What does it take to be a drama these days? Period piece? Gangsters/mafia? Thrilling action? CBS’ Vegas seems to want to take the best aspects of the best dramas on television and become a breakout show in its own right.
So, does it stack up?
Let’s take a look at the plot. There’s a lot going on. Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) is a rancher in 1960s Las Vegas just trying to enjoy life. That’s until the mayor’s daughter is murdered and the town’s sheriff is missing in action. Lamb becomes the reluctant hero, an archetype that’s certainly been around but never fails.
Meanwhile, Vincent Savino (The Shield’s Michael Chiklis) comes into town to take control over the Savoy, a staple on the young strip. He’s a crime boss with a plan, and no one is going to stand in his way.
The acting between these two is up to par with what you’d expect from such big names. So much of the focus is on these two that the rest of the cast, who did just as well, gets overshadowed. Quaid and Chiklis can’t be in every scene in every episode, and luckily they don’t need to be. The rest can certainly hold their own with the stars.
The plot means there’s going to be action. It’s not going to be a character drama a la Mad Men. Instead it will strive to be a Boardwalk Empire type. The only problem is the lack of violent freedom a network drama usually has.
It’s an interesting premise that can definitely go a lot of places. What makes the show intriguing is who is behind it. Nicholas Pileggi—co-writer of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino—knows what it takes to write gangster scripts, and the pilot of this show could most definitely been a good skeleton for a such a film. The real question is if there’s substance with the plot.
There’s so much tension that builds at different points in the premiere, but it’s unceremoniously released. Instead of boiling over, it’s suppressed. The writers need to let go of their inhibitions and let loose; that’s what we want to see. We don’t need another murder investigation show disguised as something else. Then, as if the release of such juicy tension wasn’t enough, the show provides a cheesy moment where the Lamb family, recently ranchers turned police, “round up” a motorcycle gang like they’re cattle. Of course the show was going to use the family’s ranching skills at one point or another; I just thought it would be done more subtly.
Vegas doesn’t play like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire. Instead it plays like a show that wants to be one of those shows. Vegas needs a lot of work if it wants to be more than a watchable crime drama. If it will settle on being the most watched new drama on television (because, let’s be real, it will be since it’s on CBS) then keep it simple.