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October 8, 2015

Viva Laughlin -- An early look

by Joel Keller, posted Oct 16th 2007 4:21PM
Viva Laughlin
In the world of TV, one of the riskiest things a creative team can do is shoot for the "quirky" factor. It's an all-or-nothing deal: either it works, where everything clicks and the audience embraces the show, or nothing works, and the show explodes in a big awful mess over the poor suckers who decided to tune in and watch. At the beginning of the 2007-08 season, we have two shows who went for the quirk: Pushing Daisies and Viva Laughlin. And as it turns out, one show works and the other show is a disaster. Considering Daisies is one of the most praised new shows of the season, we all know where we're going with this.

Based on the BBC musical mystery drama Viva Blackpool, Laughlin (premiering Thursday at 10 PM ET; it settles into its regular Sunday at 8 PM ET time slot on October 21) stars Lloyd Owen as Ripley Holden, a minor convenience store magnate who sells his business to open a new casino in the city of Laughlin, Nevada. But things aren't easy: a big investor -- Buddy Baxter (Wings Hauser) -- is pulling out, and Ripley's main rival, Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman), is ready to pick up the pieces. But, as you'd expect, Fontana isn't exactly taking a passive role in this drama, as he and his henchman Marcus (DB Woodside) are "involved" with Baxter's wife Bunny (Melanie Griffith). But Bunny and Ripley also have a history, which Ripley tries to take advantage of to help save the casino.

Meanwhile, someone turns up dead at Ripley's half-done resort. So, not only does Ripley have to deal with getting his dream business off the ground and keep his dream from overwhelming his wife (Madchen Amick) and kids (Ellen Woglom, Carter Jenkins), he's got to deal with Laughlin police detective Peter Carlyle (Eric Winter) probing more and more into his life.

There aren't many pilots that I've hated within the first ten minutes, but Viva Laughlin managed to accomplish that feat. Just everything about the show, from the awful acting to the unfunny comedic banter to the freakishly pulled-back face of Griffith, made me want to shut the show off and do something more interesting, like fold my socks.

Actually, out of the entire show, the least annoying part was the singing. Most of the musical numbers were relatively unobtrusive, with the actors singing and dancing along with a song that plays on the show's soundtrack. In fact, it sort of looks like the characters are taking the concept of bopping to what's playing in their brains to a slightly elevated degree, jumping on top of blackjack tables and tossing pens around. The only musical number that looks ridiculous is the one where Griffith sings Blondie's "One Way or Another" as a way to tell Ripley that he'll always be under her spell. Even there, it feels more like a fantasy sequence than a character breaking reality to sing.

Of course, "reality" is a relative term. In real life, for instance, Griffith wouldn't be the object of affection of all these powerful people. In fact, Amick would be in the Griffith role, as she's played sexy vixen roles very well in the past (see Kidnapped last season). The writers and producers have drained all the sexy out of her by putting her in the role of Ripley's suffering wife Natalie. In general, the acting in the pilot is very affected and over-the-top, maybe to push the quirkiness of the show. Even the little touches -- Carlyle gnaws on red licorice and has a partner that seems to be almost developmentally disabled, for instance -- just seem strained to me.

Can Laughlin improve? Sure. Jackman, who is one of the executive producers and will pop up as Fontana from time to time, generally doesn't get involved in disaster productions (well... maybe except Swordfish). And the musical numbers actually bring some life to the show. But something tells me that viewers are going to be as turned off as I was by the stiff acting and silly dialogue. Also, one has to wonder why a production that was so touted by CBS at the upfronts ends up being one of the last to premiere, with relatively little promotion. I'd imagine that they've taken a look at the subsequent episodes and are just praying that people will be patient with the show, but not too hopeful.

Despite the negative reviews, are you thinking of watching Viva Laughlin?
Yes, I'll give it a shot.168 (48.3%)
No, this looks like a disaster.131 (37.6%)
Maybe. Still deciding.49 (14.1%)

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Jeffrey Lipsey

I’d have to say the biggest WTF moment of any show in some time came when Ripley and Bunny went into a random duet lip sync of Blonde’s One Way or Another

"I didn’t know if this was just going on in Ripley’s mind or if it actually happened (I’m hoping for the former, but believe its the latter). Either way, it was completely uncalled for and 100 percent random."


October 19 2007 at 3:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've seen Blackpool and I loved it. For a combination of reasons, but mostly due to the fantastic 3 leads in the show.
I've also had the misfortune of seeing this pilot and everything you've read is true. The quirkiness that Blackpool had in spades is completely absent and I was even embarrassed for Hugh Jackman during Sympathy for the Devil. The song choices are terrible (Blackpool's fitted seemlessly) and I can't see this show lasting more than a few episodes. I can't believe it was picked up to begin with.

October 18 2007 at 3:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

from what I have seen of the show it looks pretty good. It is so different so I don't think many people know what to expect. I think it could be very good and I love Hugh Jackman. I think he is very talented and can't wait to see him in this. I think this is one of shows you just have to watch a few episodes to really make a decision about and that is what I am going to do.

October 17 2007 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The prosecution's case rests on two pieces of physical evidence. These pieces of evidence will clearly show that a) US audiences like primetime musicals a lot less than their English counterparts, and b) importing British series is an iffy proposition under the best of circumstances, therefore c) an imported British primetime musical has zero shot.
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Also, Lloyd Owen is one of the most boring actors ever. When he took over on Monarch of the Glen I kept rooting for him to drown in the loch. Take away his "sensitive man" mode and he's slightly less dynamic than an oak plank.

October 17 2007 at 11:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really enjoyed Blackpool, but this just looks frighteningly painful. I'm not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea.

October 17 2007 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Biff, Funnier than the original? seriously ? each to his own, the office certainly found a niche for itself but it will never be as good or indeed funnier than the original.
I would really like to see prime time TV show British shows as they were shown in ... well Britain. Us shows are shown all the time as part of varied programming.
Go on networks be brave be bold try something different!

October 17 2007 at 8:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

>it would make it easier to tell whether
>this is going to be really bad,
>like the US versions of . . ."The Office"

Bad? The first season was shaky, but the US "Office" became far funnier than the original.

October 17 2007 at 7:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Of course it's going to get cancelled, Db Woodside is in it. I'm curious enough though to give it a shot.

And please don't knock the Fountain. Granted, it was a little repetitive with its message, but Darren Aronofsky knows the lowest common denominator of his audience. Plus, the score is beautiful.

October 17 2007 at 12:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This, Moonlight, and Cavemen were my trifecta cancellation picks. I just can't see a musical working in primetime, and your description of the basic pilot/plot made my head hurt trying to figure out whose wife was who and who else were they involved with and so on...

Not even gonna bother.

October 16 2007 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It remains one of the great shortcomings of U.S. TV that, when they see a great British show, rather than just showing the original, they re-make it into something bland and silly, thus turning away those who may have potentially checked out the original. Sure, it all turned out okay with "The Office," but they seem to have destroyed "Blackpool," and I fear they'll destroy "Life on Mars" as well.

October 16 2007 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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