In the turbulent 1960s, "mad men" weren't just found in New York City. Aim your retro-noculars westward toward the gritty, glitzy, mob-infested gambling town known as Las Vegas, and you'll see a whole new kind of crazy. CBS' Vegas ushers viewers into Nevada's most famous oasis circa 1960—a time when organized crime ruled the strip, and the surrounding desert was filled with more dead bodies than living.
Sheriff Ralph Lamb and his two deputized family members, brother Jack and son Dixon, are tasked with bringing some semblance of law and order to this Wild West boomtown. It's not the easiest gig. Clark County sheriffs—honest ones, at least—typically don't last long, and Ralph, a longtime rancher, only took the job after his predecessor mysteriously vanished. No matter. This white hat-wearing hombre takes his job seriously. He fashions himself as a lawman in the mold of a Wyatt Earp, and he aims to bring the mob to heel.
His main target? Vincent Savino, a wiseguy who holds the reins of the Savoy, one of Vegas' glitziest, dirtiest establishments. Savino's not your typical mobster, though. He's got dreams, this guy. He wants to turn the Savoy into an entertainment Eden, full of posh restaurants and shops and—oh, why not dream big?—arenas where people can sing and fighters can fight and visitors can spend gobs and gobs of money. Of course, if his pals in Chicago want him to ice somebody, that's just the price of admission in this high-stakes game.
CBS has become the country's No. 1 network by giving its viewers a steady diet of cookie-cutter crime procedurals and lowbrow comedies. So perhaps its execs deserve a little credit for daring to offer something a little different here.
But "different" doesn't necessarily mean "better." Vegas is set in Sin City at its most sinful—a town built on sex, gambling and violence. We see scantily clad dancers and heat-packing mobsters and dice-throwing lechers and cheats and gluttons. Folks here lust and have sex, fight and kill. In depicting these vices, Vegas sometimes demonstrates a modicum of restraint: It doesn't seem preoccupied with gore as some of its sibling crime procedurals are, for example. And the sex—at least early on—seems to be dealt with at arm's length.
Really, though, how restrained can a show like Vegas, dabbling in all of Vegas' myriad temptations, actually be? Sure, we can laud Ralph and his high-minded, law-abiding ethos. We can even smile at Savino's desire to be a "better" sort of gangster. But listen, Vegas is still Vegas. A quick glance around this 1960 strip will tell you everything that you need to know about Sin City's priorities. Even if Ralph was able to push Savino and all of his kind out of the city and create a clean, law-abiding town, Las Vegas as it's depicted here would still be a far cry from a family-friendly getaway.
These days, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tells visitors, "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas." But what happens in Vegas gets exported to our living rooms—and stays in our heads. Perhaps that's not a dynamic we should gamble with.
"All That Glitters"
An Olympic boxer is killed, and Ralph has to figure out why. Meanwhile, Savino must deal with a hot-headed fellow mobster named Johnny Rizzo, who demands that Savino kill the sheriff. Savino argues that they should spare Ralph. Two sheriffs have died in the last month, he says, and no one's going to come to town (and thus fill the mob's coffers with coin) if Las Vegas is perceived as lawless. Ralph and Rizzo eventually get into a fistfight, which ends with a bloodied Rizzo getting carted off to jail. Elsewhere, Rizzo punches and kicks a blackjack dealer, leaving him a bloody mess.
As for the boxer, he staggers into the street, his head bleeding, then collapses and dies. His assailant believed the boxer was having an affair with his wife; in reality, the dead boxer was trying to help the wife leave her abusive hubby.
Ralph finds a crucifix in the boxer's locker. A neon sign of a nude woman marks a strip club. Dancers there parade in sequined, bikini-like outfits and writhe seductively. Characters gamble and talk about skimming profits. They drink martinis and mention champagne and beer. Profanity includes "h‑‑‑" (a half-dozen uses) as well as "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑" (twice each).