Season, Part One
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Reviewed by Will Harris
f the TV-on-DVD phenomenon has done nothing else, it’s helped to keep the legacy of Aaron Spelling alive and well. The list of series to bear his name as an executive producer is so tremendous that we could list off a dozen shows without batting an eye – and here’s proof: “Honey West,” “The Mod Squad,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “S.W.A.T. ,” “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Hart to Hart,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Melrose Place,” “Charmed,” “7th Heaven,” and since it’s the series that’s brought us here, we’ll close with ”Vega$,” starring Robert Urich.
See? We told you we could list off a dozen shows.
What’s surprising, though, is that it’s taken this long to see “Vega$” score a DVD release, since not only is it a Spelling production, but it’s also the creation of Michael Mann. Yes, that Michael Mann. Although he earned decidedly greater fame with his subsequent work on “Miami Vice,” Mann cut his teeth writing for “Starsky and Hutch,” then went on to hit further paydirt when he scripted the pilot for “Vega$,” about a private eye named Dan Tanna (Urich) who cruises Sin City in his ’57 Thunderbird and solves mysteries.
Although it hasn’t earned nearly as many miles in syndication as some of its peers, “Vega$” has actually aged relatively well, thanks to Urich. One regularly gets the sense that it was trying to match “The Rockford Files,” particularly given that Dan has his very own Angel in the form of Bobby “Binzer” Borso” (Bart Braverman), but although Urich can’t be expected to match the comedic charisma of James Garner, he’s definitely one of those guys who’s easy to like, even with the awful ‘70s wardrobe he’s forced to sport throughout the episodes in this set. (It’s not his fault: he was supposed to be fitting into the casino scene of the era.) In addition to Bobby, Dan also has several other regulars who remain within his gravitational pull, including two assistants – beautiful Beatrice (Phyllis Stevens) and ditzy Angie (Judy Landers) – and Harlon Two-Leaf (Will Sampson), who served with him in Vietnam, plus friends in the police force, including Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris) and Sgt. Bella Archer (Naomi Stevens).
The most awesome member of the extended cast, however, is unquestionably Phil “Slick” Roth, owner of the Desert Inn, played by none other than Tony Curtis. By 1977, Curtis’s career had reached such a nadir that he had done a film called “Some Like It Cool,” so it’s no real surprise that he would deign to tackle a role on a television series, but if he felt like he was slumming, it doesn’t show. The banter between Curtis and Urich is consistently fun, as is picking out the famous names on the various Vegas marquees that appear in the shots where Dan is driving down the Strip. Of course, as with any Spelling series, there’s also considerable enjoyment to be had from seeing who the guest stars in each episode will be. (Keep your eyes open for such ‘70s superstars as Vic Tayback, Abe Vigoda, Antonio Fargas, Lauren Tewes, Pernell Roberts, Isabel Sanford, Robert Reed, and Joseph Campanella.)
Although you shouldn’t go into “Vega$” expecting anything approaching the near-reality of today’s television, the show did dive into plots involving murdered call girls, cocaine smuggling, and pornography, which was relatively dark for the time. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of what a solid leading man Robert Urich was (as well as what a shame we lost him to cancer when we did), making it well worth hoping that we see the second part of “Vega$: The First Season” sooner than later.
Special Features: Disappointingly, if not entirely unsurprisingly, the only thing we get are the original promos for some – but not all – of the episodes. Given that Urich and Spelling are no longer with us, their lack of contributions are understandable, but man, it sure would’ve been nice to have audio commentary from Michael Mann on the pilot episode. And, c’mon, like Tony Curtis wouldn’t have something to say about his experiences on the show? That guy’s got something to say about everything!