Luck – Pilot
HBO have always been an unusual network, they differ from those around them in every way that a network possibly can; their distribution model is different (Premium Cable), therefore their audience is different and thus the content that they produce is also different (This is how they can afford to make shows like Game of Thrones and Treme, despite the obvious financial downsides to both shows). So it should come as no surprise that when it came time to start advertising their latest didactic drama, Luck, HBO decided to do something different, namely showing us (Critics and Everymen alike) a preview of the pilot a month in advance of the rest of the program.
Were they a traditional network then this would be a strange and almost damaging move, reducing as it will the ratings for the actual premiere of the pilot; however, given that they work on the basis of a monthly subscription this move actually makes a lot of sense. With Boardwalk over the networks Sunday night bait slot has been emptied and so their audience may decide to move on, or at least to cancel their package until Game returns; by previewing Luck like this they are hoping to keep us hooked in and paying over the holidays. So the move makes sense in theory, but does it work in practice? Is this a pilot with that kind of pull?
Personally I wasn’t sure that it would be and for the first fifteen to twenty minutes Luck seemed set on proving me right. I started to think to myself that HBO should have just run a list of the names involved in the series instead of the show itself, cut out after the opening credits, because that would have sold me on the subscription fee. This show, set around and inside a race track, is the brainchild of David Milch – part of the network’s Holy Trinity of Dave, The Father to be exact, starting as he arguably did gritty television with N.Y.P.D. Blue – and was birthed by Michael Mann behind the camera and has an amazing cast that includes Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte in front of it. Tell me that’s not a show you’d wait to watch?
unfortunately though Hoffman is held off to the side of the show for the entire episode, orating obtusely about things we can’t yet understand let alone care about; while Nolte sits still faced, speaking sweet-nothings to the son of a horse he once knew. We jump around the rest of the cast for the majority of the time but they aren’t much better, the only impact that they impart is a strange sense of underlying awkwardness. And all the while Mann is moving his camera around like another famous Michael might, getting grit and lens flare aplenty but not much more; though the style is there I don’t know what it is supposed to signify. It’s a mess basically. Want to change your answer now?
But then the track turns again when finally we find a race ready and raring to go. Once those horses have bolted from their boxes you stop humming and haing over HBO’s promotional policy and just jump into the show. All of a sudden this sullen, scummy place has a shining light to it and you just can’t look away, not that Mann lets you with these magnificently made sequences. A little victory sure, but it doesn’t end there, Luck’s got lucky, there’s a streak coming on.
With that first race all of the scattered sub-plots (bar Hoffman and Nolte’s) start to come together like they would in a good Altman film and for once the show makes sense, you get what you’re doing here. Some say that what connects HBO’s diverse line of programs is the profanity, others say that it’s nudity but neither of those are true; what bridges the Network’s divides in genre, content and style is the simple fact that all of its shows are ceaselessly complicated, they are shows that you must learn.
Luck follows this trend, though it does so a little differently than most: It’s not a language that you need to learn here like you did in Deadwood and The Wire, nor is it history and heritage like Thrones, though both of those things will no doubt be necessary to. No, everything that you need to learn about Luck is deep inside those two horse races: you need to know the readiness, the rush and the deflation that you feel in the back of your chest. You need to know how to gamble and once you do, well you’re gonna be in it for the long haul. Then there is that teaser package they played over the closing credits, that was something else. I hate to say it but…
Hi, my name is Luke and i’m a Luck addict. I don’t care how many points you put on the package, just keep streaming me HBO.