.

Unfortunately, though, instead of focusing on the relationship between the protagonist and his antagonist, Vegas swiftly settles into formulaic police procedural mode ('procedural' being TV-speak for a case-of-a-week approach in which each episode begins with a new crime being uncovered and ends when it's solved).

This leaves Chiklis glowering on the sidelines without enough to do. If you ever needed a demonstration of how even fine actors need good writing in order to deliver a decent performance, then look no further.

Quaid, meanwhile, appears to have adopted Harrison Ford's recent tactic of scowling as a substitute for actually acting. That's a great shame because, like Ford, he used to be huge fun when playing likeable rogues with a sense of humour.

Fingers crossed it goes on to hit a winning streak but, at this stage, I'm betting on Vegas being a bust.

Vegas premieres Thursday on Prime at 8.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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