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

So many of the characters in "Luck" are distinguished either by a great loss or by having nothing to begin with. The Foray railbirds have experienced so little success in their lives that to see them do well and figure out how to handle that has been one of the show's great pleasures, as the four check into connecting rooms in a nearby motel that looks like it's out of another era and flutter over the shoulder of their surly trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) like helicopter parents. Nick Nolte's trainer Walter Smith, the most grizzled of them all, is still heartsick from the demise of the old Kentucky farm on which he used to work and the killing of the horse who sired Gettin' Up Morning, the colt with great potential he's been working with.

Escalante (I just can't call him "Turo") has scrabbled his way up from humble beginnings and is so tightly closed and seemingly uninterested in other people that one of his most lovely emotional moments came when in the finale when he asks Chester if he has any children. His girlfriend, or rather the woman he's been sleeping with, Jo (Jill Hennessy) has gotten pregnant, and suddenly the possibility of having a family, of having a life, seems like something he'd want after all. (The show caps this moment by having him step back into a bucket of water and go back to bellowing in Spanish at his underling.)

And Chester, who starts off the show only aiming for revenge, with the help of his faithful driver and friend and, as the finale proves, stealthy tough guy Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina), falls in love, with the track, with the horse he's bought, with Claire Lachay (Joan Allen), who runs a nonprofit based on rehabilitating convicts by having them work with rescued thoroughbreds. It's only by having things that you can feel the threat of losing them, and Chester's old foe Michael (Michael Gambon), who's escalated their feud, is there taunting him on the day of his big race, pointing out all the soft spots he's developed.

"Luck" celebrates the calm center that people who've gotten used to loss can develop, a sort of zen state and due to that, it's as gentle on and generous with their failures as their wins. Take Ronnie Jenkins, played by real-life jockey Gary Stevens, the experienced, older rider there to contrast the up-and-comers Rosie (Kerry Condon) and Leon (Tom Payne). Struggling with addictions and injuries ("I break this collarbone more than I get laid," he resignedly tells a paramedic after a fall), he's not reliable, but his fits of greatness and his times of weakness are treated with a level gaze. "That Jenkins fellow's a maestro," Rosie observes after seeing him race. "Yes he is," Walter allows, "when the spirit moves. You understand?"

A little, but that will have to do. At nine episodes total, "Luck" doesn't feel finished, but it's not the type of show that ever would. Sometimes fortune favors you and sometimes it doesn't, but you have to play the cards you're dealt.

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  • 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.