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HBO's Luck: For horse-racing fans only?
The pay cable network's ambitious new drama delves deeply into a sport that's foreign to many Americans. Does the gamble pay off?
 
Dustin Hoffman stars in the new HBO series "Luck," a behind-the-scenes dissection of the world of horse racing.
Dustin Hoffman stars in the new HBO series "Luck," a behind-the-scenes dissection of the world of horse racing.
HBO/Gusmano Cesaretti

HBO's newest drama, Luck, boasts a typically rich pedigree. It is directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider), written by David Milch (Deadwood), and stars top-tier actors including Dustin Hoffman, Michael Gambon, and Nick Nolte. Set at a California racetrack, Luck explores the relationships among the gamblers, the jockeys, the trainers, the owners, and, of course, the local horses. Critics are marveling at how deeply Luck (which premieres Sunday) penetrates the complex world of horse-racing. But will viewers who aren't already steeped in the sport feel alienated?

Anyone with taste will enjoy Luck: "I have no sentimental attachment to horse-racing," nor am I particularly interested in it, says Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. But thanks to the artistry of everyone involved with Luck, "I became caught up in the world of the track, and the passions of the people who gravitate towards it." Skillfully acted, deftly scripted, Luck manages to "paint a beautiful picture" of a "dirty, obsolete, addictive world." The show exemplifies art: Its creators take something they care about deeply "and make other people care deeply too, even if they never expected to."
"Review: Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte head to the track in HBO's Luck"

It's far too insidery: Gambling, horse races, the track, jockeys, "the sly mathematical ecstasy of statistics": These "are a few things I know little about," says Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker. And, despite Luck's "lofty, loving" intent to celebrate the esoteric subculture of horse-racing with such detail, it's as "impenetrable as Klingon" to me. The big problem? "It takes for granted that we'll care about the fates" of these insiders. Scene after scene features "a long, mumbling monologue to a horse." But all I could think of was "Mister Ed."
"Horsey set"

But that's exactly why it succeeds: It's the insider nature of Luck that makes it so rewarding and spellbinding, says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. Without a doubt, David Milch is "one of television's finest writers" — he proved that with Deadwood. Milch is a lifelong fan of horse-racing and gambling, a passion he pours into Luck, saturating the viewer with a real sense of what life's like at the track. This is a subculture that's never been seen "quite like this."
"Luck: TV review"

 

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