To suggest that HBO’s latest original series Luck is solely about horse racing would be similar to dismissing The Sopranos as a mob show or Boardwalk Empire as a booze epic.
Sure, the backdrop involves horses and the track, but first and foremost Luck is about the characters — much like the other aforementioned HBO hits. And when your lead character is played by the great Dustin Hoffman, you know you are starting off on the right foot.
Hoffman makes his television debut playing Chester “Ace” Bernstein, a wheeler and dealer who has just been released from prison. Not one to play it safe, he immediately sets his sights on settling some old scores at Santa Anita race track. HBO is re-airing the pilot tonight (9pm ET) for those who missed the soft launch a few weeks ago.
From the genius minds of director Michael Mann and Deadwood creator David Milch (also of NYPD Blue fame), Luck looks at the world of horse racing through the eyes of the owners, gamblers, jockeys and gaming industry players. And much in the same way that non-baseball fans were drawn to the Brad Pitt film Moneyball, the characters here can have a similar effect on horse-racing novices.
I’ve probably been to a racetrack a handful of times in my life, but I was completely taken in by the people in this pilot. Most are degenerates who show up to the track hoping each new day is the day they strike it rich. Two such characters are played brilliantly by Jason Gedrick and Kevin Dunn, two down-on-their-luck gamblers who devise a scheme to win a Pick Six bet that will net them millions.
Also starring in this incredibly diverse cast are Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Richard Kind, Jill Hennessy, Tom Payne, Kerry Condon and Gary Stevens. And each one of their characters has a riveting storyline about their life in horse racing. Some are uplifting, others are downright depressing.
It’s that range of emotion that makes it worth your while to take a leap of faith with HBO’s latest venture. Even those not interested in horses running around a track might find themselves falling for this show. I, for one, feel very fortunate to have Luck on my side.
Credit: HBO/Gusmano Cesaretti