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Cracking "The Casino"

These days, to judge by television, Las Vegas is a clean and wholesome place, characterized by huge swimming pools, family entertainment, and the occasional poker tournament where celebrities get drunk and win money for charity. Sure, people get killed on CSI, but they're almost always brought to justice by Gil Grissom's Photogenic Posse. In this environment, it's good that Mark Burnett has brought The Casino to Fox, because it reminds us all just how sleazy and unpleasant Las Vegas can be.

Don't get me wrong. I love Las Vegas. But there's no denying that even with its attempts to spruce up the place, there's an underlying current of debauchery. And not the fun kind, either. The Casino embraces this and is not afraid to wallow in it. The result, as you might expect, is not particularly enjoyable to watch. But I'm convinced that's not the point.

Allegedly a "reality" show (but I'll talk about that later), The Casino features two guys named Tom and Tim who have bought the Golden Nugget, one of the less interesting casinos in Vegas. It's not even on the strip; it's in that shadowy netherworld known as "Downtown Las Vegas," which I always find to be a disconcerting place to go. On the strip, all you ever see are emblems of tourist-related industries, like cabs and prostitutes. But downtown there are real people going about their daily lives. It's like going to Disneyland and seeing Mickey taking out the trash; it ruins the illusion. But apparently none of the good hotels (or even Circus Circus) was within Tom and Tim's price range, so the Golden Nugget it is.

So far, the theme of the shows has been that Casino Owners Will Do Anything For Rich Idiots. They're always running after morons who look like they're about to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars by not really knowing how to play blackjack. And since that's what happens, I guess I can't call Tim and Tom idiots. I can, however, point out that they're constantly debasing themselves in front of self-styled "moguls" with zebra-print coats, begging them to lose their ostentatiously-flashed wads of cash there instead of at the Mandalay Bay. It doesn't seem like a way of life that would promote a healthy self-image.

Another theme of the show is that Sex Is Disgusting. Maybe it's just Vegas Sex they're talking about, but when you've got a man, his wife, and their girlfriend out trolling the casinos for couples to add to their sex party, it's amazing how uncomfortable and weird a simple orgy can look. And that's not even mentioning the frat boys who peer-pressured their probably-gay pal into licking whipped cream off a hooker. Or the "professional gambler" who took a transvestite back to his room and probably didn't realize she was a man.

At this point, you're probably wondering why I'm putting so many things in sarcastic quotes. I've given the punctuational stink-eye to "reality", "mogul", and "professional gambler", and that's only because I've been restraining myself. See, although The Casino is billed as a reality show, every scene is very obviously staged. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "scripted" (because that would imply that someone sat down and wrote this terribly unconvincing dialogue) but there is not a single scene where it isn't obvious that a PA told the terrible lounge singer what to say or where Tom and Tim have been coached on what this episode's Manufactured Conflict is.

So, you might be asking, given that it's a terribly-made show, full of unpleasant and unconvincing people, is it worth watching? Well, I don't know. The only fun part of it is if you can find someone else who watches it so you can talk about how weird a show it is. But if there's no one saying "I know! And what's with the opening credit sequence, huh? What is that supposed to be?" then you're just sitting there fidgeting and hoping that someone makes it out of the show with their souls intact. It's probably a moot point, because I can't picture this atrocity lasting more than two or three more episodes. You might want to watch it once just so you can tell your grandchildren about the time you knew civilization was doomed.


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