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by Alison Willmore
March 27, 2012 3:39 PM
10 Comments
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Hard 'Luck': Why HBO's Horseracing Drama is Still Worth Seeking Out

'Luck' Gusmano Cesaretti/HBO

Watching the outstanding season (and series) finale of "Luck," which went out quietly on Sunday night while the country turned its attention to "Mad Men," it was hard not wonder if the show would have found more of a following if the rest of it had been like its ending.

Written by Eric Roth and directed by Mimi Leder, the last episode unites the characters on the day of a derby race in which most had a stake, either by way of betting, riding, training or ownership. It features an underdog triumph, a murder, a departure, a medical scare, a photo finish and a naked girl rolling around in a bed of money -- everything you'd want in a cable TV show for adults, with that phrase's many implications.

"Luck" is a show that loves and relies on quiet moments

But it wasn't ratings that resulted in the cancellation of "Luck," it was the unfortunate death of three horses during the show's production. And "Luck," while not opposed to sequences of reward and drama, is a show that loved and relied on quiet moments and the weight of what was being left unsaid.

It sometimes made for counterintuitive television that, as I speculated before, will play out better when it can be consumed in one or two sessions on DVD instead of being doled out over weeks. And the show's still well worth seeking out, even if it's not returning -- the final moments served well enough to provide welcome closure for some while promising storms on the horizon for others. And there's always trouble on the way in "Luck," and not just of the sort the paranoid Marcus (Kevin Dunn) is always predicting -- the extent to which the series takes its name to heart became increasingly clear as the season unfolded.

The show has the feel and texture of an unfiltered cigarette and a tumbler of Scotch, a cast of characters dominated by grizzled, guarded men with soft hearts who are worse for the wear but still ready to make a go of things, as bad or as good as those things might be. "Whatever complications, this is where we are, what we have to make our lives with," Dustin Hoffman's Chester Bernstein tells his estranged grandson, brought back into his life by his enemies as a potential target. "Hands are dealt, we got to see how we play them."

Luck is, in the parlance of the show, about accepting how little is in your control. The slinky opening credits are filled with charms and tokens -- horseshoe rings and neon four-leaf clovers, crosses and coins on chains -- symbolizing the way in which people try to influence their fortunes, but also speaking to they've chosen or had chosen for them a life that depends on chance. Jerry (Jason Gedrick), for instance, is a brilliant handicapper of horses whose skills nab him and his friends -- who name themselves Foray Stables -- a small fortune and a chance to buy a horse of their own. But he's a disaster at the poker tables, even though he can't stay away from them. As his card-playing nemesis points out, he doesn't bet by the numbers, he bets like he's got to prove how lucky he is... and he most of the time, he isn't.

10 Comments

  • Nobody | April 10, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    I watched this initially because Dustin Hoffman was in it and was hooked, more than anything, by the camera work/effects in the racing scenes. It's a shame that bad pratices in what is, after all, only a technical part of the production should result in the loss of one of the best acted dramas of recent years - which, although tecnically at the end of it's first season, is really only just beginning.

    This show would be worth watching for the interplay between Kevin Dunn, Jason Gedrick and Brits, Ian Hart and Ritchie Coster, alone. Dunn and Coster in particular, working with very little, are spot on in a cast that is universally brilliant. (I loved the "What's the story with us?" routine in the last episode - seemingly ad-libbed but kept in by a brave director - threatening to break the fourth wall.)

    The show deserves a second season, at least. Quality drama.

  • Chris Nelson | April 9, 2012 8:08 PMReply

    Luck is the best thing on T.V in years. Can't beleive it won't continue. Its too good. Great writing, acting, music. Someone put some thought into this one. You have to enjoy a story that requires one to think a little. Hope in someway it comes back.

  • Neal | April 2, 2012 4:34 AMReply

    The show just got better and better every week. To bad it's over.It's in my top ten. The is an absolutely great background song played during the first race of the last episode. "Can You Hear the Thunder". I can't find out anything about it-not in the credits. Also it's not "Can't you hear the the Thunder" by Men at Work which is the only one the come up on search. Anyone know?

  • Nobody | April 11, 2012 8:11 PM

    Album actually released 1969 - re-issued 2005, my mistake:)

  • Nobody | April 11, 2012 8:05 PM

    Just watched the show again with the subtitles on and googled the lyrics. The song's called "Elements and Things" by Tony Joe White, from the 2005 album "...continued".

    Lyrics are at http://www.leocort.nl/tjwp8b.html and the album/mp3s on Amazon.

  • Teresa Copson | March 31, 2012 2:18 PMReply

    Please,please, please bring back Luck HBO! I definetely want the horses used to be safe but I know you can find a way. This show willl be as big as the Sopranos and I'm sure the awards and accolades will come!

  • Sergio P.M. | March 28, 2012 5:30 PMReply

    Great Show...One of the best in a long time. I am very sorry about the horses, they are beautiful animals.

  • Mandingo | March 28, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    I can't say how heartbroken I am at the end of the road for The HBO Series Luck. It's drama the characters were so rich . My heart goes out to the owners of the the three horses who had to be put down I know I certainly do not want to see horses die for my entertainment .
    I hope they are able to put together another season with the footage they already have for the horse racing scenes.

  • alan gaglia | March 27, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    i pray that somehow something can be worked out to save this brillant series.it is by far the best television has to offer today.

  • Kimberella of Sydney | March 27, 2012 5:53 PMReply

    Thanks for your review. I have re watched early episodes to learn the parlance and rhythms, and in the process fallen deeply in love with Luck and its characters, human, equine, canine, and goat. In our crumbling, bifurcating culture it is not surprising that this artistic endeavour failed as the leading edge of an industry on the steep wane. But I still love it all thanks to these hours of tender attention. Television can be art. I am glad I witnessed it.