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CBS takes a gamble with musical 'Viva Laughlin'

Published October 18, 2007 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Of all movie genres, the musical has to be the most difficult to pull off, especially for today's more cynical audiences.

That's why I have to give CBS' new musical drama - that's right, musical - an "A" for effort. It tries to introduce the musical formula to television, which doesn't work, at least in the pilot. With limited time and budgets, a show like this has an uphill battle introducing big, flashy musical numbers to the small screen.

The show, which debuts tonight at 9 on KUTV Channel 2, uses classic rock songs to tell the story of a convenience store magnate who decides to cash it all in to build a new casino in Laughlin, Nev.

Ripley (Lloyd Owen) learns in the opener that one of his main investors - a Mormon businessman from Salt Lake City - has decided to bow out, forcing Ripley to find another million dollars to finance the casino.

Things get more complicated when the investor is found shot to death in Ripley's office, and the victim's wife (played by Melanie Griffith) thinks Ripley is the one who killed him.

There is also a rival casino owner nearby ("X-Men's" Hugh Jackman in a role he'll play in several episodes this season) bent on quashing Ripley's dream.

Which brings us to the music and the fine art of integrating song and dance numbers into the dramatic scenes. Few know how to do it well, and the whole illusion can break if it's not done right.

"Viva Laughlin" awkwardly has Ripley pleading with the investor's wife for money one minute and then has the wife launch into a horrible rendition of Blondie's "One Way or Another." The only lively number that works in the first episode is the introduction of Jackman's character as he shows off his casino to the tune of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."

Probably because of a lack of money or time, the series' dance sequences are claustrophobic, amounting to nothing more than the co-stars standing on poker or roulette tables while they sing. That's going to get old fast.

Kudos to CBS for trying to make beautiful music in a difficult genre. But when they rolled the dice with "Viva Laughlin," unfortunately it came up snake eyes.