Buy, Sell, or Rent: Vegas
He Shot the Sheriff, but He Didn't Shoot the Cowboy
Vegas has all the pieces. With what is probably the strongest cast assembled for all the new fall TV shows, CBS's period drama about 1960's Las Vegas should be a shoe-in to buy. Further aided by the fact that its premise is based upon a true story (giving it direction and gravitas), and it has the perfect setup to provide shadow – the law versus the mob in an era during which the two sides were so entangled that it was challenging to separate the bad guys from those who were worse, Vegas has a little something for everyone – all the glitter and gold of Sin City, cowboys and chivalry, the echoes of a bygone era that still resonate today, the allure of the gangster lifestyle and code, and vigilante justice made potent by the rifles in the ranchers' hands and made possible by the star the mayor has pinned upon their lapels. And viewers love vigilante justice.
There's just one problem: to varying degrees, Vegas and, more precisely, its actors are trying too hard... or, in some cases, barely trying at all. The most egregious offender is Dennis Quaid. On paper, he fits his lead role of Ralph Lamb to a T. A little weathered, a little rough around the edges, he makes sense as an ex-MP during WWII and now cowboy roped into being the law of a town, not because he wants to serve necessarily but because, if he doesn't do it and do it his way, nobody will, and forget about results. But he's reaching. Rather than allowing for the period details and the dialogue to set the scene, he's overacting. Instead of subtlety revealing the layers of his character, he's forcing the issue, squaring his jaw just a little too tightly and glaring with eyes a little too narrowed. His son, played by Taylor Handley, certainly is a chip off the old block if nothing else – over the top and forced in his own ways. Finally, there's Michael Chiklis' Vincent Savino, the local don... or at least the local Las Vegas representative of some east coast outfit. He runs the city, and he makes sure that everyone knows it by employing every single gangster cliché known to writers and actors alike. While there's nothing technically wrong with Chiklis' performance, some originality would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps the problem is that these two theoretically fit their roles so well that what has actually happened is that they've been type cast. It'd be interesting to see what the series would be like if they switched characters, but I digress...
To the opposite extreme is Jason O'Mara's Jack Lamb. He's the antithesis of his brother – quiet, seemingly always in the background, and O'Mara plays it so convincingly that he stands out as the only source of quiet intrigue. He doesn't chew the scenery, draw out his accent, or strut around in his cowboy boots, and, because of his simplified performance, his character, so far, is the only one who actually feels real; he's the only one who fits into this time, setting, and place. Carrie-Anne Moss' ADA Katherine O'Connell falls just shy of this, mainly because so many of her scenes were opposite Quaid's Ralph.
Luckily, Vegas' flaws feel more like growing pains. These are all fixable problems, and, in a way, the concerns just might stem from those behind the show really caring about their project, resulting in them trying too hard. Everything just needs toned down. Softened. Made to a feel a little more natural and a whole hell of a lot less campy. Given its premise, Vegas should read like a miniseries every week, not a procedural and certainly not a caricature of its genre. Unfortunately, when there are so many other good shows to watch, and so many other things to do, viewers aren't going to stick around for months while Vegas tries to find its voice. Then again, it is a CBS show – the biggest mark against it, so it'll probably have a spin-off in the works by next spring.
Verdict: Rent... and hope for the extremely rare chance that this property is put up on blocks and moved to a different network, particularly a cable one.