12/12/2011 10:50PM

"Luck" recap and reactions


(Contains spoilers)

“You never get used to it. That’s what the Jim Beam is for.”

That line delivered by Ronnie Jenkins, an alcoholic jockey played by real-life Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, came after a scene in Sunday’s sneak peek of the pilot of “Luck,” HBO’s new horse racing drama, that signaled just how far the show would go in portraying the darker side of the sport. After graphically breaking down in the stretch, a horse is euthanized on the track in close up as the bug boy Leon (Tom Payne) pets his head and watches “the light go out of his eyes.” Not that anyone watching likely expected a light-hearted romp from the creator of “Deadwood” and the network of “The Sopranos.”

Moreso than HBO’s mob hit, David Milch’s “Luck” pilot called to mind the Baltimore police drama “The Wire” with its quick-moving, jargony dialogue and multiple plot strands that may or may not converge over the season’s nine episodes. Four gamblers chase a life-changing pick six; hardboot trainer Nick Nolte nurtures a potential Derby horse; and fresh-out-of-prison Chester “Ace” Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) buys a high-class Thoroughbred with Gus Demetriou (Dennis Farina) as his front man. Aside from one shirt-ripping, scenery-chewing scene (do they have self-tanner in prison?), Hoffman wasn’t a big part of the pilot, but his get-rich plan to bring a casino to Santa Anita promises to become a bigger plotline.

“Luck” definitely didn’t dumb down racing’s insider intricacies – some of the dialogue from trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) bordered on cryptic. The pick-six syndicate’s rundown of their plays rang true to life, although the idea of a railbird needing to be told that the longest shot in the last leg would bring the biggest payout was probably the episode’s lone over-explaining eye-roll moment for a seasoned bettor. Whether the gambler characters rise above the level of two-dimensional “degenerates” - and whether “Luck” succeeds in hooking viewers on the highs of racing as well as the lows – will be seen over the remaining eight episodes when the series makes its official debut on Jan. 29, 2012.

- Dave Renard

More on "Luck"

Review by DRF's Matt Hegarty: HBO's 'Luck' gets down and dirty

"Racetrackers will have no problem following the subplots and language, but, in a series that is trying to appeal to a much larger audience, Milch is sometimes burdened with having to explain nuances that can make the script clunky, especially in the betting scenes ..."

The Onion's A.V. Club - Grade: A

"I thought this was the best pilot I’ve seen this TV season, by a fair degree. It’s got the typical HBO pilot thing where it’s less an episode of television than the first hour of a long movie or the first chapter of a book. But I was surprised at how readily I was drawn into the conflicts, characters, and horse-racing world of the show ..."

L.A. Times: A great and perilous experiment

"Anyone who has been to Santa Anita in the early morning hours knows it is a place of poetry and pathos. ... But how to tell the story of such a place without lapsing into overworked extremes, the sentiment of bond between human and horse, the simplistic adrenaline of a champion's tale, the heartbreak of gambling's larcenous core?"

New York Magazine: Handy guide to understanding 'Luck'

What's a pick six? Why does Leon get weighed holding a saddle? For the uninitiated or semi-initiated racing fan (or those who don't speak mumble), here's a primer on Sunday's pilot.

Reactions to “Luck” on Twitter:

@jockeychantal, who plays the character Lizzy: I kind of LOVED it!!!!!!

@andyserling: I thought " Luck " was great. Enjoyed it a lot. Excellent start.

@peterjborelli: I liked it & love horseracing in spotlight. But maybe #Luck projects bad image? Opp. for @NTRA & @DRFInsidePost to educate?

@Starofthenorth1: Think we'll still have a game to sell when Milch and Mann are done with us?

@tgrevelis: I'm predisposed to enjoy Luck, yet do far I don't find any character I can root for.

thomas murphy More than 1 year ago
Maybe I'm missing something but if there are 9 payouts for the pick six why did I see numbers 11 & 12 during the race? The tote board had payouts for 1 thru 9.
rick More than 1 year ago
i found it funny that after the 2nd to last race of the pick 6 they showed the payouts and horse 2 was like 355,000 the ones that were paying the max were horses 8 and 5 but then the last race horse 2 won and it showed horse 2 paying the max payout , kind of suprised they would make a simple mistake like that, go back and watch again if u missed it,
DLV More than 1 year ago
I watched the show twice; and as a long time trainer and race horse enthusiast I thought the show was HORRIBLE! Talk about portraying the worst aspects of a sport! I think that racing does need a "shot in the arm" to generate a little more attention and interest, but this is definitely going to do the opposite! I have been around racing most of my life and have many friends and family that have done the same and this show does NOT accurately depict the atmosphere of racing fans or horseman. If the creator of this show is involved with racing I am very ashamed of him as a fellow member of this sport that I so love. He chose to show nothing but low-lifes (lives?) for characters; the horsemanship and training and some of the riding is not very realistic; why couldnt he have looked at racing with a little class! Also, I am surprised that world reknown jockey, Gary Stevens allowed his name to be put in the credits of this one!
larry More than 1 year ago
Hey, I might only be one person, but I think your fears of Luck's presentation of the sport are overstated. The first episode of Luck made me want to go to the track for the first time in my life, and I've never shown even a tinge of interest in horse racing. (or horses for that matter) There's something about the atmosphere, I don't know. Might just be that the Santa Anita track is something special. I'm not sure.
Deadwood Fan More than 1 year ago
Devote Deadwood fan who has been to the track a handful of times and have studied Milch at some length. To racetrack enthusiasts, your only worry should be that MM power-grabbed the series from Milch and it'll be overly dramatic. Milch loves his characters and setting and from what I understand he has absolute love for the track. And I think you guys are being overly protective. I thought the gamblers were shown in a sympathetic and honest light. Obviously they are flawed, and their ambivalence to the horse breaking its leg was callous, but rang true considering the stakes. That said, the three had genuine affection for each other (the fourth was an outsider) that made me instantly like them. The reason none of them went bat-shit crazy when they won (as opposed to the outsider) was shock. The moment when Joey and Wheelchair-bound-short-breather fawned over the ticket "Don't crinkle it." showed, more than the money itself, they were happy they won. The horse being put down was done with great sympathy (through the lens of the jockeys) and was a great death scene (though I suspect it would have been a better payoff later, and it was Mann who orchestrated its presence in the pilot, as opposed to episode two or three). Finally, if you really want people to the track, know that Secretariat and Disney-Horse-Movies will not do it. I haven't been to the track in over a year and after watching the pilot, I was moved to call and schedule a trip with my buddies. Basically, the series isn't going to get you any newcomers, but it does provide the opportunity for the recreational attendee to up their attendance to local tracks beyond putting bets on the triple crown races. All told, if left in the hands of Milch, you're good to go and this will be a great series. If the Mann v. Milch conflict has resulted in Mann having final say on story, I won't vouch for the veracity of the plot or its long-term prospects.
Jimmy O from Chicago More than 1 year ago
Five schmo's at the track win $3 million in the Pick 6 and only one of them is dancing? If I won $600,000 I'd be dancin' naked in the streets!! 600K should provide enough incentive for the guy in the wheel chair to get up and walk again! I've never seen such a low-key celebration for such a high-key payoff. My Christmas wish for the show: Chantal in a scene "reducing" in the sauna. Sure, she could be wearing a bathing suit, but since this is not TV, it's HBO, maybe less is more? Please Santa, in future episodes, let my wish come true!
Jack A. More than 1 year ago
Jimmy "O" from Chicago.... I couldn't agree with you more about the behavior of the Pick 6 winners and their ability to contain their joy. Your remark about the guy in the wheelchair being able to "get up and walk" is right next to the comments made about "Da Hoss" when he was compared to "Lazarus" in the bible. I also totally agree about Chantal "reducing" to make weight in a swimsuit. That would be a real break-thru episode and would certainly give us "regulars" something to look forward to.
Kany More than 1 year ago
Dave, if the guy you are referring to--who didn't know that the longest shot on the board in the last leg of the pick six would get him the $2million+ payout --was the guy in the hat, my impression was that he was most assuredly not a railbird. He helped bankroll things but didn't know jack about horse racing. [Yep, if he was the one asking about the payouts it makes sense. I thought it was the skinny guy with the moustache but could be remembering it wrong. In any case it's a pretty minor point; for the most part I thought they got the big stuff right. - DR]
Ron L More than 1 year ago
((I'll try again)) Think it's gonna be a winner. Anyone that's naive enough to think the rounders & degenerates hanging over the rail in this HBO preview aren't typical of any track in N. America are, well,.......naive. It's part of the 'atmosphere' of horse racing, and people not comfortable with this kind of 'cast of characters' might not enjoy it. Better the ballet, perhaps. Can' wait for it to kick in end of Jan. btw: I don't know how, but I'm thinking the boys are gonna somehow screw up their pic 6 score.
Chris More than 1 year ago
I think the show will be a great draw to horse racing. It shows promise of making a trip to the Derby and is enthralling enough to bring new blood into the sport without dumbing it down enough to make it repetitive to those that know the sport. You can't always expect a "Seabiscuit" or "Secretariat" depiction of our sport. The sad fact is that most of the action in the show occurs, or has occurred in the world of horse racing, take a look at Dutrow for example. I loved the pilot and believe it plants the seeds for a great new show. I'm looking forward to following it.