Episode Title: 'Pilot'
Writers: Greg Walker and Nicholas Pileggi
Director: James Mangold
In 1960 Las Vegas, rancher Ralph Lamb is tapped by his old war buddy, the mayor to fill in for the missing sheriff. Lamb immediately butts heads with Chicago mobster and Vegas casino owner, Vincent Savino, who finds Sheriff Lamb's no-nonsense approach to law enforcement a hinderance to his burgeoning business on the strip.
Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) watches as a low-flying plane passes over his ranch, scattering his cattle. Lamb rides on horseback up to the airstrip and confronts the owner over a deal they made to have the planes fly over the casinos rather than his ranch. When the owner smugly dismisses Lamb, a fistfight breaks out. Lamb manages to successfully take on three men at once, as newly arrived mobster, Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis) watches from afar.
At the Savoy casino, District Attorney Rich Reynolds (Michael Reilly Burke) and Mayor Ted Bennett (Michael O'Neill) walk through the backstage area, discussing an upcoming press opp when they're interrupted by Assistant D.A. Katherine O'Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss), who tells them that the governor's niece, Samantha Meade, was murdered out in the desert. With the sheriff missing, Mayor Bennett sends for Ralph Lamb, his old war buddy.
Under arrest for the scuffle at the airport, Lamb is brought to the mayor, who insists he be uncuffed and released to begin investigating the murder. Lamb agrees to help if the mayor will put a stop to the planes flying over his ranch. As a former military police officer with excellent investigative skills, the mayor places his trust in Lamb, though the D.A. scoffs at the idea.
Elsewhere, Savino is brought to a warehouse where a blackjack dealer is tied up, having been beaten by Savino's men. The dealer tells Savino where the sheriff is hiding and Savino brutally beats the man who roughed up the dealer.
Lamb talks to Samantha's mother, who says she hasn't spoken to her daughter since she ran away to be with a day laborer turned rodeo cowboy. Lamb talks to the boy, who claims he was drunk and alone the night Samantha went missing, as he suspected she was cheating on him. At the location where the body is found, Lamb and his men find a large board under dirt, covering up a grave.
On the strip, a biker gang shows up and starts vandalizing the casinos. Meanwhile, inside the Savoy, Lamb finds blood in a back hallway. He's then knocked about by hotel security.
After waking up from the blow, Lamb and his boys decide to round up the bikers and arrest them. At the jail, Lamb asks the gang leader about Samantha but the man asks for his lawyer, saying nothing. However, based on additional findings at the murder scene, Lamb and his men learn that the bikers weren't there the night Samantha was killed and that the hole was dug the night before.
Lamb drops by the casino during a fundraiser and sneaks into Samantha's office. There he finds records of her dealings with a customer named Stuart Mills who left town in a hurry. He learns that Mills was skimming from the bank he worked at to pay his casino debts
After tracking Mills down to a motel, the banker explains that he had a deal with casino manager, Bob Perrin, who was taking a cut from the money Mills paid him. Concerned about the books, Samantha came out to the hotel to talk to Mills about his debt. As Lamb and his men leave the motel with Mills, Perrin pulls up. Meanwhile, the D.A. meets with the sheriff out in the desert. Worried about the mob, the sheriff says he wants to talk to the feds. Moments later, Savino and his crew arrive.
Lamb heads to the Savoy to find Perrin, but Savino, irate over Lamb barging into casino, says he's not there. He then heads to the airstrip and finds Perrin about to leave town on a small plane. He tries to escape in his car but is headed off by cop cars. He turns around and drives directly at Lamb, who shoots out the car's tires and arrests him.
With no witnesses, O'Connell tells Lamb they need more evidence to convict. Lamb and O'Connell make a deal with the biker, who says he saw the dead girl in the desert with Perrin's blue Caddy parked nearby. Over at the casino, Savoy tells an associate that he plans to deal with Lamb.
Lamb goes back to the rodeo to let Samantha's boyfriend know she wasn't cheating on him. O'Connell then shows up and summons him to another crime scene. This time, it's the sheriff who has been murdered. The mayor tells Lamb he's now the Sheriff.
Another fall season, another glitzy '60s era drama. After last year's failed attempts to enthrall viewers with the glamorous yet dangerous lives of cocktail waitresses and stewardess, CBS takes a crack at the mid-century American drama in this tale of a Chicago mobster setting up shop in Vegas and the obstinate rancher who threatens to stand in his way.
As a period drama, "Vegas" is decidedly different from CBS' usual modern day procedural fare. While this pilot largely focused on the open-and-shut case of a murdered casino employee, it also set up a larger story, that being the conflict between Sheriff Lamb and casino owner, Vincent Savino. And that's where things get interesting.
Dennis Quaid is a perfect fit as the gruff, scowling Ralph Lamb and "The Shield's" bald bruiser, Michael Chiklis certainly fits the bill of Chicago toughie, Vincent Savino. Neither actor brings anything particularly special to either role, but they both do a fine job of playing what came off as largely stock characters in this pilot. We've seen these kind of guys before and they're certainly fun to watch, but there's no real innovation here as far as they ole' lawman versus gangster motif.
Whatis different about "Vegas" is its "Wild West" feel, what with Sheriff Lamb chasing down an airplane on horseback, throwing a lawyer in a cell with a bunch of bikers and busting into a casino, guns blazing. It's hard to tell if its a very purposeful and somewhat tongue-in-cheek attempt at a heightened representation of the times or just plain silly. For what it's worth, I kind of enjoyed the pilot's pulpy feel, though I wish Carrie-Anne Moss' character was given more to do than swoon over Quaid's rancher.
If you're tired of the post-"Mad Men" flood of '60s dramas, I wouldn't necessarily avoid "Vegas." It's got a great cast, though how much room they'll be given to demonstrate their acting chops remains to be seen. Quaid makes for a good cowboy and Chiklis has proven he's good at playing dirty. What's nice about this particular period piece is that it doesn't seem to take itself or its subject matter too seriously. If you don't either, "Vegas" should make for one of the more entertaining new procedurals of the season.