I was genuinely excited when this show was first announced. "Dennis Quaid in a show about old Vegas" is a pitch I'd buy any day of the week. The trailer isn't perfect, but I think the show has huge potential. When it finally airs in the Fall, I'll start recapping episodes on this blog (mostly to justify adding another television show to my already very filled rotation), but below you'll find my initial observations based on the extended preview...
The Look and Feel
The period Las Vegas stuff looks absolutely Aces. And now that the show has been picked up to go to series, it sounds like they're getting ambitious with the sets and building incredibly detailed recreations of old Fremont Street and the original Strip. It looks like they've really nailed the period look and feel, which is one of the main pleasures of watching a show like this. For Las Vegas geeks such as myself, this is gonna be an addictive show to tune into week after week.
Quaid is one of the most solidly reliable and underrated actors working in Hollywood, and a big budget network series where he plays a tough rancher turned sheriff (based on real life Vegas badass Ralph Lamb) is the perfect place for him to finally get some recognition when Emmy time rolls around. It doesn't hurt that The Shield's Chiklis plays a mob boss running a Casino Vegas back in the city's early, Wild West days. The top notch casting sets up the series as a showdown between two heavyweight character actors that should be a pleasure to watch on a weekly basis. The solid supporting cast includes Carrie Anne Moss from The Matrix and Memento, as well mustached veteran Michael O'Neil, who has been solid in basically every movie and TV show you've ever seen.
The Creative Team
The pilot was cowritten by Nicholas Pilleggi, who wrote and adapted the true-crime books that inspired Martin Scorsese's twin 90s gangster epics, Goodfellas and Casino (the latter of which is the mother of all Las Vegas movies). Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and the upcoming The Wolverine) brings solid feature credentials to the pilot as well.
The Endless Story Possibilities
Las Vegas has such a rich and lurid history, this show has the potential to dig deep into great story lines for years to come. Sheriff Ralph Lamb served the city for many of its bumpy formative years, trying to keep order in a city run by mobsters who felt they were above the law. There's no end to the amazing stories that the show runners could tell in this setting, with the potential a parade of amazing character actors dropping in to play colorful figures from the city's sordid past. Las Vegas is such a rich sandbox for the writers to play in that this could be a truly special show.
WHAT WORRIES ME
A lot of crazy, messed up, ultra-violent stuff happened in Las Vegas while the mob ran the town. See the above mentioned Casino for many, many examples of how rough and dangerous Sin City could be back in the day. Will a show airing on CBS be able to depict the violence, murder, sex, drugs, alcohol, corruption, and general depravity that defined Sin City for so many years without pulling its punches? Vegas might be more appropriate for a cable outlet like HBO or Showtime, where it could depict the vivid, graphic, upsetting violence that a similarly themed show like Boardwalk Empire is able to unflinchingly get away with. Plus network TV means no swearing or naked ladies. And early Las Vegas (as well as current Las Vegas) never lacked for swearing or naked ladies.
American TV Season Length
It's on CBS
Pileggi is a guy who knows the mob, so I'm sure he'll try and do right by the history of Sin City. But I'm worried that, as good as Quaid is at playing the stoic and moralistic cowboy type, we'll get too much from his side of the story and not indulge in the fun and sinful side of early Vegas. This again is probably a function of the fact that the show is on network TV. But it's not just any network, it's on CBS, where the demographic is basically old people in Middle America who are almost dead and become offended when things get too loud, let alone scary or violent. That means a show that should be juicy and filled with immoral behavior might end playing it safe as we follow a brooding rancher joylessly judging the people actually enjoying the Sin of Sin City. Sure, the mobsters are bad guys who did awful things, but the best mob stories draw you in and let you see the appeal of the lifestyle... before slowly revealing the way it rots your soul. I hope the show finds a nice balance between the two characters, and isn't just a dull tale of a crusading cowboy against one note bad guys. If Chiklis's mob boss is truly a second protagonist, we could be in for something really special.
Again, this argument basically boils down to: I wish this was on cable. But if the ratings don't hit a certain number, an expensive show like Vegas will get canceled before it has a chance to find its footing. This is not the case with premium cable channels as much (HBO renewed Aaron Sorkin's sanctimonious, critically savaged, and not particularly highly rated The Newsroom for a second season, after all). I hope this show gets a chance to live up to its potential... and that I don't get hooked on it just to see if get canced after three episodes (fans of the critically acclaimed yet low rated Lonestar a few seasons back will attest to this particular brand of pain).