Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: HBO's Luck

--Justina Severni

The pilot episode of HBO’s new series “Luck” is exactly what you’d expect of a horse racing drama airing on HBO. The show, created by David Milch, is dramatic, mysterious and shows the seedier side of the sport as well as the people associated with it. From a purely cinematic standpoint, the show looks promising. Its dark tone is conveyed in both the gritty subject matter and the green tinted lens used throughout the pilot to create a grimy distortion of beautiful Santa Anita Park. The acting is solid, and it appears that both Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte will be able to carry the show with their talent and ability to portray powerful, tormented characters. “Luck” doesn’t come off as a television show about horse racing, rather a show that will use horse racing as a vehicle in which to tell the stories of its characters. The racetrack brings together people from diverse backgrounds, providing Milch an easy common tie between plot lines and characters.

As with most dramas, “Luck” is an extremely exaggerated picture of life. The distortion between the price of the Pick 6 ticket and the number of picks was one of the most obvious to those familiar with the sport. Some of the characters such as the wise old trainer, naive youngster and the band of degenerate gamblers, come off as stereotypical, but hopefully they will become more fully formed throughout the season. The shadiness of the characters and actions in “Luck” must be taken by any reasonable viewer with a grain of salt. Its characters and plot lines create good drama, not a realistic portrayal of reality.

Although “Luck” focuses on the uglier side of the sport, I don’t think it will necessarily negatively affect horse racing. I’m sure the cringe inducing breakdown scene won’t send viewers immediately flocking to the track, but the show overall might at least get a wider audience interested in the sport. If the positive cinematic portrayals of racing in “Seabiscuit” and “Secretariat” didn’t encourage viewers to take to the track, that demographic won’t change its opinion based on an HBO show. However, the demographic HBO is most often viewed by, males ages 18-34, might become more interested in racing, or more specifically gambling. Becoming well-versed in handicapping is not as easy as picking up casino games, but portrayals of handicapping/betting in “Luck” might make it seem less intimidating to younger generations. The pilot alone introduced the Pick 6 to many of its viewers.

At this point, with the numerous problems within the industry, simply reminding people that horse racing is still around is helpful. In the state the sport is in, any news is good news. Racing fans can only hope that the goriness of the drama stays off the track (it appears in the preview that the setting will branch out from the track with a shot of a blood drenched boat), that viewers don’t believe the show to be an accurate representation of the industry, and that it at least piques the viewer’s interest in the sport.

Justina Severni is a recent graduate of Trinity College in Hartford. Her interest in horses started when she began riding on at her family farm in Connecticut, and has continued through her years of riding and training. She first experienced the track during a vacation to Saratoga Springs, and her love of horses and the thrill of racing has kept her watching ever since.


Cheryl Ann said...

Frankly, I was underwhelmed by it. My uncle was a trainer and I'm familiar with both the back side and the stands...Will I watch it? Probably. Am I impressed? NO!

Anonymous said...

I think you are exactly right about the show. Enjoyed reading your comments and insight.

Brad said...

Nice job Justina, you are right on with your comments.I enjoyed your insight, you have a good understanding of the industry, the horse aspect and the gambling side. Some attention to our sport is better than none. However you are correct, the show does NOT present an accurate representation of the industry.