“Vegas” is among the more ambitious pilots CBS has put on the air in several years. It re-creates a bygone era with style (and impressive set design), it stars Dennis Quaid in his first-ever series role and it gives nearly equal time to Quaid’s good guy and Michael Chiklis‘ mobster.
If that’s the show we’re going to get week to week? Great. But CBS’ track record with shows outside its procedural wheelhouse in recent years is spotty at best — “The Good Wife” has been a notable exception, but even it has a sturdy trial-of-the-week structure on which to hang its more serialized elements. The worry here is that the procedural elements — which come to the fore in the second half of Tuesday’s (Sept. 25) series premiere — will overwhelm the deeply detailed world the first half of the premiere spent creating.
Only more episodes will tell us which side wins, or if the show’s producers, who include pilot director James Mangold, author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (“Casino,” “Goodfellas”) and showrunner Greg Walker (“Without a Trace”), can find a middle ground. Here’s hoping they do, because there’s a lot of potential in “Vegas.”
Quaid plays Ralph Lamb (a real-life figure in the history of Las Vegas), a rancher and former military police officer drafted into law enforcement after the governor of Nevada’s niece is found dead in the desert and the current sheriff is away. Lamb would much rather be left to his cattle, but he reluctantly agrees and brings his brother Jack (Jason O’Mara) and son Dixon (Taylor Handley) in on the case as well.
Chiklis plays Vincent Savino, a member of the Chicago mob who’s come to Las Vegas to get a piece of the soon-to-be boomtown for himself. Savino arrives believing that the path is greased for him and his crew to make a lot of easy money, so he’s not exactly thrilled when the gruff, straight-arrow Lamb starts nosing around. Still, you can see a grudging respect for Lamb — or at least a recognition that he won’t be easily dismissed — in Savino.
Where the show stumbles a little is in the case itself. It’s kind of fun, after a couple decades of “Law & Orders” and “CSIs,” to see the Lambs follow hunches and use low-tech investigative methods. But that’s a novelty, not a sustaining premise. And the pace of the show seems to slow down some while it’s ticking off the crime-show prerequisites.
“Vegas” also stars Carrie-Anne Moss as Katherine O’Connell, who grew up on the ranch next to the Lambs and is now a prosecutor. Moss doesn’t get as much to do as the guys in the pilot, but she holds her own just fine in the male-dominated circles in which she moves. Quaid’s default mode is gruff stoicism in the pilot, but he and Chiklis do spark in a couple of their scenes (as you’d expect), and we’re guessing the show won’t let Quaid’s charm go to waste.
There’s a big, and possibly really interesting, story to be told in “Vegas” about the rise of the gambling mecca and the men on both sides of the law who helped build it. We just hope that the smaller stories CBS is likely to want on a weekly basis don’t get too much in the way.
“Vegas” premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on CBS.