They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but a new workplace comedy is flouting convention with a wry look at the Sin City weekender — from nine kilometres up.
Fox’s LA to Vegas takes place during the 40-minute flight that crowds of miscreants and dreamers pile onto in Los Angeles every Friday, hoping to make their fortune but usually returning with hangovers and empty wallets.
Dylan McDermott, the Golden Globe-winning star of legal drama The Practice, plays the buffoonish and egotistical captain of a plane from the ludicrously-titled budget carrier Jackpot Airlines.
Earlier this month, Fox premiered the show nine kilometres in the air, plying journalists with booze as McDermott stayed in character for the entire flight.
Also slipping in and out of character was Kim Matula (The Bold and the Beautiful) who plays Ronnie, the messy and impulsive head flight attendant who manages the revolving door of bachelor parties and 21st birthdays.
Perhaps the most interesting casting is Peter Stormare — often seen as a dead-eyed assassin or brutal mob boss in Coen Brothers movies or TV shows like Prison Break — but playing against type here as a genial chronic gambler.
“I always loved comedy. Even when I’ve done my most evil villains I’ve tried to work in a glint in the eye, a question mark for the audience so that they get intrigued,” Stormare said at the after-party in the plush Bellagio Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I thought it was pretty daring to set it on a plane, but we have The Love Boat, The Office — we have workplace dramas and today everyone is travelling.”
Filmed on a reconstructed fuselage and airport terminal on the Fox lot in Los Angeles, as well as on location in both cities, LA to Vegas offers something different from the US comedies Stormare grew up watching in Sweden.
“Comedy hasn’t evolved much since Lucille Ball. We’re in the same living room, they sit on the same couch and we know everything about the characters from the pilot,” the 64-year-old said.
“This is a little bit more mysterious, more absurd. There is satire, which is unusual in American comedies. I call it a little more... European, as if Monty Python had been on a plane.”
In the pilot episode — no pun intended — Matula’s Ronnie and regular passenger and economics professor Colin (Ed Weeks) develop a “location-ship,” discovering that joining the Mile High Club isn’t as easy as it looks.
“I feel like the luckiest [expletive] in show business right now,” said Weeks, who made a seamless transition to the show after five years as Dr Jeremy Reed on the formerly Fox — now Hulu — comedy series The Mindy Project.
“I went from such a beloved fantastic show like The Mindy Project to another wonderful show like this one that I really believe in, with just one weekend off between the two — that was it.”
Weeks, 37, says he was amazed when the idea of a mid-air sitcom was pitched to him that it hadn’t been done before.
“Everybody flies on planes, everyone is familiar with a drunken passenger budget airline... It seems like one of those you know you’ve heard but it’s actually new.”
Weeks describes the show as a “lovely, uncomplicated slab of entertainment” aimed at a broad audience in “difficult, scary, polarised times.”
“We’re literally above the fray. It’s not political, it’s not making any partisan point, it’s not trying to be anything other than a funny, escapist 20 minutes,” he said.
The series is executive produced by an all-star backroom team including Adam McKay, the Oscar-winning writer-director of The Big Short (2015) and veteran comic actor Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy).
Creator Lon Zimmet (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) has had the idea for the show in the back of his mind since his early days in Hollywood, when he would find his own weekend escape playing poker in Las Vegas.
“The writing is so incredible. The jokes are witty, they’re smart, poignant for the times we’re living in, and people can relate to them,” Matula, 29, said.
“Everyone loves a good workplace comedy. We’ve all had jobs that we struggled through and we always think, ‘I should be writing this down, I can’t believe this is happening right now.’ This show really embodies that.”