|Cowboys v gangsters – Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis. Pics: BSkyB|
Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 14 February, 10pm
Story: In 1960 Las Vegas is a fast-growing entertainment mecca in the Nevada desert. Rancher-turned-sheriff Ralph Lamb, charged with enforcing the law as the mobs jostle to control the lucrative gambling businesses, is soon crossing paths with the new gang boss in town – Vincent Savino.
The Americans do period crime shows so much better. Where we get Father Brown and Poirot, they have Boardwalk Empire and now this slick new series from CBS.
Vegas is part nostalgia trip, part mafia caper. It recreates the desert gambling town in its glamorous youth during the early 1960s, a defining moment of Rat Pack rakishness and gangland investment.
But there's a twist in the shape of the show's hero, Ralph Lamb, played by Dennis Quaid. His horse-riding, rifle-wielding sheriff is pitted against mob wiseguy Vincent Savino, played with total credibility by that pitbull we all loved to hate in The Shield, Michael Chiklis. It's cowboys v gangsters.
|High plane drf Ralph Lamb|
The culture clash is signalled immediately as rancher Lamb rides his horse onto the runway of the fledgling Vegas airport to confront air traffic control about routing a passenger plane over his cattle herd, scattering the animals for miles. On that plane is sharply dressed Chicago crime boss Savino.
Lamb is temporarily appointed sheriff to investigate the murder of the governor's niece, the actual sheriff having gone missing. Meanwhile, Savino struts around the Savoy Hotel, dishing out beatings to any who displease him and turfing out dealers found skimming.
The series, created by Goodfellas and Casino writer Nicholas Pileggi, gets off to an adrenaline rush of a start, sweeping round a recreation of the original, more low-rise strip of casinos, lovingly evoking an era of huge cars with extravagant fins and Mad Men standards of cool dressing for cocktails and roulette.
|East v West – Chicago boss Savino plays host to rancher Lamb|
Action set-pieces include a great chase as Lamb on horseback goes after a Hell's Angel on motorbike. And the face-off between the sheriff and Savino has plenty of machismo and menace.
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) looks like a potential love interest for Lamb as assistant DA Katherine O'Connell, while of the Marlboro Man trio of good guys is completed by Jason O'Mara (Terra Nova) as Lamb's younger brother and Taylor Handley (Battle: Los Angeles) as his son.
Vegas is inspired by the true story of a rancher who served as sheriff of Clark County from 1961 to 1979. The series is a departure for mainstream US network CBS, maker of formula series such as NCIS and Criminal Minds.
|The stakes are high as Lamb investigates a young woman's murder|
As cable networks HBO, AMC and Showtime have set the agenda with acclaimed dramas such as The Wire, Breaking Bad and Homeland, CBS seems to want to produce something more edgy and character-focused.
Whether it has hit the jackpot in Vegas may depend on how well the writers can maintain the sparks coming off Lamb and Savino. CBS's other big new show, Elementary (showing on Sky Living), seemed to be rating higher with viewers before Christmas, but Vegas is averaging around 10million viewers a week in the US, and this opener certainly felt like a good bet to find its feet.
Cast: Dennis Quaid Sheriff Ralph Lamb, Michael Chiklis Vincent Savino, Carrie-Anne Moss Katherine O'Connell, Jason O'Mara Deputy Jack Lamb, Taylor Handley Dixon Lamb, Sarah Jones Mia Rizzo, Aimee Garcia Yvonne Sanchez, Vinessa Shaw Laura Savino, Michael O'Neill mayor Ted Bennett, Gil Bellows George Grady, James Russo Anthony 'Red' Cervelli, Michael Reilly Burke Rich Reynolds, Michael Wiseman as Johnny Rizzo