David Milch. Michael Mann. Dustin Hoffman. Nick Nolte. HBO's Luck, which premieres Sunday night at 9 ET, claims all of those defiantly individual artists and more, working towards a common goal: to produce an involved, multi-layered, intriguing show about the world of horse racing. At that goal, they cross the finish line impressively -- but not in record time.
It takes a while to define, understand and warm up to the characters and conflicts in Luck -- but it's worth the effort, and the commitment. By episode three, all the pieces are in place, and Luck really begins to pay off...
HBO's Deadwood, Milch's career-best TV creation, remains unsurpassed, by him and by most others. But Luck, in its first season (HBO, unusually and proudly, provided all nine Season 1 hours for preview), manages to pull off three things that Deadwood managed so masterfully.
One, Luck presents so many compelling characters, embodied by so many talented actors, that you become satisfied watching no matter who is, or isn't, on screen at the time.
Two, it covers the entire spread of perspectives, from the corporate owners in the luxury boxes to the horse trainers in the stalls, from the jockeys on the saddles to the gamblers in the stands. Like Deadwood, which saw that town from so many perspectives -- saloon owners, hookers, doctors, lawmen, mine workers, and so on -- Luck gains it strength by pivoting around a single point. In Deadwood, it was the town. In Luck, it's the track.
And three, it looks as good as it sounds. Milch, and the writers working under him, haven't tried to duplicate the puffed-up Shakespearean cadences of Deadwood, but have found their own language in the clipped poetry of the track. And under Mann's direction (literally, for the premiere episode), the images, like the four-legged animals competing on the oval, are majestic.
That's one thing I really enjoy watching in Luck, by the way. There are scenes where various characters have to interact with the horses -- petting them, talking to them, bathing and training them -- and those scenes are like improv. The horses act, and their human co-stars react -- or the other way around. But the horses, in close-up, make it all seem more real somehow.
(For a full review of Luck, and a clip featuring Dustin Hoffman, listen to Friday's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR -- or, after about 5 p.m. ET Friday, visit the website HERE.)