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Films in Cinema Reviews: HBO’s “Luck” Television Show

After seeing the first two episodes of HBO’s Luck, I’m convinced the network has a new hit and that viewers are likely to learn a lot more about racetrack culture. It certainly starts slow, keeps a relaxed pace, is immersed in a world few know about, and doesn’t have a conventional plot. However, all of those are strengths for those with patience. Creator David Milch (Deadwood) and Executive Producer Michael Mann (Heat) have brought us an epic series which focuses on the Santa Anita racetrack in California and the people who work and gamble there. The first season will have a total of nine episodes, but after episode 0101 it was renewed for a ten episode second season - an act that says a lot about both Luck and HBO’s commitment to it’s children.

The assumed protagonists are Dustin Hoffman as Chester “Ace” Bernstein and Dennis Farina as Gus Demitriou. Ace spent years in prison in exchange for his grandson’s freedom and now that he is out - is pursuing big money in a complicated plot. Gus is his loyal best friend and driver, who I’m unsure has much more depth than his positive traits. I’m confident it won’t be explored, but I’m curious why Ace’s strategic intelligence was never applied to a more legitimate lifestyle. Perhaps the “sexiness” of this show is what drives many of it’s characters - the world of gambling and racing is well off the common paths most of us are told is good and respectable, there’s a dangerous element, and people get to win and lose.

While Ace and Gus have been presented to us as the couple to watch, the degenerate track gamblers are so much more compelling. This foursome consists of Ian Hart as Lonnie (friendly and a bit off), Jason Gedrick as Jerry (intelligent handicapper and gambling addict), Ritchie Coster as Renzo (needy and lovable), and Kevin Dunn as Marcus (bitter, controlling, and the leader). The hook? The “brain trust” takes down a pick six for over 2 million in the first episode. This is probably the best way for the show’s writers to focus on the people who fuel the racetrack a few dollars at a time, because otherwise this would’ve been a much sadder series.

With over 600 thousand dollars, Jerry’s leak as a terrible poker player has yielded some compelling scenes. He makes fishy plays like bet/calling all-in with a straight on the river when there are three spades on the board, calling all-in with middle pair when every draw has come in, and getting all-in with Kings on an AQxdd flop. Beyond the Poker lingo, I expect Jason Gedrick’s character to put all of his money in the middle without the best possible hand again and again for the rest of the series. With the newly rich degenerates having so many flaws, I’m curious if season two will have all four “winners” back to borrowing money from predatory lenders.

There are plenty of other characters who strike me as significantly less interesting but I suspect they resonate strongly with people who love racetrack culture. John Ortiz’s Turo Escalante is a respected (but dirty) horse trainer and he probably has more unexplored depth to him than the rest of the cast. Nick Nolte’s Walter Smith (The Old Man) is similarly mysterious, passionate about the “sport,” and comes off as very likable. Finally there are the jockeys: Tom Payne as Leon, Gary Stevens as Ronnie, and Kerry Condon as Rosie. Collectively, they represent the heart and innocence of horse racing as they pursue glory while trying to stay as skinny as possible.

Without seeing more than two episodes, I’m unsure if Luck can stay compelling past a few seasons. This doesn’t immediately strike me as the successor to beloved crime dramas The Sopranos or The Wire as much as Buscemi’s Boardwalk Empire. However, this is likely to be the best new series of 2012 and it probably won’t be close. As I write this, the first and second episodes can be seen on HBO GO. Furthermore, as an HBO and Comcast subscriber those same two episodes of Luck, along with every episode of current and past HBO series are available right now on XFINITY. New episodes can be seen Sunday nights on HBO.

Films in Cinema’s Rating for “Luck”: 9/10

Note: Previously published on OppLOL.com on February 1st, 2012. Article has been moved here. Opportunity LOL owns FilmsinCinema.net

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