A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’
VEGAS: Tuesday 10PM on CBS
Previously… on VEGAS: In 1960 Las Vegas, honest rancher Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) is appointed the new sheriff in town, with his brother Jack (Jason O’Mara) and son Dixon (Taylor Handley) as his deputies. This puts him at odds with Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), a Chicago gangster who’s just arrived in town to run the Savoy hotel and casino for the bosses back east. Ralph doesn’t know it, but the DA is in Savino’s pocket, although his Assistant DA Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss) is on Ralph’s side, before long probably in more ways than one. In the pilot, Ralph arrested a killer who was also a high-ranking official of the Savoy, with plenty of dirt on the casino’s operations in his head.
Episode 2: Despite its super-powered cast and distinctive setting, Vegas is quickly starting to have a very familiar feel. The 2nd episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Nick Santora and Greg Walker, and directed by Gary Fleder, alternated between a self-contained procedural plot in which Ralph and his deputy family solved a murder related to a rash of robberies, and the more serialized story of Savino and the doings at the casino. Although it appeared as though the pilot’s murderer might be part of a recurring storyline, with the feds cutting a deal with him in exchange for his testimony about the casino, Savino abruptly ended that plot, and character, rather explosively.
The Ralph Lamb plotline could have been plucked out of any CBS show of the last decade, except that it had a Longmire touch in that Ralph recognized that the killer had to be a local because he knew how to tie a rancher’s knots. The Savino story is thus far modeled after any number of Godfather retreads; this week, apart from eliminating the potential witness, Savino had to deal with a new head of the counting room (new regular Sarah Jones, late of Alcatraz), who’s a business whiz with ties back to the bosses in Chicago, but who doesn’t understand the nitty-gritty of casino operation the way Savino does. (For those who know contemporary casino blackjack, there was a bit of humor in the fact that her main storyline involved whether the casino should be able to hit on a soft 17–Savino maintained that it would drive customers away, but in 2012, every Vegas casino has adopted that rule.) There’s a noticeable shortage of original story beats in all this.
The protagonists haven’t deepened from their introductions in the pilot: Ralph is an old-style lawman, courtly to ladies but quick to action, while Savino is blustery and scheming. None of the supporting characters have made any impression thus far, unless you count the viewer’s rising dread when callow Dixon is on screen.
Vegas remains a promising show. It stands to reason that there are interesting stories to be told about the Rat Pack era of Las Vegas, and the series couldn’t ask for better stars. Even though the post-pilot look of the show is less luxurious than the first showcase hour (some of those streets had a backlot look tonight), the setting is still handsome and fairly convincing. The series skewed very old in its debut last week, with more than three-quarters of its viewers over 50 years old, meaning it more than doubled its closest competition in total viewership, but was ahead by only about 25% in the 18-49 demo. Of course, a win is a win, but the show is going to need some kind of pre-AARP viewership to be considered a hit. Its dramaturgy will have to be less old-fashioned than its production design if it’s going to broaden its appeal.
ORIGINAL VERDICT: Potential DVR Alert
PILOT + 1: Classy, But A Faint Odor of Must