TV Review: Luck

bill bodkin looks at HBO’s newest series …

Luck, HBO’s newest dramatic series, about the world of horse racing, stumbled out of the gates with its pilot episode. Yet, we’re going to chalk this up as a warm-up lap because despite the pilot’s shortcomings, its pedigree — an all-star cast and top flight production team — gives us a glimmer of hope that Luck could be a serious contender.

The problem with Luck’s pilot episode was there was just way too much going — it was literally like watching a horse race. The pace is almost too fast to keep up with, different characters vying for the spotlight. Yet when this race came to the end, there was no clear winner.

See, Luck, which is an ensemble piece, spends too much time introducing nearly every character in the series within 60 minutes and trying to give them their own shining moment. The problem with that is a pilot episode is supposed to be an appetizer, an introduction, a baby step. It’s supposed to layout the general idea of the show, introduce some conflict, some questions and when the credits roll you can’t wait for the next episode.

Luck instead gives you the main course first, an all-you-can-eat buffet of high tension drama, flawed characters, action sequences and horse racing lingo. Basically, it’s a core dump of information with no explanation. When the credits roll there’s one character, Dennis Farina’s Gus Demitriou, that you even remotely like. Everyone else is so underdeveloped you don’t have any connection to them.

Another major problem Luck suffers from is that the dialogue in a number of scenes is practically inaudible. Whether it be marble-mouthed thick accents or hyperactive motor-mouthing, every word in a pilot is supposed to matter.

However, there’s still a lot of potential in Luck. Sometimes pilots don’t do a series justice — ask anyone who wasn’t too into the beginning of The Killing, Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire (and there were quite a few). Sometimes a series just needs an episode or two to right the ship. And Luck has a tremendous cast including Hollywood heavyweights like Nick Nolte and Dustin Hoffman and longtime character actors like Joan Allen, Michael Gambon, Richard Kind and Kevin Dunn. This is a cast to die for, and any of these actors could easily raise the show from the doldrums with one terrifically written scene.

Outside of the cast, the series has Michael Mann, one of the most terrific directors and producers of the modern era, attached to it. Outside of the Miami Vice movie, Mann has delivered nothing but exquisitely filmed, acted and written films and TV series. Speaking of visuals, Luck is terrifically filmed. The horse racing cinematography is absolutely thrilling. In fact, they’re the best part of the pilot, they’re gripping and tense and emotional — something one would wish the plot was.

When Luck returns to HBO in late January, you should give the series a shot. It has all the trappings of what could be an excellent dramatic series with complex and engaging characters an intricately designed plot — that is, if we’re lucky.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites