TV

Viva Laughlin

Tricia Olszewski

The biggest surprise about Viva Laughlin is that the singing and dancing isn't the worst thing about it.


Viva Laughlin

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm ET
Cast: Lloyd Owen, Madchen Amick, P.J. Byrne, Eric Winter, Carter Jenkins, Ellen Woglom
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: CBS
US release date: 2007-10-18
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The biggest surprise about Viva Laughlin, CBS's new “mystery drama with music,” is that the singing and dancing isn't the worst thing about it. Still, that is bad enough. Even when you're on Broadway, interrupting a story with a ditty and a little soft shoe is always a dicey proposition, and this show compounds the weirdness by ditching the traditional concept of a musical for something more akin to dramatic karaoke. These guys don't belt out their own tunes, they sing along with songs. Popular ones, like “Viva Las Vegas,” crooned by casino owner Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen). And “Sympathy for the Devil,” cued up when Ripley decides to take a meeting with his nemesis, a fellow mogul with another only-on-TV name, Nicky Fontana.

“Please allow me to introduce myself / I'm a man of wealth and taste,” Fontana sings -– accompanying Mick Jagger, remember -- after getting out of a helicopter in a shiny suit. He then struts into his casino, parting a sea of cooing dancing girls, jumps on a roulette table, and raises his eyebrows when he gets to the part about “lay[ing] your soul to waste / Oom yeah!” Onlookers watch without expression, as if they're waiting for the guy to finish up a conversation.

Did I mention that Fontana is played by Hugh Jackman?

Jackman is also one of the Max Bialystocks behind Viva Laughlin, which is based on a six-episode British series, Blackpool. As often happens, things went awry somewhere in the translation. Blackpool wasn't Cop Rock, with solemn situations accompanied by earnest -– and, worse, original and terribly written -– songs. The series isn't available on Region 1 DVD, but watch any clip on YouTube and you'll get a sense of the show's appeal: despite the fact that it was fundamentally a murder mystery, it didn't take itself very seriously. Star David Morrissey had sideburns, bad hair, and a slightly goofy way about him when he was dancing and singing on tabletops; the musical numbers, when not poignant, were infectiously silly and joyful. Good whodunits and good sing-alongs tend to be irresistible, and the creators of Blackpool combined the two without appearing like crackpots devising the next Springtime for Hitler.

The Viva Laughlin premiere is at least that awful. Owen, a British actor best known for appearing in the 2006 film Miss Potter, is a cocky son of a bitch, and not in a sexy Hugh Laurie kind of way. When he tries to pull off the kind of nerdy-parent joshing that The O.C.'s Peter Gallagher was so good at, it's just atrocious. Admittedly, he's working with poor material. In the opening scene, Ripley roars into the kitchen in his casino-fab white jacket and wishes his son, Jack (Carter Jenkins), a happy birthday. When Jack reminds him that his birthday was two weeks ago, Ripley playfully replies, “Yeah, well, tick-tock, tick-tock. All good things come to he who waits!” Ripley's Stepford wife, Natalie (Madchen Amick), points out that their daughter, Cheyenne (Ellen Woglom), is on the phone with a new boyfriend, whereupon Ripley asks, “Is this one human, or is he like all the others?” Huh?

The plot adheres to the premise of British series. Ripley's about to open a casino hotel when one of his investors drops out. His options are either sweet-talking an old flame, Bunny Baxter (Melanie Griffith), who happens to be the wife of said investor, or offering Nicky Fontana a share. Neither of these works, but before the day is through, the former investor is found dead. Bunny's hysterical and points the finger at Ripley in front of an apparently 12-year-old cop, Peter Carlyle (Eric Winter). (“Who were you with last night?” Ripley counterattacks. To which Griffith's Bunny tearfully responds, “I was with my yoga teacher!” Good stuff.) So Peter starts tracking Natalie in hope of getting dirt on Ripley, very creepily walking up to her SUV as she's pulling out of the driveway and later pretending to run into her at a grocery store, making small talk that's not at all suspicious such as “So, you're not looking as happy today. What's up?”

Viva Laughlin is at its worst when it goes seems like "intensity." This version is skimpy melodrama with more bad dialogue. Ripley and Natalie tuck in one night, and he's a little quiet. “Would you believe a headache?” Ripley asks. “I'd believe secrets!” his wife harrumphs before turning over. The next day, at the scene of the murder, he peals away from a just-arriving Natalie in his hot rod for no reason; she yells out, “Ripley! Ripley!” (Are you getting sick of the name yet? She uses it a lot.) The lazy-writing prize, though, goes to a scene in which the two have a by-the-numbers argument about his career choice. If you can't predict that Ripley won't soon shout the line, “I am doing the best I can for this family!” you haven't watched enough television.

The most egregious number, though, is set to Bachman, Turner Overdrive's “Let It Ride.” Ripley sings the chorus like a superhero as he stomps into Fontana's casino to make a bet. It's also montage time, so the interlude serves as a recap, featuring Natalie, who appears every time the line “And would you cry” is sung, and guess what she's doing. Weep, dear Madchen, for your career, for Jackman's reputation, for all of us who have spent an hour gawking at a train wreck.

1

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image