There is an almost inexplicable allure to setting television shows in Las Vegas that apparently began with the Robert Ulrich 1978-1981 hit Vega$. The Player is the latest to be set in the Vegas desert capital of gambling. Wesley Snipes is the network’s hole card in this thriller that feels a little like a small screen variation of the 2009 film The Tournament
The last television show set in the mecca of gambling was the Dennis Quaid/Michael Chiklis vehicle Las Vegas. That series did not fare well, quite possibly because it was set in “the good old days” of the town.
In the pilot, Alex Kane (Winchester) works in Vegas as a security advisor. The former FBI agent and terrorist specialist is enjoying his life with “almost” ex-wife Ginny (Aussie actress Daisy Betts) when someone enters Kane’s apartment shoots at him and murder’s Ginny.
He is then propelled into a world of the ultra-rich who bet on the outcome of criminal activities. Snipes is Mr. Johnson the pitt boss, Wakefield is Cassandra the dealer and Kane is the Player. After his former cop friend Det. Cal Brown (played by Damon Gupton) arrests him for his ex-wife’s murder, Kane is recruited by Johnson and Cassandra to their game.
The premise of predicting crime and betting against the outcome is interesting and could work, whether this will do so on a weekly basis remains to be seen. In the pilot the first challenge presented to Alex is to save a mother from dying during a kidnapping that he must also stop. The rest of the episode moves between Kane’s interaction with Snipes and Wakefield and trying to save the girl who is kidnapped.
With internals filmed in Los Angeles and all the Vegas externals being second unit footage, there are, as pointed out by a local publication, inconsistencies with geography of the town. Because of this the new series feels like a bit of a cheat. At least with Vega$ and the short-lived Quaid/Chiklis double-act, most of the show was actually filmed on the strip.
Winchester, who is a more than capable actor, fills a role that seems it should have been filled by Sean Bean. The actor who plays Kane does indeed feel like a US version of Bean, who already plays a “kick-a**” agent of sorts in TNT’s Legends.
NBC have opted to have Wesley Snipes be the show’s main draw. Unfortunately there is not enough Snipes to make the ploy work too successfully. Still, with a minimal amount of effort the Blade star does well in his scenes but alas lacks the spark he normally exudes. The former star seems to be a bit diminished on the small screen. Perhaps this will change over time.
Damon Gupton is Detective Brown, Kane’s former friend. This one character does not fit well in this verse. This friend seems all to ready to turn on his pal and even after his “innocence” is proven remains hostile toward Kane. Gupton is a performer whose delivery always feels flat and seemingly forced. It is an annoyance in this show which boasts some impressive performances.
Interestingly, the performer who “owns” the pilot is Charity Wakefield. Her dialogue with Winchester, where she replays his career as a sort of “This is Your Life” monologue is sheer brilliance. The delivery of her line “Against direct orders from the United States government, you shot Ibrahim Chechik in the face” is just perfect and tells the viewer volumes about her character.
If this series survives, it will be less because of Snipes and more because of Wakefield. Her performance far exceeds anyone else in the pilot. Clearly a case of casting being almost sublimely perfect. Philip Winchester may be the “star” and Wesley Snipes the “name” but it is that English actress from Tunbridge Wells who will sell this series.
The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Fans of Snipes will tune in to see what he will do, join them for a change of pace. Only time will tell whether this new series will work or not.