Thursday, 20 June 2013

TV2: Luck and David Milch

Having been overwhelmingly encouraged to write more posts about TV shows, I will begin with the show I watched most recently: a short-lived (2011-12) HBO series called Luck, created and written by David Milch. Milch is second only to Aaron Sorkin on my list of all-time best TV screenwriters. In my review of Dexter, I mentioned Milch’s masterpiece, Deadwood, an HBO western which lasted only three seasons despite being an exceptionally well-made TV show. The dialogue in Deadwood, delivered by actors performing at their peak, was literally Shakespearian, with a wit and wisdom that the Bard himself would have been proud of. The language, however, is as ‘foul’ as one will find anywhere in film and TV, and the sex and violence rival Game of Thrones.
Luck, on the other hand, has relatively little sex and violence. The language is also somewhat tamer, but language has never been an issue for me (sex is also not an issue for me, but it bothers me when sex/nudity feels gratuitous, as it does in many cable TV shows, used primarily to attract a certain demographic to uncensored cable TV). But Luck does have the same brilliant writing, acting, directing and cinematography we find in Deadwood. Indeed, Luck is not only film-calibre TV; it is Academy Award level film-calibre TV. This is as good as TV gets, so of course it was cancelled after only one season (blamed on the deaths of three horses during the filming of season one). 
Luck is very much about horses. More specifically, it is about the daily goings-on at a large racetrack in California. We are introduced to a variety of characters who are part of the daily racetrack scene, from owners, trainers and jockeys to the gamblers who want to get more involved in the inside world of horse racing. Despite the fact that Luck is advertised as a Dustin Hoffman vehicle (Hoffman plays a horse owner just released from prison, where he served three years for a crime he did not commit), Luck does not focus long on any of its characters. Like Deadwood, this is an ensemble show. In Luck, that includes such veteran actors as Michael Gambon, Dennis Farina and John Ortiz, though it is Nick Nolte who steals the show (IMHO) as an owner/trainer struggling with his inner demons which are directly related to the great horse he is training. 
My interest in horse-racing and gambling is only marginally greater than my interest in serial killers, so Luck is not a show that would normally attract my attention. But the name David Milch carries a lot of weight for me. I am not much interested in the surfing world either, but found Milch’s John From Cincinnati (another one-season HBO show), about a strange Christ-like figure in small-town California, almost  endlessly fascinating, with lots of Milch’s rich and thought-provoking dialogue. So I decided to give Luck a chance and I’m certainly glad I did. It won’t be among my very favourite shows of all-time (because of the subject matter and the short run), but it’s a solid **** TV effort.
Tomorrow: The travesty called Man of Steel.

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