If you’re going to launch a new TV show around a face, you could do a lot worse than Dennis Quaid’s twisted scowl underneath a cowboy hat. In Vegas, which premiered last night on CBS, Quaid plays a wily cattle rancher whose way of life in 1960 Las Vegas is threatened as the Strip’s neon lights get brighter and brighter. Michael Chiklis’s cityslick gangster-slash-casino-mogul took a back seat in the premiere, as Quaid’s Ralph Lamb — a savvy Army sleuth in his younger days — is recruited by his old pal, the mayor of Vegas, to solve the murder of a pretty young casino employee. By the end of the episode, Lamb proves his mettle with his fists, his shotgun, and his noodle. Presto: He’s the city’s new sheriff.
That badge is likely to set him on a collision course with Chiklis’s Vincent Savino, who comes to fix some bugs in his casino operation and stake his claim on the booming city. Savino couldn’t help but be impressed by Lamb at first, though — the good ol’ boy barely flinched after being popped in the face by an airport goon and recovered to dispatch three younger men with his fists. Lamb and Savino might be on different sides of the law, but the mobster would likely admit that the cowboy is his kind of guy. Nevertheless, Savino’s hands are dirty, and when he tells a confidante at the end of the pilot, “I’ll handle [Lamb] when the time comes,” there’s no doubting his conviction.
Quaid’s shift to television will be interesting to follow — especially because his movie career remains as busy as ever. His days of carrying big studio films might be over, but the last 10 years have produced some of his best performances, including Far From Heaven, In Good Company, and HBO’s The Special Relationship. Yet he’s never fully been appreciated for his work on film — zero Oscar nominations — and seeing him in his cowboy duds made me think Sheriff Ralph Lamb might be a natural fit that could turn in to a long-term gig.
Of course, he’s not the first (or 30th) male movie star to make the transition from screen to tube. Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi nailed it. Christian Slater and Josh Lucas, not so much. The pilot for Vegas didn’t exactly show its hand last night — it seemed content with simply solving a color-by-numbers CBS murder mystery in order to establish Lamb’s credentials. Future episodes will likely delve into the murky underbelly of the casinos and hopefully depict the shifting relationship between two wary rivals. With some luck, Quaid will find himself home on the range for more than one season.
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