May 11, 2013



There was a sequence late in the one and only season of VEGAS that suggested what the show could have been.  It wasn’t a big deal:  deputy sheriff Dixon Lamb (Taylor Handley) needed a favor from the entertainment director of one of the casinos (Enver Gjokaj), who’d only grant it if he got some help from the sheriff’s assistant Yvonne (Aimee Garcia).  For about 5 minutes, while a period song played, the three of them smoothly, efficiently scratched each others’ backs, and everyone got what they wanted.  It provided a stylish, enjoyable view of how business sometimes gets done when the sheriff”s office is across the street from the mob.

That was the exception, though.  Vegas was probably the season’s most egregious waste of talent and potential.  It’s instructive that the sequence above had nothing to do with either of the show’s big-time stars or characters, Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) or casino boss Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis).  In fact, the most interesting person on the show turned out to be Mia Rizzo (Sarah Jones, who deserves better than this show and last season’s Alcatraz), the whip-smart cool blonde casino manager who was torn between her ambition and a relationship with Deputy (and Ralph’s brother) Jack Lamb (Jason O’Mara)–who, apart from being on the other side of the law, had killed her father (in self-defense, to be sure).  It was a bonus, late in the season, when Jones had a fun, textured rapport with recurring guest star Melinda Clarke, who brought her trademark mocking sultriness to Mia’s long-lost, shady mother.

In comparison, Lamb and Savino were dull.  Part of the problem with Vegas can probably be traced to the fact that it aired on CBS, which is now and forever a home of black-and-white procedural dramas (even The Good Wife is a procedural, although it ingeniously manages to obscure that fact).  That forced Vegas to include a dopey, routine crime-of-the-week in every episode, taking up valuable time and crowding out the more potentially interesting serialized parts of the story.  Lamb himself was no more than a one-dimensional, square-jawed rancher turned lawman, which wasted about three-quarters of what Dennis Quaid can bring to a part.  Chiklis fared a little better, because as a villain, Savino was allowed some more gradations of tone, but the role always felt like one he could have played in his sleep.

The finale, written by co-creator Greg Walker and Co-Executive Producer Nicholas Santora, and directed by Duane Clark, was as disappointing as the rest of the series.  The premise was that there was a bad guy so evil (venerable Hollywood heavy Michael Ironside) that Lamb and Savino would have to join forces to defeat him.  The reluctant alliance of long-time adversaries for a greater good is a beloved action-movie trope, but it begs for some scenes where the former foes get to know each other and gradually begin to bond.  None of that was present here, as sheriff and gangster just continued to snarl at each other for the hour.  Even worse, in what might as well have included a “We are not cable!” chyron at the bottom of the screen, the wishy-washy ending had Lamb wimping out on killing the target–who had, among other things, murdered his wife–having decided that the right thing to do was to put him in jail.  (Despite the fact that he was rich and powerful enough to continue pulling strings from prison.)  God forbid that there be any hint of darkness or moral ambiguity in our hero’s psyche.

A show about the beginnings of Las Vegas could be great–a flashier, more fun Boardwalk Empire–and you can understand why big talents were attracted to Vegas.  (In addition to the cast, the show’s other co-creator was Goodfellas icon Nicholas Pileggi.)  Sadly, the series itself didn’t live up to them.  All the players will go on, one hopes, to make better bets.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."