Dennis Quaid/Michael Chiklis drama isn't instantly great, but it has potential
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
The Pitch: "LA[s Vegas] Confidential"
Quick Response: I did a video thingie for HuffPo last week and I had to come up with my favorite new drama of the fall and, somewhat unexpectedly, the answer that felt right-est to me was "Vegas." This was a bit of a surprise, because my initial reaction to "Vegas" was predominantly one of disappointment. With this creative team -- James Mangold directing a script from Nicholas Pileggi -- and this cast -- Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis and Carrie-Anne Moss and Oliver from "The O.C." -- my expectations (or "hopes") for "Vegas" was nothing short of "greatness." And "Vegas" isn't great. It isn't close. It's very solid and as the weeks have passed since I watched it, my mind has lingered on the things that work. Those things include Chiklis and Quaid going head-to-head in some of the most archetypal "Western" ways imaginable, actually wearing white and dark ("navy," Chiklis told me at press tour, not "black") cowboy hats in several scenes. It's not surprising to see Chiklis being this good at playing this bad, but it's hard to imagine anybody not enjoying him in this kind of role, despite the absence of anything revelatory or "different." And Quaid gets better and better as he finds Ralph Lamb's inner Frontier Sheriff, not that Quaid playing noble-and-taciturn is exactly revelatory either. This is Mangold working in "3:10 To Yuma" mode, having a tremendous amount of fun with genre iconography and he nails two or three of the pilot's biggest moment with aplomb that would do John Ford or Howard Hawks proud. The production values are terrific and the recreations of 1960 Las Vegas are mighty spiffy. And thanks to the aforementioned archetypes, it's easy to look at "Vegas" and know what the series is, or at least what the first 22 episodes are. What doesn't work? The pilot is built around drama for the long-haul, so there isn't nearly as much tension as there should be. It lags frequently, especially in the crime-of-the-week that sets the overall plot in motion That doesn't necessarily bode well, what with CBS' network-wide preference for procedural familiarity. And for all of the high production values, there's a CBS "coldness" to the pilot that probably prevents the period depictions from being as fun as they should be. In that respect, it's not even as evocative of the same period as Starz' fitfully effective "Magic City," much less something like the world Martin Scorsese recreated in the "Boardwalk Empire" pilot. The pilot also simply can't find time to get any value at all out of Moss or Jason O'Mara or really anybody in the supporting cast. Only time will tell if this is going to be a 1960s Vegas version of "Blue Bloods" or a "Good Wife"-esque example of CBS tip-toing towards a cable sensibility. It's not anywhere near as good as I want it to be, but it could get there.
Desire To Watch Again: High. I guess this is the network drama I'm most anticipating seeing in its second episode, even if I'm worried about that second episode as well.
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries