HBO - Sundays 9/8 c
From creator David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue, John from Cincinnati), "Luck" is an insider's look at all aspects of horseracing, from the bettors to the jockeys, to the owners of the horses themselves. Intricate and vast, complex and emotional, "Luck" takes its time to get going and flows at its own pace. But that is the way that all Milch's shows have always been, and that doesn't make them any less compelling.
1. Does it entertain me?
The pilot uses language that is very unfamiliar and presents circumstances that are not everyday. Couple that with Milch's unparalleled command of the English language, and "Luck" can seem daunting to any new observer.
But at the same time, that is exactly what makes "Luck" compelling. The race track seems foreign yet familiar, like these people are existing in a world that is not our own, yet they are people just like us. They have dreams and desires, and they have wishes and disabilities that make them less than perfect and humanize them.
The pilot episode focuses on the return of Ace Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman, as the newest movie star to make the jump to the small screen) from prison, for an unnamed crime. We see him very sparingly, but it is apparent that he will play a larger role in the remainder of the series. There's the horse owner, the jockey and the group of 4 bettors who just won the Pick 6 and $2.6 million, only they can't collect quite yet because of tax reasons.
Each character is loaded with unknown backstory, with unseen motivation, and unlimited potential. The way Milch is able to craft a drama rewards the viewer for his time and effort, and for those that prefer dialogue to crime technology, "Luck" delivers in spades. But it will take considerable investment to attain any sort of true payout, but the journey will be intricate and involved.
So does "Luck" entertain me? Yes it does. At certain times more than others. The actual horse racing scenes themselves are invigorating and exciting, allowing the viewer to be immersed in this world. We see the struggles of the horse, the jockey, the owners and the bettors, and to live that life of uncertainty must be thrilling and excruciating at the same time.
2. Is it realistic?
One of the most difficult scenes to watch occurs when one of the featured horses breaks his leg midrace and must be immediately put down. The closeup of the poor horse's head, and the equally distraught jockey, as he stops breathing and blinking is graphic without being bloody. But it is completely realistic, which makes it all the more crushing.
Everyone involved in the horse racing scene is rich and full of life, and everyone makes choices and decisions that affect others. The background is spot on (Michael Mann is responsible for the direction of the first episode, and this shows in the detail, the sounds, both ambient and musically, the way you can practically smell the stalls and stables. Every little aspect is presented with clarity.
This brings us to Milch's forte, the dialogue. It's the kind of dialogue you have to listen to closely, for fear of missing something. And it's the kind that, when a conversation finishes, you say, "Wait, what did I miss?" And it might not even be story related, but character related, and you feel foolish for not understanding everything perfectly. But that's the beauty of Milch: nobody ever understands everything he writes!
3. Are traditional family values upheld?
In the pilot, there is no family to be seen. Which mean no one is cheating, having an affair, or engaging in sexual acts at all. Which is refreshing. There are minimal amounts of swearing, but nothing overwhelming or Deadwoodian.
This all might change over the next few episodes, as well, as we get further into the lives of these people.
4. Are immoral acts defended?
This depends on where you place gambling in immoral acts. If you don't believe that betting on horses is immoral, then you are fine. The Church is not outright against gambling, but as soon as it becomes a problem or becomes more important than family, then it does become a problem.
But if we are exploring the lives of these individuals, and if we are learning about the human condition and their relationship with good through their association with gambling, then great, let's learn away!
"Luck" is a dense, adult-oriented drama that is not suitable for family night. But it is suitable for the average viewer who enjoys rich characters and well-crafted dialogue. It may become something more and something better, and the possibilities are certainly there (moreso than any other new drama this season) for it to become must-watch TV.