Spring 2012 Review: Luck

19 Jan

To watch Luck is to be whisked away into the less than glamorous world of horse racing.  The show opens with the release of Chester “Ace” Bernstein, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, from a California prison. He’s picked up by his driver, played by Dennis Farina.  Berstein is eager to get back in the game, , the game being something shady but ostensibly money making involving horse racing, and because as a convicted felon he apparently can’t own horses anymore, he has his driver get a license.  Hoffman meets with an old acquaintance and has a discussion about getting back into the game,  though it seems later in the episode that the meeting may have served a different purpose entirely.

Degenerate gamblers are a plenty.  Luck focuses on four of them, one of whom seems to be a expert handicapper, which we can tell because a security guard at the track is willing to pay him fifty bucks just for his picks.  The four gamblers pool their money towards the lucrative pick six, the big jackpot reserved for picking the winners of six consecutive races.  This day luck runs their way and the four of them win a couple million between them.  Other characters include a couple of trainers working to get their horses ready for their races, a green jockey who doesn’t understand his role, and the jockey’s agent who tries to straighten him out.

I don’t know anything about horse racing.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to the track on one hand, and all of those times were with my great uncle; when he came to visit from Florida, we’d all go to the track.  The track to me, in spite of years of the “Go, baby, Go” campaign, has already represented sleaziness and Luck seems to reinforce that image, though making the sleazy behavior far more interesting than anything I’d previously imagined.  I’ve always found the idea of handicapping fascinating, that someone can go through reams of data and beat the odds, but I have no idea how it works.

Luck is created by David Milch of Deadwood fame, and like Deadwood, the language spoken on the show is English but a strange dialect of English which will inevitably take me a few episodes to understand.  I spent some time on the internet looking up a couple of terms that were used in the show.  I was quite confused after the first episode of Deadwood and it took me at least three episodes before I began to figure out what was going on.  I don’t mean this as a criticism; in fact, more the opposite, and distinct language can be a rare commodity on TV.  That said, if I hadn’t made the decision ahead of time to watch more of Deadwood, and hadn’t heard other good reviews I may not have stuck around long enough to understand the language.  I know better this time around.

It’s a world though that I’m interested in learning more about.  There were two primary angles for season long plotlines that came out of the debut.  First, Bernstein, it seemed like, was concocting some sort of plan, possibly to get back at the people who put him in jail (I actually had to watch the least scene again to try to figure out exactly his plan, and I still don’t).  Second, figuring out what the next step is for the four gamblers and newly minted millionaires (well, half a millionaires).  Beyond these two, there’s certainly ample ground for plotlines involving the agents, jockeys and trainers that not as much time was spent on in the first episode.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I will.  I’m not sure it will be great, but it certainly looks as though it has a shot at it, which is more than most shows can say.  There are some strong actors and an interesting subculture.  David Milch knows how to put together a show, and I’m willing to give at least half a season to him to see him get started.

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