Paramount // 1979 // 542 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // December 31st, 2010
Watch Dan Tanna cut through the mystery and deception.
Las Vegas is not exactly a city known for introspection or intellectual depth. Aaron Spelling (Charlie's Angels) was not a TV producer known for hard-hitting dramas about the human condition. Put them together and what do you get? You get Vega$, a show that's so lightweight it makes the 2000s series Las Vegas look as dense and complex as The Wire. That said, Vega$ is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Dan Tanna (Robert Urich, S.W.A.T.) is a private detective in Las Vegas. Aided by his nerdy but loyal sidekick Bobby "Binzer" Borso (Bart Braverman, 20 Million Miles to Earth), perky secretary Beatrice Travis (Phyllis Davis, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), and best friend, police detective Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris, Mission: Impossible); Tanna solves mysteries so skillfully that he's considered the best private eye in Las Vegas. Here are the 11 episodes compiled on three discs:
* "Red Handed"
When Dan's friend Two-Leaf (Will Sampson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is accused of murdering a teenage runaway (Melanie Griffith, Working Girl), Dan must race against time to clear his name.
* "The Usurper"
Dan's employer and friend Philip Roth (Tony Curtis, Some Like It Hot) is forced out of his casino by a mysterious stranger (Robert Reed, The Brady Bunch) and Dan must find out why.
* "Mixed Blessings"
A nun (Cassie Yates, The Osterman Weekend) hires Dan to find a missing crucifix, but Dan discovers that the case is more complex than it appears.
Dan is hired to track down a teenage runaway (Terri Nunn), but learns that he's not the only one looking for her.
* "Design for Death"
One of Dan's old flames (Barbi Benton) returns to Vegas to participate in a modeling show, but things get complicated when Dan is hired to protect a shipment of diamonds that may put her life in danger.
* "Shadow on a Star"
A singer (Lisa Hartman, Knots Landing) hires Dan to protect her after she is raped in her hotel room, but Dan discovers that the attacker may return to kill her.
* "Dan Tanna is Dead"
Dan is poisoned by a fatal venom that will kill him in one day and must spend his last hours finding out who poisoned him and how to save himself.
* "Macho Murders"
Las Vegas' most prominent attorney (Shelley Winters, The Poseidon Adventure) hires Dan to prove the innocence of her client, a radical feminist accused of murdering various men who exploit and abuse women.
* "The Day the Gambling Stopped"
When casinos throughout the Strip report an influx of stolen gambling chips, Dan uncovers a complex plot that leads to him being framed for murder.
* "The Classic Connection"
Dan is pleased to see his old friend (Wayne Newton), a former race car driver, but is shocked when he discovers that the friend is part of a smuggling ring with a murderous drug dealer (Eric Braeden, The Young and the Restless).
* "Night of a Thousand Eyes"
When Dan hosts a private detective convention, what initially begins as a chance to catch up with old friends turns deadly after several investigators are murdered.
Vega$ is exactly what you would expect from an Aaron Spelling production set in the glitziest and tackiest city in America: vacuous, slick, and as addictive as a bag of Doritos. There's absolutely no emotional or intellectual profundity to anything you'll see here and that's exactly as it should be. After all, how much realism can you expect from a series in which the protagonist regularly drives his car into his living room/office?
Yes, let's be clear about this: you should not watch Vega$ unless you're willing to tolerate tin-eared dialogue and plot holes big enough for Dan Tanna to drive his Thunderbird through. In "The Day the Gambling Stopped," there's a plot twist involving a character who faked his own death, except that he ruins his attempts to be discreet by wandering around Vegas in broad daylight undisguised and handling crucial evidence with his bare hands. Similarly, the miscreant who poisons Dan in "Dan Tanna is Dead" probably would have been better served by not repeatedly calling Dan to identify himself, why he did it, and exactly how long Dan has to live. For that matter, considering Dan Tanna is just a high-priced P.I., it's amazing how much leeway both local and federal authorities give him in chasing, detaining, and interrogating suspects. Plus, let's not leave out the most glaring discrepancy of all: the notion of Wayne Newton (Wayne Newton?) as a former race car driver. Not even Bugsy Siegel at his most deranged could have come up with something so bizarre.
Nonetheless, it's better to overlook the ludicrous writing and focus on what the show really is about: attractive people, scandalous crimes, and flashy colors. The show isn't exactly action-packed by today's standards, but there are still plenty of car chases, fistfights, and shoot-outs. The series also uses the setting of Las Vegas for maximum sleaze and glamour -- lots of gamblers, showgirls, hookers, and two-bit hoods abound, usually just for color and texture. The acting isn't earth-shattering but is never less than competent. Urich isn't really called upon to do much other than serve as macho eye candy, but he has enough natural charisma and charm to make a good lead. The rest of the cast does what they can, which is mostly play the same note over and over: Morris screams and glowers, Braverman whines and reports, Travis smiles and looks slinky. In other words, there are no "Very Special Episodes" where one of the supporting characters reveals a deep, dark secret from their past, but that's actually a good thing, since "Very Special Episodes" are generally pretty awful. Similarly, the mysteries aren't threatening, so there's no real tension; even the "dark" episodes are as shallow as a playing card, making them ideal when you're in the mood for something light and insubstantial. Vega$, in short, is pure eye candy. You'll enjoy it when you're watching it, even if you're hard-pressed to remember much of it when it's over.
Technically, this isn't one of Paramount's better releases. The fullscreen transfer is barely adequate; with some scratches, dirt, and fading in several spots. Clearly, these episodes have not been remastered for this release. Similarly, the mono mix is OK but hardly revelatory. The only extras are brief episode promos for each episode, which are amusing if slight. Paramount has also made a curious decision in splitting up this season into two chunks rather than releasing it all at once. The only conceivable explanation is that the company figures they can make more money with two moderately priced releases rather than one big release. That seems awfully greedy, particularly since Vega$ only ran for three seasons, but this is what fans can expect.
As long as Vega$ goes for slick and flashy entertainment, it's a pleasure to watch. When it attempts to inject social criticism, the show becomes painful. This was a flaw with Aaron Spelling productions -- the man couldn't leave well enough alone and always attempted to add "relevance" to his shows, almost always without much success. In particular, seeing Dan Tanna come to terms with feminism in "Macho Murders" is more cringe-inducing than any murder seen here. It's probably better for all involved if we just pretend none of it ever happened.
Vega$ is a blast to watch if you like slick and breezy TV detective shows. Don't expect any sort of insight or emotional heft here -- it's every bit as vacuous and pretty as the strip at night. Enjoy it for what it is and look for actual substance elsewhere.
Not guilty through sheer brazenness.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 542 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Promos