This week I watched the pilots of two shows with cities in the title, CBS' "Vegas" and ABC's "Nashville." Both are two of the more highly anticipated shows among critics this fall, and with good reason, considering the casts and production values.
--"Vegas": I have to say, this is one of the shows I was looking forward to the most when it was first announced, given that the cast includes Dennis Quaid as a rancher-turned-sheriff, Michael Chiklis as the local representative of the mob, and Carrie-Ann Moss as a district attorney.
Set in 1960 when Las Vegas was first starting out as the gambling mecca it would become, the series starts out with Chiklis arriving in the already corrupt town to clean up the mob's operations there. Though definitely a guy you don't want to cross, his character also has an odd sense of fairness.
Meanwhile, Quaid's rancher can't properly herd cattle given all of the air traffic over his land. But when the niece of the governor is found murdered, the city's mayor brings in the incorruptible Quaid -- a former military police officer in Korea -- to investigate, given that the current sheriff is on the take.
"Vegas" represents an interesting dichotomy between the dying cowboy way of the rancher vs. the modern glitz of what Vegas eventually became. The production values are solid, and the show has a distinctive look to it. Definitely worth checking out.
--"Nashville": OK, given that I'm not a fan of soap operas or country music, my expectations for "Nashville" were fairly low, despite a first-rate cast.
So I was pleasantly surprised at how much I got into the show so early. The always reliable Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights") stars as the reigning queen of country music, but her once-bright star is beginning to fade. Her main challenge is fending off a rising star (Hayden Panetierre), who will do anything to get to the top.
Britton's Rayna James also happens to be the daughter of the city's most powerful player (Powers Booth), who decides to strengthen his hold on the city by putting Rayna's loser husband (Eric Close) up for the mayoral election.
As with most soaps, there are a lot of characters and subplots thrown at the viewer, but the writers skillfully paint a picture without confusing the viewer. Even better, they leave out most of the melodramatic acting and writing usually associated with soaps. I even enjoyed the music, and I'm not a fan of the genre.
As with most of her work, Britton is the reason to tune in. She's at the top of her game, mixing the right amount of sass and vulnerability. I'll be sticking with "Nashville" for a while, at least.
I still have more pilots to get to over the next couple of weeks.
THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Other than the season finale of "Rookie Blue" (ABC, 9 p.m.), the final night of the Democratic National Convention has the spotlight with President Obama's keynote speech.