CBS’ Vegas does NBC’s Playboy Club, only better
CBS’ ‘Vegas‘ does what NBC’s ‘Playboy Club‘ wanted to do but couldn’t. 1960s casino drama? Check. Skimpy chorus girls? Check. Dead bodies all over? Check. Check. Check. Excellent writing and acting? Checks for ‘Vegas’. ‘Playboy Club‘? Not so much.
CBS’ Vegas is the better version of NBC’s Playboy Club. Last year, NBC introduced a Mad Men knock-off allegedly returning to when men were men and women were eye candy … like THAT’s changed. Instead, we received a saccharine sweet, Taylor Swift rework. Rather than focusing on the Playboy Club’s seedy underside, the show provided a sanitized, kindergarten version. The club’s mysterious ladies man was a pretty boy playing dress up. The strong women wearing bathing suit-accessorized heels were the opposite of feminists.
Plus, the 1960s world created by the Playboy Club had nothing in common with that period’s reality. In the show’s world, racism magically didn’t exist and women weren’t sexual objects. Using the Playboy name shackled the writers creatively. Sure, Hef gave them carte blanche, but they wrote to the club’s idealized fantasy, rather than its historical actuality. I briefly wondered — what if they created a show focused on a generic casino (not the Playboy club fantasy) featuring Nick Dalton as the owner (to more believably center him in the action)? Would that create a more believable 1960s drama? The answer is yes. The result is Vegas.
Looking over the post I wrote last year, there are multiple items that Vegas hits out of the ballpark where Playboy Club utterly failed.
Vegas gives us more realistic women.
Let’s be honest, the 60s weren’t exactly a bastion of female equality. But, that doesn’t mean women didn’t step outside those lines in a manner believable to that period. The Playboy Club pretended women achieved sexual equality by dressing up in heels and strutting in satin corsets for smarmy men that looked like Eddie Cibrian. REALLY?! Sell that to me again, because I’m pretty certain there’s someone else on the street corner rocking those same goods.
By contrast, Vegas shows opportunities women received in that period without using their bodies. The mob daughter working as bookkeeper, the justice-focused female DA, the observant police secretary and the wife turned federal informant all rock it major league. All of these women, despite holding the traditional roles of daughter, secretary and wife, come across as intelligent, thoughtful and strong.
Vegas gives us more believable racial issues.
Considering we’re currently recognizing King’s birthday, we all know the 1960s didn’t feature 100% peace, love, and happiness. The Playboy Club addressed racial issues by adding an African-American character who had no personality (or relation to the ongoing plot) outside of her sauciness. I love Naturi Naughton, but seriously?! Becoming a “Chocolate” bunny is a step for equality? Really??! ‘Cus I’d place lawyer, state senator, or principal a few steps ahead of centerfold.
I’m totally grateful to Vegas for handling racial issues with historical accuracy and aplomb. I loved the episode surrounding a casino maid’s murder. The episode hit all the issues – the illegitimate daughter, the loving brother stealing from the aforementioned daughter, the negative connotations witnesses inferred concerning the woman’s interracial relationship with her father and the jealous friend. I doubly love that the police department features a vibrant, intelligent woman of color without labeling her “chocolate” or “butterscotch.” Even better, they don’t reference her race at all. She’s a core part of the cast which isn’t hinged on overtly referencing her culture. Wow. That’s a step in the right direction.
Vegas gives us actual intrigue
While the Playboy Club promised sinful behind the scenes intrigue, it never appeared. We actually get it in Vegas. In Playboy Club, one week the women giddily receive new costumes, while the next they fight for a photo shoot. *yawn* When does the intrigue start? That isn’t seedy crime, that’s America’s Next Top Model. Despite all the sex the preview photos implied, we barely saw any in the episodes. Bunny Maureen remained as naïvely innocent as the day remains long while all men inexplicably lusted after her despite the scions of surrounding beautiful, busty bunnies.
By contrast, Vegas’ characters and their problems are more realistic and address behind the scenes casino issues. Mobster Rizzo is definitely the snake in the grass, by murdering his fiancée and allowing the police to use her drug-ridden past as explanation. He’s the douchey asshole destroying good boy mobster Savino’s casino garden of eden. He’s the jerk Playboy Club’s Billy Rosen should have become, but didn’t. I loved seeing the behind the scenes drama with the local ranchers, bankers, opposing casinos, unions, and internal mob fracas. PLUS, even better, in Vegas, when a character’s in trouble with the mob they DIE (see aforementioned dead girlfriend) or GET THE HELL OUT OF TOWN (see Vincent’s wife)!!!
I STILL don’t understand why bunny Maureen hung around the Playboy Club after the mobster’s accidental death. Um, you need money? Nick Dalton just gave you a ton. Um, you want to become a dancer? Then you DEFINITELY shouldn’t remain a cocktail waitress. Um, you don’t want to lose your job? Um, then tell the matron whose boyfriend you keep pawing to recommend you for another club.
As you can tell, I’m a big Vegas fan, which I didn’t expect. I like that Vegas didn’t hinge itself overtly on the 60s. Unlike the Playboy Club, it doesn’t use neon signs shouting “HEY! I’m from the 60s! I’m COOL! Watch me! PLEASE!” They allow covert environmental indicators (the undeveloped dirt strip, cars our parents drove and clothing) to indicate the period. Unlike Playboy Club, Vegas features a club I’d love to visit. Sorvino’s blue and white main floor looks awesome. THAT’s a casino I want to see! Unlike today’s loud, flashy, oversized casinos, it features understated games, amazing jazzy musical acts and awesome interior décor. Why aren’t today’s casinos going for a more intimate approach?
Overall, the writers get a thumbs up from me, as well as the cast. I love Dennis Quaid (Sheriff Lamb) in the lead with Jason O’Mara (Jack Lamb) as his equally hot brother, Taylor Handley (Dixon Lamb) as his adorably cute son and Michael Chiklis (Vincent Savino) as his on-the-fence mobster opponent and occasional collaborator. I love the female characters played by Sarah Jones (Mia Rizzo), Aimee Garcia (Yvonne Sanchez), Vinessa Shaw (Laura Savino) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Katherine O’Connell). I seriously love Mia Rizzo’s wardrobe, as well as the family drama, the sexy intrigue between Mia Rizzo and Jack Lamb, the fun flirtation between Yvonne and Dixon and the intensity between Katherine and the sheriff. Can you believe it, a show about a loner rancher turned sheriff features more sex than a show about playboy bunnies? Because the show’s understated and lowkey, I feared CBS might cancel it. Luckily, they haven’t.
So, if last year’s Playboy Club wasn’t your thing, consider watching Vegas. It’s the party Playboy Club never started, but Vegas finishes. In spades.
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