Michael Mann was a commercial director and documentarian in Europe before he returned home to the U.S. in the mid-’70s and learned how to tell stories by writing scripts for Police Story and Starsky & Hutch. In 1978, Mann created Vega$, a tough-minded ABC private-eye show shot on location in the streets and casinos of America’s gambling capitol. Mann wrote the Vega$ pilot script, then had nothing much to do with the show going forward (outside of his weekly “created by” credit), but the blueprint of his original concept is followed fairly closely on the 10 episodes included in the three-disc Vega$: The First Season, Vol. 1 DVD set. Robert Urich plays a bad-ass private eye who splits his time between running errands for casino boss Tony Curtis and working especially lurid cases, often involving drugs, pornography, strippers, human trafficking, or extortion. And he does all this while surrounded by vivid local color: scantily clad showgirls, aged sharpies, jaded natives, and giant marquees touting the exclusive engagements of entertainers like Roy Clark and Lola Falana. With its wall-to-wall disco-funk soundtrack and dialogue like “I’m the Ghost Of Christmas Past, turkey! I’m The Lone Ranger, and I’m gonna nail you!”, Vega$ is, at its core, a crime series as distinctive in setting and attitude as Mann’s later Miami Vice and Crime Story.
But of course, it was also a late-’70s ABC product, produced by Aaron Spelling, which means that Vega$ suffers from more than a little Love Boat-ification. Every episode is awash in special guest stars, usually in the lighter-toned subplots (as in one episode that involves Abe Vigoda, Morey Amsterdam, Vic Tayback, and a missing lion), but occasionally and disastrously in the main story (as when The Brady Bunch’s Robert Reed plays the publicity-shy father of a beauty queen/rape victim, played by The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick). Vega$ also loaded up on comic relief, in the form of Urich’s bumbling legman Bart Braverman and Urich’s bubble-headed, bubble-breasted receptionist Judy Landers. But neither the celebrity kitsch nor the kooky sidekicks can dull the fundamental coolness of Vega$’s main man, who lives in a decked-out converted theatrical warehouse and parks his red T-Bird in his living room. No ABC “all in fun, folks” brightening can dull the sight of Urich, a classic Michael Mann hero, doing one of his patented slow-walks toward some out-of-luck low-life and preparing to deliver a righteous beat-down.
Key features: Only the old “Next, on Vega$!” network promos.