Season One – Uncut & Uncensored (Universal/NBC-2004)
As glittery, fast-paced, fun and frantic as the city that inspires it, the series Las Vegas is an overwhelming triumph of style over substance. Full of greed, action, jackpots, neon lights and beautiful women and men, the show is as good an advertisement for the gambling capital as you can find. The fact that it’s actually a rather well-written, well-acted and enjoyable show is a nice bonus, sort of like coming up big with a straight flush and then getting comped a suite on top of your winnings.
Las Vegas takes place in a strange alternate universe where gamblers almost never lose (except, of course, in the occasional episodes where our intrepid cast has to save the unsuccessful people from a ruthless gangster.) Comps are handed out like candy. More than once in this season a character said that money won is twice as sweet as money earned. Almost everyone is a high roller in the eyes of the Montecito Hotel and Casino, meaning that if you walk into that self-enclosed world you will be treated like a king and they will move heaven and earth to make your dreams come true. Just don’t screw with them.
Heading up the Montecito is Big Ed Deline, an old-school tough guy who has a vague CIA past – no one knows exactly what it is he did at the agency, but we all know it was something high level, action packed and dangerous. Now he runs the casino with a no-nonsense surety. Big Ed is played by movie-star James Caan with an impervious hard-guy charm and good humor. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of security and, in fact, all subjects. He is a man that can inspire fear, but he also realizes that his workers need his support, so he is behind them 100 per cent. He can beat the crap out of bigger guys half his age, and yet he understands that diplomacy is the first plan of attack. Most importantly, Big Ed has a strong sense of right and wrong. He will do everything in his power (and that is a lot – the guy has a ton of pull) to make sure that justice is served, even when it is not to the benefit of his little kingdom.
The show only makes one misstep with his character. In one episode, Ed suddenly starts to worry that his wife (Cheryl Ladd) is having an affair with Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath. There’s no way that a completely self-confident man like Ed would be threatened by a young punk like that. The creators are trying to humanize the guy, but the reason that Ed works as a character is that he isn’t merely human. He’s the master of his domain.
Big Ed’s wing man is Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel), a former Marine who now works security at the Montecito. Big Ed sees Danny as a protégée. This relationship is tested as the pilot episode opens. Danny gets into hot water with the old man when he is caught in bed with a woman who turns out to be Big Ed’s daughter Delinda (played by former Victoria Secret model and MTV House of Style host Molly Sims.)
This relationship (and complication) is short lived. At first, Big Ed tries to strong arm his charge into monogamy, with a sort of implied shotgun wedding. However, Ed recognizes his daughter is flighty, and he is not at all surprised when Delinda dumps the guy quickly. In an attempt to calm down his wild child, Ed puts Delinda in charge of one of the casino’s restaurants and is surprised when it turns out that his girl is a natural. Her Club Mystique becomes one of the hottest spots on the strip.
Other regulars at the Montecito include Mary Connell, the sweet casino events director, played by Nikki Cox (Unhappily Ever After). Mary and Danny have been best friends since school. A passion has smoldered between them for years, although they have only acted upon it once.
James Lesure plays Mike Cannon, an MIT graduate and mechanical genius who works as the head valet. He is often asked to join security at the Montecito, but at first he resists, insisting that the pay cut would be substantial. (Who knew head valets made that much?)
The toughest woman at the Montecito is Samantha Jane (Sam) Marquez (Vanessa Marcil of General Hospital), the spectacularly beautiful casino host who is in charge of “the whales,” the high-rollers who wing into town to drop big money on the gaming floors. Sam may look like a tiny belle, but she is smart, cynical, ruthless and willing to do anything to make money.
When a gorgeous woman like Marsha Thomason as Nessa, the Montecito’s pit boss, is only the fourth most attractive female regular cast member you know the show is playing with a stacked deck. So, to speak.
The final character in the show is the Montecito itself. If it seems like a spectacularly complicated and realistic depiction of a casino, that is because most of the show is filmed on location at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort.
A good example of the show’s catty wittiness is it’s use of kitschy guest stars – Dennis Hopper as another casino boss, Alec Baldwin as a former CIA man, Elliott Gould as a professional cheat, Mimi Rogers as Ed’s ex-partner, Pat Harrington (Schneider from One Day at a Time) as a small time bookie, Sean Astin as a greedy local, Sheryl Lee Ralph as a diva, Paris Hilton as a shallow, money-hungry gold-digger (hey, it’s typecasting!) and Wayne Newton and Paul Anka as, well, Wayne Newton and Paul Anka. And you have to love a show that would kill off Jean-Claude Van Damme playing himself. Particularly one that would have the wicked sense of humor to end the episode focusing on a shrine to the fallen Belgian action star and then show a brief disclaimer reading that “No Jean-Claude Van Dammes were harmed during the filming of this episode.”
This kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude is the show’s best attribute. Las Vegas is a drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet can still be compelling. It can take the real-life stories and mix them in with comedy to make a fine puree. It is almost like a new-millennium version of Fantasy Island, but more strongly constructed.
This package is called “Uncut & Uncensored”; however, that is mostly a marketing tool. There is no cursing and no excessive violence. Only two short scenes of sexuality might not have passed muster on network TV – a wet T-shirt contest and a very brief shot of a stripper’s nipple.
Each episode is composed of three main story threads, interweaving with style and dexterity. Some stories are fanciful – reuniting a homeless good Samaritan with his long-lost son, trying to keep a germ-phobic whale happy, a couple from Indiana who insist on paying for everything with coupons. Some are serious – Samantha is kidnapped by a man from her past, the workers must track down a peeping tom posting pictures on the internet and hackers try to break into the Montecito’s security. Whether the tales are realistic or just ridiculous (a story about a hot dog eating contest comes immediately to mind) all are served up with flash and sizzle and a lean storytelling approach.
Even the season finale cliffhanger was an odd swirl of real life and fantasy. Danny is called back into service by the military. He spends most of the episode getting his affairs in order and saying goodbye to his friends. While it is quite obvious what is happening to him and where he is being shipped, never once is the word Iraq mentioned (it was almost like watching a George W. Bush speech). We all know where he’s going. He’s going to the Middle East. Stop pussyfooting around!
We can forgive this, though. It actually makes a certain amount of sense in this world. Las Vegas the show knows what Las Vegas the city has realized for decades. We don’t always want cold, hard reality. We want flashing lights, cheap drinks, cool gadgets, pretty girls, tough guys, the lure of big money and sudden thrills. On this score, Las Vegas pays out big time.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2005.