And that’s kind of a shame too – Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis can both be really, really good, albeit when they don’t look like they’re sporting generic cowboy and gangster Halloween costumes (respectively). The show is co-created by the great Nicholas Pileggi, who had a hand in writing both Goodfellas and Casino. But with Boardwalk Empire having just returned (and with a bang, if we may say so ourselves), Vegas can’t help but feel like off-brand television. To put it in other terms, as The Playboy Club and Pan Am were to last fall, Vegas looks to be to this one – an ambitiously intended but comparatively weak network attempt at capturing the glory recently found on cable.
In fairness, television shows have always cannibalized their competitors – just take a glance at the glut of sci-fi mysteries shows that in recent years have tried to inherit the title of “the next Lost.” (Unfortunately, none have been successful to date. Sorry, Revolution.) Yet the pattern evidenced by these shows is of particular interest, as they demonstrate the unique and inherent limitations of modern network TV.
That’s not to rag on network at all; as a matter of fact, a lot of our favorite shows are or have been on network TV. How could we be down on network when Parks and Rec is back? However, as strong as network comedies like Parks and Rec and The Mindy Project are, the hour-long network drama has undoubtedly suffered in the wake of recent cable successes like Boardwalk, thanks to primetime restrictions on content among other things.
It’s not just being allowed to swear and exclude commercial breaks – besides, Mad Men manages to abide by the same major rules that Pan Am did. On the basis of sheer production value alone though, there’s a noticeable difference in the scope and craft on display in the cable show. And comparatively speaking, Pan Am couldn’t help but come off like a pale imitator. Is this a reflection on the development process at the major networks, or just a trend only emphasized in the golden age of the HBO/AMC era? Who’s to say? Either way, though, in the case of the Pan Am, cheesy period references and obvious attempts at cultural commentary certainly didn’t aid matters.
Is Vegas really going to be that bad? (Or to be more accurate, oppressively mediocre?) Will it confound our expectations and transcend those absurdly goofy posters by being reasonably entertaining/meeting some base level of competence? And most importantly, will the inevitable Breaking Bad rip-off be about crack instead of meth, thus existing as some sort of sad platonic ideal of cheap imitation? We really don’t know, and it should be noted that Vegas isn’t a total Boardwalk rip-off – it’s set about four decades later, in a different American gambling hub, with a bizarre procedural angle to it to boot. Yet if the way they’ve been promoting the thing has anything to say about it, the conceptual and aesthetic similarities do exist, and Vegas seems to exist as a low-rent answer to previous cable successes. We’ll give it a shot, but even if it’s no good, a plus side exists: There’s always Boardwalk Empire.