Paramount // 1978 // 567 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // November 4th, 2009
From call-girl murders, land disputes, business fallouts and celebrity protection, VEGA$ covers the underbelly of the shimmering desert oasis in Nevada.
If you turned on the TV in 1978, you had a very good chance of watching a program with the name Aaron Spelling in the credits. Starsky and Hutch was winding down from a successful run, Charlie's Angels was in its heyday and Fantasy Island was about to add "de plane" to our pop culture vocabulary. 1978 was also the year of Vega$. Believed to be the first series shot entirely in Las Vegas, the series wasn't all about the glitz and glamour of the casinos. More often than not, it was about the bad things that happen when power and money meet poverty and the streets. This is Vega$: The First Season, Volume 1.
Dan Tanna (Robert Urich, The Ice Pirates) is a laidback P.I. who lives in an industrial building behind the Desert Inn casino in Las Vegas. He parks his pristine T-Bird in his living room. Keeps in touch via a car phone (1978, remember) and he has a soft spot for stray dogs and dumb blonds (Judy Landers).
He is ably assisted by Beatrice (Phyllis Davis), a single mom who choreographs showgirls when she's not working for Dan and to a lesser extent, Binzer (Bart Braverman), a former thief who does a lot of Dan's legwork.
Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot) also stars as Philip Roth, owner of the Desert Inn and frequent client, and Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible) playing Dan's connection to the police department.
There are 11 episodes on this DVD, only half of the first season.
* "High Roller"
* "The Game Girls Play"
* "Mother Mishkin"
* "Love, Laugh, and Die"
* "Yes, My Darling Daughter"
* "Lady Ice"
* "Milliken's Stash"
* "The Pageant"
* "Lost Women"
* "Second Stanza"
Flip to the middle of any episode on this DVD, and you could be watching an episode of Starsky & Hutch or Charlie's Angels. There's just something about an Aaron Spelling cop show that is familiar -- be it the lighting, camera angles, guest stars or plots.
Vega$'s hook is the locale, Sin City, and yet most of the stories could have been set in Los Angeles, Chicago, or any popular city. Dan does stroll through a casino once an episode, and there are plenty of showgirls and bikini-clad tourists wandering around in the background, but the essence of what makes Vegas, Vegas is totally missing.
The show feels like it was trying to be edgy with stories of rape, prostitution, and sex slaves but the episodes themselves are extremely tame. In "Lost Women," villain Cesar Romero invites a group of showgirls to his estate for a party, then drugs them and prepares to ship them out as sex slaves in the Middle East. Dan stumbles upon the plot, is captured and locked in a room with one of the girls (her hands are bound but he's left free) while Romero and his cronies escape with the rest of the girls. It's laughable and there's no sense of urgency in regard to saving the other girls.
And then there's Angie, played by perpetually dizzy Judy Landers. Dan's supposed to be a professional P.I., yet he has a girl answering his phone who literally gets herself wound up in the audio tape when she tries to fix his reel-to-reel answering machine.
These first 11 episodes suffer from an identity crisis. It's like they couldn't decide if they were making a serious cop show or a fluffy, cozy mystery. "Games Girls Play" deals with a senator and an anti-pornography bill, but "Mother Mishkin" is about an aging madam with a heart of gold. I feel like the producers made an effort to include some kind of sexual content in every episode but then watered that content down in order to keep the show fit for families. What a mess.
Keeping with the "what a mess" theme -- we have this DVD release. First of all, there are only 22 episodes in the first season and still they break it up into two volumes? Why? The box art fits the cheesy '70s style but I wish they would have done something to spiff it up. The three discs are in a flipper case with the episode descriptions hidden on the back of the cover art. They do get points for decent descriptions and a nice list of guest stars (a plentiful list including Anne Francis of Honey West, Ross Martin of The Wild, Wild West, Kim Basinger, and Robert Reed and Maureen McCormick playing father and daughter in a very un-Brady Bunch episode).
The only special features are episode promos on some of the episodes. These promos are poor quality and the audio is way too loud. The overall audio is pretty poor. I found myself constantly needing to adjust the volume up and down. The video, however, was better than I expected.
Vega$ does have one very big, saving grace and that's its star Robert Urich. Urich, who was known to TV audiences as one of the co-stars of S.W.A.T., had an easy, good-old-boy charm and the body of a Hollywood hunk. That boy could work a pair of jeans like nobody's business, and when he smiled every woman within ten miles felt the pull.
Urich was hot but he didn't act it. He came across both on screen and off, as a down-to-earth guy who was counting his blessings, and he's the reason Vega$ remained on the air for three seasons.
Vegas$ is one of those shows that I remember as being better than it turned out to be on DVD. The series has rarely been run since its original airing so my memory has had plenty of time to gloss over the issues that I'm noticing now. I've heard from other fans that you shouldn't judge the entire series on this poor start. They say the show gets tighter and more dramatic as the season progresses and that would be in line with the way I remember it. So let's chalk this one up to a bad start and wait for the next DVD release before we make any rash judgments about Vegas$.
This court finds Vega$: The First Season, Volume 1 to be guilty but the court reserves the right to rescind the decision upon reviewing further evidence.
Review content copyright © 2009 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 567 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Promos