Las Vegas has a credo of sorts: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Well… not anymore. Las Vegas tells all in a new smart and often sexy NBC series. Most of the cast was chosen for their more physical attributes; however, the performances are not bad either. James Caan takes a surprising journey to TV land. The part of an ex-CIA boss fits Caan like one of Sonny Corleone’s tailored suits.
The series always features special guest stars, often playing themselves. The lineup of guests includee Vegas names like Penn&Teller as well as box office champions that include Dennis Hopper and Sean Astin. The show’s Montecito Hotel and Casino is as much a character of the show as anyone in the cast. The sets have been an added bonanza for Universal, as the hotel has shown up in other studio run shows like Monk (sans the cast). Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the series is how easily the plots develop without ever really taking themselves too seriously. Even the dire straits Caan’s Big Ed often finds himself in never seem to venture too far from the shtick. While the stories are easily forgotten just minutes after watching, it is nonetheless a fun ride while it lasts.
The Montecito Hotel and Casino is the setting for action and play. Former CIA operative Ed Deline (Caan) and his CIA buddy Danny McCoy (Duhamel) run one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems. With the help of a very young and attractive staff, the crew encounters everything from cheaters to mob hit men.
Each episode contains an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I found this mix to be quite aggressive for a television series. The setting of the Casino floor is a wonderful platform to show off the ambitious mix. The bells and rings mixed with conversations come at you from every angle. It’s not hard to imagine yourself immersed in this glitzy Vegas environment. The music cues are dynamic. Dialogue is always well centered. Even the subs often provide a startling level of activity. This is one of the best TV audio tracks I’ve heard to date.
There are four audio commentaries to be found throughout the set. Most feature the standard production people who do a lot of bragging and patting each other on the back. The gem here is the inclusion of James Caan in a rare commentary on the episode “Hellraisers and Heartbreakers”. While he appears shy at times, his comments are rather witty and entertaining.
Each episode of Las Vegas is presented in a nice 1.78:1 aspect ratio, perfectly matted for your 16×9 monitor. Colors are vibrant and as flashy as you would expect from a Vegas setting. The show’s trademark “zoom through space” camera effects look just great. Desert scenes display a bit more grain and washed out colors that is not really out of place in the bright Vegas sunlight. Contrast is sharp as are blacks. You won’t find any significant digital artifact or edge enhancement problems here.
The episodes are presented on three double-sided discs. The extras are found throughout the set.
This is probably the best place to mention that the show’s Elvis theme has been replaced with a terrible and inappropriate song. I don’t know what it’s called, but it is absolutely hideous. As the TV on DVD market continues to explode, music rights are a growing concern. Shows that rely on popular artists and tracks find themselves being extorted for unimaginable sums come DVD release time. Many shows have now opted to just replace the original music for something a little lighter on their wallets. While the box does alert you to possible changes, it is an increasingly sad development for the genre.
The menus appear to be mistakenly formatted. They appear in a 4×3 pillar box, but seem squashed as if they were intended to be the same aspect ratio of the episodes. Oops!
As for being uncut and uncensored. If there is anything added, it is certainly insignificant, as the running times do not reflect any major change from current network standards.If you expect R-rated material here, you will be disappointed. I suspect, however, that is the expectation being encouraged with the claim.
“Rumble in the Montecito” can be found on disc 1 side A. This feature is really just one of several promos for Arena League Football. It stars John Elway and Bon Jovi.
“Inside The Montecito” is a short but entertaining look at the marvelous sets used on the show. These sets are huge and incredibly detailed.
“Las Vegas: The Big Gamble” This half hour feature is located on Disc 3 Side B along with the previous set tour. It’s really a documentary on Las Vegas itself and not really a piece on the show. If you’re interested in the history of Vegas, this is a good supplement.
The rest of the extras are all more promo pieces for Arena Football. NBC recently signed a TV deal with the AFL, and I suppose they feel the need to market it very heavily. I’m not sure this DVD set is the proper venue.
Las Vegas is a smart show in that it has found a way to appeal to many tastes without getting too campy. The show OD’s on beautiful women (and men, I suppose) for the young and sexy crowd. The Big Ed plots appeal to the tough guy fans. There’s plenty of humor to keep almost anyone entertained. The show moves visually fast and furious for those with short attention spans. The show has actually gotten better in season 2. I’m sure it won’t be long before that is available as well. For now, pick up this dynamic set, and “Welcome to the Montecito”.