Luck, HBO’s new horseracing drama, was abruptly cancelled after a third death of a horse during the making of the series. While the series only ended up with one season and the first season finale was never intended to act as a series finale, Luck is an enjoyable series that is more fascinated with looking at its characters than pulling off plot twists. That is what makes this series seem more complete than your average show that is cancelled without warning.
Luck follows the daily lives of horse trainers, jockeys, owners, and a crime boss or two at the Santa Anita racetrack. Behind this plot may be the most surprising collaboration in recent memory as the show’s two showrunners are David Milch and Michael Mann. If the reports are to be believed this collaboration was (unsurprisingly) not one of the smoothest, but the final product is proof that two opposing styles of filmmaking can bring you something great. David Milch brings his infamous dialogue. While that would seem to betray the realism in a contemporary setting that the show is going for, it never does and ultimately provides some of the most complete characters on television.
Michael Mann also brings his distinct visual style and the horseracing here may be the best that has ever been caught on camera. It’s perfectly edited and contains so much flair. Speaking of the horseracing, this entire product shows such affection for the sport. David Milch and his crew’s writing reveal a large amount of expertise on the subject and the camerawork from Mann and his crew tend to linger on the horses and the riders. It is also quite shocking how much talent Mann and Milch were able to bring to the show. Film directors Terry George and Philip Noyce directed episodes and Oscar winning screenwriter Eric Roth wrote the series finale.
Milch and Mann were also able to enlist one of the best casts on television. Dustin Hoffman toplines the series and for such a revered actor you would think Milch and Mann would be able to give him some good stuff to work with. Hoffman’s character is by far the weakest link on the show. It’s a character written into a mediocre revenge plotline that tries to make up for it by involving the biggest names in the cast (an okay Joan Allen and a menacing Michael Gambon). Despite these actors being dragged down by this plotline, the rest of the actors fare much better. Kevin Dunn, Ian Hart, Ritchie Coster and Jason Gedrick play a group of track-goers that hope to one day have enough money to spend all of their time there. Each actor handles the Milch dialogue really well and create the four most interesting characters in the series. Kerry Condon, Gary Stevens and Tom Payne play jockeys. Stevens and Payne never really get enough material to standout, but Kerry Condon emerges as one of the better performances in the ensemble as an Irish jockey who is looking for her breakout moment. Nick Nolte is probably the best of the cast as a horse trainer that is trying to overcome the death of one of his horses. He seems at home with the Milch dialogue and has some great moments in the second half of the series.
It is quite disappointing that Luck was prematurely cancelled, but the episodes we ultimately got provide a satisfying series.