’Vegas’ cashes in

Dennis Quaid is the new sheriff in town in the new TV series set in 1960.

’Vegas’ cashes in (photo credit: Courtesy)
’Vegas’ cashes in
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is an endless fascination with the quintessentially American city, Las Vegas, a playground for adults in the desert, and there’s a new series about it. Vegas will be premiering on YES Action on March 23 at 9 p.m. (and will also be available on YES VOD).
Forget the over-the-top glitzy, late 1970s series, Vegas . The new Vegas was created by Greg Walker, who was an executive producer on Without a Trace and a story editor of The X-Files , and Nicholas Pileggi, the journalist who wrote the book Wiseguy , which was turned into the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas . He also wrote the book Casino, the basis of another Scorsese film. Pileggi, who was married to late writer and director Nora Ephron, is certainly a draw. His crime writing uncovered sides of the mob that burst stereotypes about gangsters and stripped away the romanticism of the immigrant crime boss made famous in The Godfather. Pileggi’s gangsters were a new breed: angry, greedy, unencumbered by scruples about selling drugs or anything else,and, above all, small-timers drawn to perks like getting good tables in restaurants.
The mobsters in Vegas, which is set in 1960, follow in the footsteps of the Goodfellas and Casino gangsters, but there is a true hero in this series, and it’s the newly appointed sheriff, Ralph Lamb, played by Dennis Quaid. Once again, television turns out to be a good alternative for movie actors who, for whatever reason, have not reached Tom Cruise-like star status. Quaid is the best he’s been in years in the role of the incorruptible Lamb, a cattle rancher in the desert just outside the city. When the series opens, he is herding cattle with his brother, Jack (Irish actor Jason O’Mara, who starred on the sci-fi series Terra Nova), and his son, Dixon (Taylor Handley). Suddenly, a low-flying plane scatters the herd. The plane is bringing Chicago crime boss Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis, best known for The Commish and The Shield) to Vegas to run and expand a casino. Outraged, Lamb storms in and confronts the head of the airstrip, who had promised him that he would not let planes fly over the ranch. Savino takes note of Lamb’s toughness, and the main conflict is set up: rural cowboys vs. urban criminals –- the older, more traditional America confronting a new, harsher and more money-driven society.
It’s a good set-up, but the series soon takes a more predictable turn. A body turns up the desert, of a young woman who turns out to be the governor’s niece and accountant at one of the casinos. Las Vegas Mayor Ted Bennett (Michael O’Neill, one of the hardest-working and best character actors around), who knew Lamb as a tireless MP in World War II, begs him to investigate this murder, then appoints him sheriff. Lamb resists, for about five minutes, but soon has settled into his new post. The series then becomes a solid police procedural, as Lamb roots out the killer from among several unsavory candidates, most of them connected somehow to the casino. He’s helped by Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) as Katherine, an assistant district attorney who is the daughter of a rival rancher. A will-they/won’t-they romance between Lamb and Catherine is set into motion from the first episode, and it isn’t particularly subtle.
Storylines continue from episode to episode, but the crimes we’ve seen before. It’s the characters that are more interesting. The series plays with our knowledge of how huge Las Vegas eventually became. We know what’s coming, while Ralph Lamb doesn’t. His fight against the mobster and his henchmen is all the more poignant because we know, at some point, Lamb has to lose.
How much you enjoy the show will depend on your response to Dennis Quaid’s low-key presence in the lead role. Having an iconic cowboy storming the neon jungle of Vegas, a Stetson on his head, makes the series fun. If you connect with Ralph Lamb, you may get addicted to this series. But remember, it’s from CBS, and while network television sometimes flirts with breaking ground, usually their series retreat quickly to familiar territory.