It looks like without an elimination ceremony, Mark Burnett’s reality offerings don’t burn up the Nielsens quite as much. Such would be the case with The Casino, which is churning out mediocre ratings on Fox’s Ã¼ber-hyped Summer season lineup. Yeah, the show’s stars, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, don’t have the charisma of Donald Trump, Jeff Probst, or even Rocco DiSpirito, but they’re eager enough to whore out their casino for our entertainment, and why should we turn our noses up at that?The underlying story of The Casino is that Tim and Tom have invested $50 million of their own money (they were internet tycoons, natch) to rejuvenate downtown Vegas staple The Golden Nugget. Hoping to lure in Swingers-wannabes, the duo have made it their mission to make their little casino the retro-Vegas destination that poseurs around the world dream of. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, Ashton Kutcher proved that we all love it when twentysomethings try to emulate the Rat Pack. Oh wait, did I write “love”? I meant “despise”. But I’m willing to ignore the annoying hipster hoots of “Vegas Baby!!!” if it means we get some good television, and at first pass, I was a little suspect of The Casino. With an eye towards fly on the wall voyeurism as opposed to Tribal Councils, the show faces the same uphill battles as The Restaurant: no climactic eliminations, a cast that hasn’t been rigorously screen-tested, and hectic, free-for-all storylines that sometimes revolve around minutia.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from shows like The Restaurant (or even Sorority Life or Big Brother), it’s that sometimes we need to slowly immerse ourselves into the fray before we can truly come to embrace it. With The Casino’s first episode, I found myself wanting to really care about the “characters”, but I couldn’t. They were too new, too uneasy on camera, and too bland. Recognizing this, Mark Burnett threw in some razzle-dazzle guests whose presence may have been all too scripted, but then again, who the hell cares?
The first episode introduced us to an enjoyably daffy group of frat brothers who were living out the Vegas clichÃ©: to get their overripe virgin friend laid. Led by an enthusiastic and charismatic ringleader, the guys scoured the malls and streets of Las Vegas, inviting any attractive girls to a party that would hopefully make a man out of their shy friend. At the end of the day, there were a lot of girls, shots, and whipcream to go around, but our unlucky-in-love hero remained firmly ensconced in the virgin megastore.
We also met tempestuous lounge singer – I mean budding artist, nay, genius, Matt Dusk, who Tim and Tom hired to class up the Golden Nugget’s bar, Zax. Matt takes his music very seriously and was extremely angry to have his artistic vision trampled by the Nevada Lieutenant Governor and her husband, who requested to sing with the band. No one interrupts Matt Dusk! He had it out with Zax’s entertainment director, complaining that his act was turning into a karaoke disaster. One of these days Matty’s going to remember his humble beginnings: crooning the afternoon shift at Ferraro’s on Flamingo Drive, just off I-15, can’t miss it!
Mark Burnett also threw in tennis star and evident sell-out Andre Agassi, who popped in to say hi, invest in the casino, and get some easy face time. But by far the most interesting person to walk through the Golden Nugget doors was Big Chuck Gorson, a professional gambler and full-time sleaze. Going for the blazer/t-shirt/earring look that screams midlife crisis (thank you Miami Vice for creating the template), Big Chuck took on the Golden Nugget with an annoying little laugh and a caricature-esque approach to hitting on women. This is the sort of guy who would ask a girl if she used windex on her fly (because he can really see himself in her pants, dumbass). Granted, he may have been playing up his act for the cameras, but I don’t think his television persona was that divergent from his real character. Nevertheless, he was fed a nice cup of cosmic justice when the ladies man hit on a lady who was a man. With a deep voice and facial structure that cried out “I’m a tranny!”, the “lady” in pink at the blackjack table was able to con Big Chuck into a nice old makeout session in the suite. Unfortunately, FCC stodginess kept us from seeing how far these two really went, but I was pleased with Mark Burnett for the expert placement of the cross-dresser.
The second episode was a little tamer: Tim and Tom hired a gawky new assistant who I look forward to making fun of in future posts. The Golden Nugget also hosted some high rollers from the San Fernando Valley. We know their geographic origins because Tim dialed them at an 818 number, but we could have figured it out from the trashy hairstyles (guys should never frost their hair), the trashy facial hair (goatees-a-go-go), the trashy jewelry (nice earrings, guys), the trashy attire (faux-zebra print blazers?), and the trashy girlfriend (implant scars should be covered up). Three words: Van Nuys Surprise.
In one night, these dumbasses lost nearly two hundred thousand dollars to the plucky croupiers, and the girlfriend managed to lose her $1000 purse, which contained about $25,000 she had stolen from her boyfriend. When their frustration manifested in a card-tearing rampage, Tim scolded them, and they left for Mandalay Bay. The next day a humble manservant, or guest relations executive as he’s formally called, spent hours wining and dining the Valley trash, finally getting them to embrace the Golden Nugget again. He just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? This story was nicely accented by a subplot involving a group of swingers trying to lure in a young couple. Again – FCC ruined this one.
All these stories about the guests are good, Loveboat-esque fun, but what’s going to keep us coming back will be our regulars: Tim, Tom, the assistant, the security guys, the guest relations folk, the croupiers, Matt Dusk, etc. At this point, the stable of characters has yet to show many signs of life. Yes, Tim has a spunky, porcine quality, but the rest are a bit tentative and restrained. I imagine that’s because the majority of these people are not aspiring actors looking for their fifteen minutes of fame (check out a Bunim/Murray production for that). The employees of the casino are doing a job first, participating in a reality show second. No one is there to fill a role (angry black man, hot girly girl), so at first we feel lost without our typical cliches. But in time, distinct personalities emerge, and they tend to be a little more complex than by-the-numbers caricatures such as Frankie from Real World or Paris Hilton from the Simple Life (and various sex tapes).
So my only hope for The Casino is that Fox holds onto it long enough for us to reach that critical point where we suddenly realize we care about the pit boss and the valet and whoever else populates the Golden Nugget. Wow, I just made myself sound completely devoid of any sort of human interaction.