Current Weather
The Spy FM

HBO’s ‘Luck’: A Winning TV Show, Set At The Track

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
January 27, 2012

It isn’t a long shot that David Milch’s newest series for HBO, called Luck, will be on par with his HBO series Deadwood. It’s a sure thing. HBO sent out all nine episodes of the show’s first season for preview, so there’s no guesswork here.

The racetrack is at the center of Luck, with every character and plot line orbiting around it. But you don’t have to like horse racing — or even understand it — to get pulled in and swept along. The show examines the track, and its various intrigues, from every possible perspective – from the owners and trainers of the horses to the jockeys riding them and the gamblers betting on them. We go from the executive suites to the stables, getting to know the people, and problems, of each. It’s like Downton Abbey with thoroughbreds.

And speaking of thoroughbreds, that description extends to just about everyone working on Luck. And what a collection of collaborators: David Milch hit it big, before Deadwood, with NYPD Blue in the ’90s. Movie director Michael Mann produced two visually stunning TV series, Miami Vice and Crime Story, in the ’80s. One of the two biggest stars of Luck, Nick Nolte, became a star thanks to the Rich Man, Poor Man TV miniseries in the ’70s. And the other biggest star of Luck, Dustin Hoffman, is new to series television – but his stardom stretches all the way back to The Graduate in the ’60s.

And now, here they all are, doing great work at the same time. Milch throws us into the world of this California racetrack just as forcefully, and assuredly, as he did when introducing us to the mining town of Deadwood. Mann directs the pilot with one eye as a documentarian and the other as an artist — scenes and images look authentic and beautiful, especially the racing scenes. The pictures, as well as the scripts, capture the raw power of the racehorses, who in the opening episodes, often are reined in, waiting patiently for the proper time to break free and show their stuff.

The actors are exactly the same way. Dustin Hoffman plays Ace Burnstein, a powerful player who’s just been released from prison after three years in prison. Nick Nolte plays Walter Smith, a former trainer who now owns a horse for which he has secret high hopes. And while the other actors and actresses in Luck spend the opening episodes establishing their talents as well as their characters, Hoffman and Nolte play it cool, biding their time in the rear of the pack. Until, almost effortlessly, they stretch their muscles and show what they’re made of.

Hoffman plays Ace like a coiled snake, while Nolte plays his character like a battered veteran boxer. And there’s so much other talent on screen, singling out some would almost be unfair to the others. But if you’re a Deadwood fan, you’ll see some familiar faces – and you’ll see them from other superb TV shows as well. Eventually, you’ll even see Michael Gambon, star of my favorite TV miniseries of all time, The Singing Detective.

Finally, there are the horses — these majestic creatures who are called upon, at times, to share scenes and interact with various cast members. How the horses react to each person feels primal, honest, real. And so does Luck. The way this HBO series jumps out of the gate this first season, it’ll be back for another lap around the track.

Bet on it.

David Bianculli is founder and editor of TVWorthWatching.com. He teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

11PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 6AM The Splendid Table

The Splendid Table

Hosted by award-winning Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table is a culinary, culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone.

View the program guide!

6AM to 7AM Travel with Rick Steves

Travel with Rick Steves

"Travel with Rick Steves" is a fun, hour-long, and practical talk show with guest experts and calls and questions from travelers. This weekly program is a lively conversation between travelers and the experts as we learn to explore our world smartly, smoothly, and thoughtfully.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center