Vegas: Season 1

vegasI’m in two minds about Vegas, on one hand it was eminently watchable. Each episode, and the various arc storylines plodded along reliably, never outstaying their welcome or zigging unexpectedly. The cases and characters were comfortably familiar, all neatly pitched down the centre, never diverting too far into either farce nor angst, but with a pleasant thread of humour and drama to carry everything along. It’s the kind of show that you could watch on a Sunday evening with minimal excitement, but was reliably… ‘ok’.

While that hardly counts as an ecstatic endorsement, there are plenty of shows out there far far worse, that I would never sit through 20 episodes of. But the frustration with Vegas is that it should have been so much better. The location, the period, the cast and the budget should have combined to produce something a bit more special than a watchable but disposable procedural.

There were flashes and sparks of something interesting that never went anywhere. Stories about the period like the civil rights movement, the decline of the family run ranches that the growth of Vegas bulldozed through. Stories about what it was like to be a professionally successful ‘but’ unmarried female lawyer, or the resentment in the Lamb family with dad opting to stay in the army leaving his son to be raised by his uncle. These questions were in the background, but never pushed or examined in any great detail.

About half a dozen episodes from the end of the series, an opening title sequence suddenly appeared. It was the sort of thing that could easily be found on a cable drama, all slow motion falling items and style. It gave me a real kick the first time I saw it, because it hinted at what the show could have been if it had maybe been on cable, or even any channel but CBS. The final punch of that is that if it had been anywhere else, it would probably be coming back for a second season. With 11.9 million viewers (source) Vegas was the 19th most watched show this year (11th if you exclude reality and sports shows), that’s the 2nd most watched new series (0.7 million viewers less than Elementary) and ahead of things like Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Bones and Glee). It was the highest rated show that’s not coming back.

So why was it cancelled? Well, the first problem is that CBS is a tough network – fourteen of the top 20 shows are on CBS. Second problem, while Vegas’s overall ratings were very good, it only ranked 81 in ‘the demo’ (the 18-49 age range that most interests advertisers). It’s also possible that Vegas is disproportionately expensive to make, but I lacked the enthusiasm to go digging for budgets. So, CBS cancel it in the hope of finding something that’s more appealing to the people that advertisers want to sell to.

I’m torn between being sad for Vegas and wondering if it deserved its fate. I half want to say “it got 12 million viewers, what more can they want from it?”, but I’ve already answered the second half of that question. I (being firmly located slap in the middle of the desired demographic) wanted, and expected it to be better. I had hopes and expectations and they were not met. While I would probably have tuned in for a second season, it’s unlikely that it would have been with anything other than a casual interest, and if my timetable was filled up with new shows that grabbed my interest, Vegas would have been dropped pretty quickly. Hopefully the loss of Vegas will free the talent involved to go on to much better things.

The Upfronts – CBS

cbsCBS, home of the procedural. Looking at the list of renewals, although its portfolio is aging, they are still some of the most popular shows on television. The bad news is with so many slots taken, that doesn’t leave much space for new things.

What’s out
csinyThe biggest cancellation for CBS was surely CSI: NY, which having held off the executioner for the last couple of its nine year run, finally succumbed. Rules of Engagement is a sitcom I know nothing about but has apparently had seven seasons! Freshman series struggled to deliver the high ratings CBS demands, comedies Made in Jersey and Partners didn’t make much impact and while I quite enjoyed Vegas, even I would admit it wasn’t as good as it should have been or needed to be. Golden Boy meanwhile is a police drama that seems to have come and gone with almost no comment from anyone.

What’s returning
The Big Bang TheorySome of the most popular shows on American television are on CBS and their pick up is no surprise. CSI and NCIS may be heading into their fourteenth and eleventh seasons respectively but show little signs of stopping. NCIS: Los Angeles goes into season 5, although its own spin off series (NCIS: Red) was surprisingly absent from the pick-up list. The schedule is packed out with the rest of the procedurals – Blue Bloods, The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-0, Person of Interest and Criminal Minds, going into season 9 after last minute contract negotiations as the female co-stars sought pay equity. Despite relatively poor ratings, it’s also no surprise that The Good Wife, easily the most critically acclaimed network drama is also picked up. CBS also somehow manages to have some of the best performing comedies – The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother return, although it will only be Two Men without the Half and it will be the final season for Mother. Mike and Molly and 2 Broke Girls round it out. The only new show with a pick up is Elementary.

What’s New
The Crazy Ones – Father/daughter ad agency. That’s as much of the blurb as you need to know because the pairing of Robin Williams (Mork!) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy!) is what either sells this show to you in a heartbeat, or has you changing channel. I thought it looked one of the most promising comedies so far.

Friends with Better Lives – Six friends are each jealous of their friends lives, be they young parents dreaming of less responsibility, professionally successful but lonely or recently divorced but pining for the ex. Sounds like Friends with more bitterness. Arrives midseason.

Hostages – the night before she’s due to operate on the president Ellen Sanders’ (Toni Collete, United States of Tara) family is taken hostage by a rogue FBI agent (Dylan McDermott, American Horror Story). If she doesn’t kill the president, her family will die. The performances all fell a bit flat for more and although it sounds like a great concept for a film, I’m not sure how it would be drawn out to a series.

Intelligence – Gabriel (Josh Holloway, Lost) is the guinea pig and centre piece for a government agency, led by Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger, CSI). He has some kind of magic technology implanted into his brain which basically gives him access to all the information ever which he presumably uses to fight crime. This looks like it could be fun, with some cool special effects and a solid cast, it’s like NCIS meets the future. Starts midseason.

The Millers – Nathan Miller (Will Arnett) is recently divorced, his dad (Beau Bridges) sees how happy he is and ditches his wife of 43 years (Margo Martindale, Justified). Mum ends up living with son, Dad with daughter. There was not a single thing in this trailer that made me smile and more than one thing that made me want to crawl under a rock.

Mom – three generations of dysfunctional women try to connect with each other. Remember yesterday’s reaction to Bradley Whitford in Trophy Wife, well there was an identical one to Allison Janney in this. Seriously, did their mortgage plans all fall through at the same time or something?! Making a comedy about recovering drug addicts and how they destroyed their family’s lives they’ve had on their families is a brave choice, and one that they should have run away screaming from.

Reckless – “a sultry legal drama set in Charleston, South Carolina, where a gorgeous Yankee litigator (Anna Wood) and a charming Southern attorney (Cam Gigendet) must hide their intense mutual attraction as a police sex scandal threatens to tear the city apart.” Genuinely that’s what the blurb in the press release says. It really does. Starts midseason.

We are Men – Chris Smith, Kal Penn (House), Terry Shalhoub (Monk) and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders) all live in the same apartment complex and are single following various divorces and dumpings. They share a common bond of seeking women and being idiots. It’s a terrible title and it accurately represents the show.

Links: CBS insist on doing those weird behind the scenes trailers which infuriate me and, particularly with the comedies, seem to be trying to show us how much fun the cast is, rather than how fun the show is. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.

Vegas: Pilot Review

Las Vegas, 1960s. The city is taking off, the mob are arriving and someone needs to hold back the anarchy. In rides a man on a horse.

You’ll get far more out of this show if you go in with few expectations. I unfortunately settled in to watch this hoping for an interesting historical look at the founding of a city, Deadwood moved forward a century maybe, with a similar theme of criminal activity driving progress and how politics and justice sometimes fall by the way side.

Unfortunately that’s not what you get. Instead Vegas (or at least the pilot) is a basic procedural dressed up in a show girl costume. And it’s not even a terribly good procedural. The investigation has a textbook number of red herrings, relies on pretty coincidental discoveries and lacks any kind of emotional connection to either the victims or the perpetrators, all explained via ponderous exposition. That’s all rounded off with equally obvious directorial choices that are amateurish manipulative with zooming in to close up attempting to fill in the gap of actual intensity. It generally demonstrates a lack of subtlety that would embarrass even CSI Miami.

We’re gradually (and equally clumsily) introduced to the characters. At the centre you’ve got a variation on a theme of oddball investigator; a strong sense of justice who will not rest until he finds the truth and he doesn’t care who he has to offend or what rules he has to break to get there. Yada yada yada. Dennis Quaid does his best Tommy Lee Jones impression and mumbles his way through the cliché dialogue he’s laden down with, but it’s all just so familiar. On the other side of the coin is Michael Chiklis, the big crime boss who’s just arrived to build up his casino interests. Again, it’s a completely predictable performance, even the way he ‘unexpectedly’ loses his temper is unsurprising and just very dull. I expect better from these guys.

There’s a whisper of hope glimpsed in the supporting roles, but I’m not holding my breath, the sheriff’s younger brother is more likeable thanks to being able to roll his eyes at the clichés he’s surrounded by (and being played by the always likeable Jason O’Mara) and there’s some comedy from the sheriff’s girl chasing son, roped in as an extremely unlikely deputy. Carrie-Anne Moss’s assistant district attorney shows occasional flair, but is also lumbered with a painful amount of exposition dialogue that she fails to set the world alight with and an immediately boring “will-they-won’t-they” relationship with the sheriff.

Maybe if I’d gone in with low expectations, and a knowledge that the show was going to be a bog standard procedural just tied up in a period setting, then I would have been less frustrated by it. But with the cast and potential I was hoping for something more. I may well give it a couple more episodes, because the pilot was badly enough put together that it could be an exception rather than the rule, but I’m not feeling optimistic.

Vegas is on Thursday nights on Sky Atlantic

Huffington Post – I’ll keep watching, given the caliber of the cast and the solidly made pilot, and I’ll hope that “Vegas” gives these actors more to do than standing over bodies and leveling shotguns at city slickers.

The Guardian – It could do with a few more laughs, but it was the kind of show you could easily see yourself enjoying if Britain ever goes back to having only three channels

The Futon Critic ask that comments are not reproduced but have a good summary and review summed up as ‘ok, but not as good as it should be’.

The Upfronts 2012 – CBS

The last of the big four networks is CBS, who frankly have such a huge number of massively successful shows that it’s a wonder they find any space for new things.

What’s out
Good news for me – I don’t watch a single show that CBS cancelled! The only particularly notable series disappearing is CSI Miami, which took the hit as the first CSI cancelled due to dwindling ratings. Almost every freshman series got canned as CBS tries and fails to find the next great procedural – A Gifted Man was fine but I didn’t like it, Unforgettable writes its own puns and I never even got round to watching NYC 22. How to Be a Gentleman was sufficiently unfunny that it was canned after just two episodes.

What’s Back
While they may not be great at finding new things, CBS’s stable of procedurals is still well populated and massively successful. CSI and CSI:NY survive their middle sibling, NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles and Hawaii Five-0 form a massively popular little family of their own, although frankly NCIS has maybe outlasted its welcome. With The Good Wife, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, and The Mentalist (in descending order of quality from brilliant to mediocre) it’s a wonder that there’s any space left on the schedules at all, but somehow they found a space for the somewhat ridiculous Person of Interest snuck in.

Oh, and there’s also the bundle of comedies – the astronomically successful Big Bang Theory, the increasingly irritating How I Met Your Mother, the new 2 Broke Grils, Two and a Half Men which survived the Charlie Sheen debacle and Mike and Molly which I’ve never seen, and .

What’s New
Elementary – Sherlock Holmes goes to New York and Watson has a sex change. Nothing against Jonny Lee Miller or Lucy Lu, but I have no expectations of this being anywhere near as good as the BBC’s Sherlock. It’ll just be on more often.

Made in Jersey – a girl from New Jersey joins a top flight New York law firm. Too obviously trying to ride on The Good Wife’s coat tails in my opinion, and it just didn’t have the spark.

Partners – two childhood friends are now business partners, one has a girlfriend, one has a boyfriend. I have a weird amount of goodwill towards this, I like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) and David Krumholtz (Numbers) a lot and it’s created by the people that made Will & Grace. The trailer didn’t really make me laugh out loud, but I did smile indulgently at it.

Vegas – 1960s Las Vegas, the glitz, glamour and gangsters. The cast on this is astonishing (Dennis Quaid, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jason O’Mara, Michael Chiklis) and it looks beautifully shot but the trailer left me a bit cold, probably because I’m not really that into mob stuff (despite every network seemingly having one on offer this year) or cowboys.

The midseason shows don’t seem to have trailers available.
Friend Me – comedy about two guys who move to LA to work for Groupon. Genuinely, that’s what the press release says. That and it stars a bunch of people I haven’t heard of and will involve the pair video chatting with their friends back home in Indiana. Sounds awful.

Golden Boy – a uniform cop’s meteoric rise to police commissioner. Stars Theo James whose credits thus far include Underworld Awakening and the god awful Sky series Bedlam which doesn’t really fill one with confidence.

The Futon Critic
CBS Website
The Guardian