Monday, September 24, 2012

CBS's Vegas: One Of The New Season's Best

Watching the pilot for CBS's new series Vegas and I immediately understood what the network was trying to do. The new hour series premieres Tuesday night at 10 on CBS and Global.
CBS wants to bring back Gunsmoke, its hugely popular western that starred Jim Arness and ran for 19 proud seasons.
The western format wouldn't work in present day Las Vegas.
But it can and does work when the western gets reinvented in the Vegas of the early 1960s, the last era of rugged individualism in the American West.
Alas, Jim Arness is no longer with us. So Dennis Quaid in his first TVseries since the 1970s will have to do. He's not as tall, not as commanding. But he still carries those same traits as Arness --he even wears a white hat.
The well produced pilot co-created by Nick Pileggi (Casino)  casts Quaid as tough rancher Ralph Lamb and in the first shots Ralph and his hands are herding his cattle to market when interrupted by a passenger jet flying extremely low on its way to the Vegas airport.
The cattle scatter. Ralph gets mad. He gallops to the airport determined to whip whoever is responsible for his loss of time and money.
And there he meets the chief passenger, Chicago mobster Vincent Savino marvelously played or rather overplayed by Michael Chiklis.
Next the body of a young woman is discovered out in the desert and Lamb temporarily --or so he thinks --is deputized as the next sheriff of a town gone lawless. Turns out she's the governor's niece. She has been working at Savino's  casino. And she obviously knew too much.
So onto the Gunsmoke premise CBS has grafted a murder mystery. It's not always a neat fit but Ralph is determined to find the killer with help from brother Jack (Jason O'Mara) and Jack's obstreperous son Dixon (Taylor Handley).
I guess you could call it another CBS procedural --with a western twang. And all the elements are so expertly fused you may not notice the plot holes. The recreation of the period is right on --star Quaid has taken to calling the show "cowboys versus gangsters".
Because Vegas has changed so much a Sixties Vegas had to be reconstructed about 40 miles out of Los Angeles --with huge faux recreations of The Golden Nugget and Tumbleweed Club. Hundreds of vintage cars are glimpsed and the women's clothes and hair styles are all perfectly in period.
Quaid wears his white cowboy hat with pride while Chilkls scene steals under his dark fedora. And, yes, there really was a Ralph Lamb and he really was sheriff from 1960 through 1978.
Will viewers quickly tire of the cat and mouse game if played out weekly with Chiklis and Quaid?  Lamb can't bust up casinos every week or this one will quickly falter.
Earlier in the evening FOX unveils a vastly unfunny new sitcom titled The Mindy Project. The phrase "What were they thinking?" kept ringing in my ears because this one just doesn't make it on any level. Obviously inspired by such recent hits as New Girl, and 2 Broke Girls this one stars Mindy Kaling  (The Office) as a 31-year old gynecologist whose life is one big mess.
She bickers with her male co-workers, gets arrested, argues over insurance with a Muslim woman, dresses up in horrible outfits. Some critics are calling this a work in progress but the first episode at any rate is a total shambles.
MY RATING:***1/2.
MY RATING: ** 1/2.

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