DVD Review: Vega$ – The Third Season, Volume One

It becomes a mantra: “It’s an Aaron Spelling show. It’s an Aaron Spelling show. I’ve got to remember that it’s an Aaron Spelling show.”

Strange to have to do that, what with being a fan of The Love Boat since watching reruns in childhood in the early ‘90s, harboring a first TV crush on Jill Whelan’s Vicki, when she was older in the later run of the show, but not too much later. Yet Vega$ doesn’t offer the same pleasures as The Love Boat. There, with everyone being on one ship, with notable guest stars and lots of decks for drama and comedy to take place, it always happened that if one story didn’t work, there was always another one that could. With Vega$ being filmed entirely in Las Vegas, there’s much more space and the action in each episode becomes the focal point, not to its benefit.

That shouldn’t be so much of a problem for me, as a current Las Vegas tourist soon to become a resident in the coming months. Studying closely the history of all of Las Vegas’ decades as a gaming powerhouse and hedonistic pleasure center, fully intending to ransack the Nevada history sections of my local libraries after I arrive, I love seeing the signs of the old Flamingo, Frontier, Sands, Stardust, Caesars Palace, MGM and especially Fremont Street, which was first known as Glitter Gulch. There are all the lights, all the streets I’m beginning to know well in a far different form, but most important in knowing the history of Las Vegas. I appreciate Vega$ for that, for being a time capsule, to show me what once was, right when it was going on. At least it respects that even though so much happens in Las Vegas, there’s not just one thing driving the energy of the city. It’s many things. The TV series Las Vegas tried to portray Las Vegas as a constant rush, and it can be, depending on who you are and what you’re looking for. But it’s not everything. There are so many stories happening on every street, in every casino, in every restaurant, in every place you can imagine there, and Vega$ understands that and meets that. It’s one of the few attempts at portraying Las Vegas that has full respect for it, and doesn’t just use it for odds and ends.

Vega$And yet, I still have to use the mantra. There is promise in Robert Urich playing Desert Inn private detective Dan Tanna, working for owner Philip Roth (Tony Curtis, who appeared sporadically throughout the run of the series), because so many stories open up from that perspective, and especially with Tanna having the services and support of his legman Binzer (Bart Braverman) and his secretary Beatrice (Phyllis Davis). But Binzer and Beatrice are just there to fill the necessary roles, nothing further known about them. Urich, looking young and handsome here, is absolutely useless in anything remotely approaching drama. He was so obviously hired for his looks, which is understandable, what with this being a Spelling production, but only as he got older did he become marginally better. He did make a fine captain in Love Boat: The Next Wave, which, yes, I watched as well when it originally aired and enjoyed some of it. But there’s nothing to him here, even as he’s held captive by a former drug addict exacting his revenge on him in an abandoned casino by continually injecting him with heroin. While watching a great number of these episodes, I kept trying to use the mantra, but it’s hard, particularly when the improbabilities of “Black Cat Killer,” the second episode of this third season, are so blatant.

Basically, there’s a criminal in Acapulco who doesn’t like being seen. He escaped there to dodge 20 years in federal prison or something to that extent. A photo taken of five people in a tour group shows the criminal in the background, and he gets wind of this, so he’s sent a killer to Las Vegas to kill all five, including Beatrice, who ends up in the hospital. Tanna is accosted by a freelance journalist who wants to join him on his search for this killer, to try to save the last person on the list, all the while distracted by Beatrice being in the hospital.

The killer dons a disguise in the hospital, and Tanna catches up, only to lose track, and it turns out that after he leaves the hospital, the killer is still there, and there’s the fade-out to a commercial. So why didn’t the killer bop off Beatrice? She’s right in that room, still prone, so there’s the chance. But it won’t happen since Phyllis Davis has been a member of the cast all this time, and that’s not going to change, so that story thread is simply dropped once Tanna goes to an apartment complex to try to find the last name on the list, which begs the question of why the killer didn’t just stop there on the way or early on when Dan was at the hospital, watching the doctor reviving Beatrice from cardiac arrest. That’s not Aaron Spelling’s concern. Just make it big and flashy and pay special attention to Dan’s apartment/office with the garage that’s actually just off the main room. Dan just parks his car right there in full view of the rest of the apartment.

This three-disc DVD set is only volume 1 of the third season, containing 11 episodes, and dredging up my reliable gripe about these split-season DVD sets that Paramount offers. When the first season of The Love Boat was finally released on DVD, I was very disappointed to find that they had decided to split the season in two so they could make more money. Being that there haven’t been any more Love Boat sets since the release of the second volume of the second season on August 4, 2009, I worry that this may have backfired and fellow consumers revolted, putting in danger the prospect of any further seasons being released. It’s this kind of tactic that makes me wish that Paramount would just hammer out a deal with Shout! Factory and leave that series to them. That doesn’t matter for Vega$, since this is the second-to-last DVD release, since it aired for only three seasons.

But this is still just as ridiculous. If it can be ascertained that the demand is there, then just release full-season sets. There’s a higher price for them anyway, and fans don’t have to wait for the next collection of episodes from the same season. According to Amazon, the first volume of the first season of Vega$ is currently $26.19. That’s too high a price for a season that had 22 episodes in total. So 11 episodes per set, just like this third-season set. It just doesn’t make sense if the demand is there, which is apparently what motivated Paramount to keep releasing these sets, and there’s no doubt the second volume of the third season will be out in due time after this one.

The only extras on this set are promos of the episodes, which can be shown before the episodes or played separately. I’m curious about how Vega$ worked by filming exclusive in Las Vegas (accommodations and production facilities were provided by the Desert Inn, which was most likely great publicity for them when the show aired), whereas shows set in Las Vegas today film very briefly in Las Vegas each season and then spend the rest of their time in Los Angeles in locations meant to mimic parts of Las Vegas, such as the Santa Clarita Valley, where I live and can’t wait to leave very soon. I’m sure, in my studies of Las Vegas history, I’ll find out something about all that. Generally what you see in these episodes is what there was, they filmed what they needed to, and that was that. No great need for extras based on that.

It’s apparent just from the main titles why Aaron Spelling made this series, but it’s not much fun, even under his jurisdiction, and not all that suspenseful either. Though it has a special place for me as one of the few productions to get Las Vegas right, it’s still a chore to get through.

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