God bless UPN. The netlet is so far down the Nielsen food chain that it need not concern itself with such pesky details as political correctness; consequently, it finds itself blissfully out of step with the times. For instance, UPN was casting black people in its shows months before the NAACP made it mandatory. It took one look at the shrill loons of the World Wrestling Federation and calmly said, “Two hours a week, please.” And now with “The Strip,” none other than Joel Silver has tossed UPN into a time machine and rekindled an era in which gratuitous violence was a goal rather than an area of shame. Image, shmimmage.
There is, to be sure, an undeniable retro/kitsch beauty at work in “The Strip.” You see guys whacking the crud out of one another with their fists as well as the usual bullets. And just when we thought that gleaming makeover of Las Vegas had quashed its rep as the capital of corruption and callousness forever, up pops the magnificent mobster himself, Joe Viterelli, to save the tacky day.
Viterelli, he of the bulbous nose and distinctive grizzled Mafioso manner in such flicks as “Casino” and “Analyze This,” helps stoke anew the shimmering sleaze in “The Strip” (shot in Vegas at Caesar’s Palace) as a character whom for Viterelli qualifies as a genuine stretch. He is typically perfect portraying Cameron Greene, a billionaire casino owner who can’t stop shoveling Lucky Charms cereal into his jowly mug (honest). He demands “total discretion” in the undercover security team he has hired to protect his investment.
Those security dudes are named Elvis Ford (Sean Patrick Flanery, late of the underappreciated “Powder” and TV’s “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”) and Jesse Weir (Guy Torry of “American History X”). Like a certain Elvis before him, this Elvis has a thing for junk food and cool conversation. Jesse is an ex-Philly resident whose prime area of expertise surrounds his ability to act incredulous.
Pilot features all of the whiz-bang action we have come to expect from a Silver production (he serves here as one of three exec producers along with Alfred Gough and Miles Millar). There are guns firing, bullets spraying everyplace, mushroom clouds rising, cars skidding — and that’s only in the opening credits. Helmer DJ Caruso keeps the energy level high with the kind of spunky direction that recalls the loosey-goosey crime dramas of the 1960s and ’70s.
Gough and Millar, who penned the premiere script, seem to have more than a passing affinity for the pop culture-laden Quentin Tarantino style. Flanery and Torry are borderline adorable while firing “Pulp Fiction”-esque diatribes about things like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. They also get to revel in cartoon mayhem while cavorting with a host of colorful characters (including a drag queen-madam who is moved to say, “I told him (that) close only counts in horseshoes and hand jobs”).
As shallow and contrived as “The Strip” often proves to be, there is also something wonderful about a show that ain’t afraid to wear its testosterone and aggression on its sleeve. Caution and timidity are so rampant in today’s primetime universe that seeing a show defy the accepted standards in such brazen style is downright refreshing.
Unfortunately, it may not be refreshing for long in a deadly Tuesday 9 p.m. timeslot opposite “Dharma & Greg”/ “Sports Night” on ABC, “Party of Five” on Fox and the WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff “Angel.” Some mob-style intimidation may be the show’s only hope.
Tech credits are fine, though the production design is a tad overwrought.