Long before he created Miami Vice, Michael Mann dreamed up Vega$. The show, centering on the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, debuted in 1978 and lasted three seasons. Along the way it earned a trio of Golden Globe nominations and featured many guest stars. Fans of the show can now own Vega$: The First Season, Volume 1 as a three-DVD set. Unfortunately, that means only the first eleven episodes are included rather than the full season. This is a tacky decision and I wouldn't hold it against fans for being upset by it.
Having never seen the show before, I went into it expecting something tough and gritty. The show seems to have a good-sized fan base and a strong reputation. Based on the first half of season one, I honestly don't think I would continue watching the show. This positively drips of '70s cheese, complete with a gaudy, over the top, disco-style score that nearly drowns out dialogue at inappropriate moments. The acting is not realistic in the slightest. Robert Urich stars as a private detective named Dan Tanna. He's suave and self-assured, with a couple of foxy assistants. This is old school TV, where we see a new standalone story from episode to episode. Even the pilot, written by Michael Mann himself, features some of the lamest dialogue imaginable.
This may be fun for nostalgia buffs, but viewers accustomed to the more sophisticated television programming that is currently available will wonder how this show lasted a full season. Granted, it is difficult to judge because Paramount has chosen to offer only the first half of the season. Reputedly the show picked up a lot of steam and became quite compelling. But newcomers only have this to go on, and it isn't much. Tony Curtis figures somewhat prominently as Tanna's landlord. The '57 Ford Thunderbird driven by Tanna is a cool sight. And of course, Las Vegas has changed radically since this show aired. Seeing the Vegas of the '70s is interesting and revelatory for anyone only familiar with the modern extravagance of today's Vegas.
The 4:3 mono presentation is solid, with the picture looking crystal clear and the audio crisp. The tacky '70s fashions and the general seediness of the locales are well represented. Dialogue is always intelligible, though again, that score threatens to overwhelm the mix at times. I assume that is how it sounded upon its original airing, but that doesn't make it any less distracting. There are nearly no special features, though episodic promos are included for selected episodes.
Vega$: The First Season, Volume 1 arrives on DVD as a mixed blessing for fans of the show and television of that era. By scaling back the release, they have very possibly prevented curious new viewers from truly appreciating this cult show. Hardcore fans will likely be pleased to have it, but will be rightfully concerned about any future releases if this doesn't sell well.