Good Luck or Bad Luck? HBO series generates buzz

by | 01.25.2012 | 11:43am

The new HBO series Luck, which debuts Sunday night, is getting no shortage of coverage in the country's major publications.  The show, set around Thoroughbred racing at Santa Anita Park, is attracting attention no doubt because of its all-star cast (Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen and more) and because of its creator-producer tandem of television veteran David Milch and renowned film director Michael Mann.

Whether critics and viewers are compelled or repelled by it, Luck is proving an intriguing conversation piece.  Below is a collection of recent reviews and articles.

New Yorker
In the most thrilling of these sequences, the camera captures the ripple of flesh and the flaring red nostril of a horse in motion. The jockey is ecstatic, bonded with her steed. The owner's eyes tear up. As classical music plays, we enter slow motion, the lens alighting on face after face. There's a cut to a stack of money knocked against a table with an exaggerated sound effect, like a jail door banged shut. The scene is so portentous, so monumental, that I nearly switched sides—the sheer boldness was seductive. But then yet another scene featured a long, mumbling monologue to a horse. I wanted to take it seriously, but all I could think was: Mister Ed.

Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic: Hollywood Goes to the Races
“Some people will love Luck. Some will find it too slow. And some will consider it too insular to appeal to the broader audience HBO welcomes. Me? I hope the series is a raging success so that it comes back for another season and then another one after that. Maybe by then, by the sheer force of its popularity, the leaders of the horse racing industry, and their tribunes in government, will have been roused out of their torpor to secure the future of the sport of Kings. And maybe then we'll also be one step closer to having Hollywood give us the horse racing story, the noble one, that so many of us want.”

New York Times: HBO Bets on Two Thoroughbreds
“It's not the kind of show that will come up and nuzzle your neck and munch a carrot out of your hand. Women are mostly accessories, and the men grunt and mumble racing jargon and aphorism. Viewers will feel like the track newbie who has innocently wandered into racing's impenetrable dynamics of handicapping, doping and ancestry. Perhaps sensing this, HBO issued a five-page glossary in the publicity materials.”

LA Times: HBO Takes a Gamble on Luck
“If most television — even high-toned television — is a collection of short stories, “Luck” is a novel. A big, sprawling one, with a layered setting and close to a dozen main characters, some woven together in complex ways and many not who they initially appear to be. It's every bit as ambitious and multifaceted as “The Wire,” which also aired on HBO between 2002 and 2008.

“But was it really necessary week after week to sketch an intricate ecosystem as complicated as the teeming life of a rain forest — from trainers to aspiring jockeys to dead-end gamblers to the dodgy financiers who make the whole thing run? Did Milch, a reputed mad genius, whose “Deadwood” brought Shakespearean soliloquy to the Wild West, consider making a linear show with maybe a single protagonist and a conventional plot?”

Hollywood Reporter
“What Luck excels at is the desperation of the fast buck, how small time players try insatiably to make it big, while big-time players seek to add to their fortunes. But nothing on television has captured this lifestyle, which makes the series unique. You can see the contrasting ambition of Escalante and Smith, the two trainers. There's greed and disdain all over Escalante while Nolte's character is all about the love of the horse and the magnificent capabilities of an animal that size. The jockey's life is also well represented, particularly by Gary Stevens, the famed jockey (and multiple Kentucky Derby winner) turned actor (Seabiscuit), who plays Ronnie, the broken-down, addicted jockey at the end of his run.” Luck a Dark Horse Winner
“The cinematic racetrack is almost always a place where beautiful people do beautiful things beautifully (most recently in Seabiscuit and Secretariat), where all the mornings are dewy and sun-splashed and dreams come true at post time. There is usually just the faintest nod to the dark underbelly of the racing world when, in reality, the prevailing emotion at any racetrack on any day is desperation. Owners and trainers are desperate to win at any cost (and often nakedly duplicitous), jockeys are desperate to defeat their own bodies, bettors are desperate to cash in and the entire industry is desperate to survive, when its golden age was eight decades ago.

Luck creator David Milch (Deadwood), a longtime horse owner and horse player, does not sugarcoat this reality; he embraces it.”

Contra Costa Times
“Despite its impressive bloodlines, “Luck” is a real plodder — a maddeningly deliberate series that stalls right out of the gate and never quite makes up lost ground. So, despite some solid performances and extraordinary visuals, we're left with what might be the midseason's biggest letdown.”


  • Rachel

    The HORSE world is alive and thriving…go to any weekend show big and small, trail ride, endurance ride, dressage or hunter competition, etc….among my horse friends, for over 4 decades, only my husband, best friend and one sister tolerate my love for thoroughbred racing…the rest have zero interest…and no one is interested in watching “Luck” once they found out about the realistic breakdown scene…

  • Duignan2010

    Very dissappointing, despite a stellar cast the show is very slow and tedious – not going to even DVR it.

  • FourCats

    I saw the first episode when it was shown in December and was disappointed.  As a racing fan, I would have liked to have seen a true representation of the sport.  Sure it has negatives.  But there are many positives and many fine people both on the fan side and the horse side.  However, the producers have apparently decided that only the old and tired negative stereotypes are worth filming.

    Perhaps that’s what passes for skill in developing a series these days.  My feeling is that what would truly have been an achievement would have been to develop a series that would have shown the magic of horse racing and why the people involved in it are usually hooked on it for life.  Not to cover up the negatives but to put them in context.

    Well, it was only the first episode.  Maybe I’ll feel differently as the series develops.

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