A confession before I begin.
I love Dustin Hoffman. Chances are I could watch anything with him in it and find it utterly wonderful (okay, so there was Little Fockers, but he was still pretty great in it). So, the chance to watch Hoffman week after week in a TV show is almost too good to be true for me – I think that qualifies as fair notice.
Luck is cinematic television.
The pilot is beautifully filmed (and with Michael Mann at the helm this is unsurprising), especially the equine-driven moments – the racing in particular is stunning; you can feel the anticipation and energy of the track through dynamic shots and editing.
The pilot was a little difficult to follow exactly in places, the problem with most pilots is that they have the job of setting up the main story lines and the main characters while simultaneously being enough of a stand-alone to generate interest from their audience and investors alike; it’s no easy job. Luck looks like it is going to offer some fairly complex characters with just as complex back stories and arcs and this is a great thing. But in order to make a character believable, a director will often have to leave the audience out of the loop a little – it can get very awkward filling in a back story effectively otherwise and there is one such moment in episode 2 when Hoffman and his right-hand man are in their car and the dialogue is driven purely by the necessity of filling the audience in on why Hoffman was in prison – it’s awkward and it interfered with my suspension-of-disbelief in a huge way. I get the feeling this device will come into play often but I am hoping I am wrong because the elegance of the show is undermined when these type of shortcuts occur as they make the structure of the show evident for all to see – not good.
There have already been flashes of Hoffman-like brilliance
as the understated but obviously highly dangerous character begins to get fleshed out on the screen. This is a story or rather stories about addiction and of high interest are the four gambling buddies, race-track losers who look like they have been through some fairly interesting situations to get where they currently find themselves – I am looking forward to seeing more of them as the season progresses as they represent a colourful underbelly aspect of horse racing and so far, they do it very well.
The other big name is Nick Nolte who doesn’t do very much in the pilot but who is already positively oozing potential – Nolte is talented enough to withhold everything but the bare minimum and he is playing the character close to his chest .. He comes alive more by episode 3 but at this stage Nolte and Hoffman are yet to encounter each other (which I am assuming becomes a plot point) as are Nolte, Hoffman and the four gamblers. Traditionally the characters in an ensemble are set up separately in order to bring them together and I may be wrong but as all main characters are sharing a location (the racetrack) and a passion (race horses) there should be some interesting conflicts coming when they do encounter each other.
My initial feeling after 4 episodes is that Luck is going to be a bit like The Sopranos in that although there are wonderful standalone episodes, it is going to be the overall season that provides the payoff for the viewer. The HBO connection is palpable as well (including the too long opening credits – what’s with that?) and, like The Sopranos, I think Luck is going to be a keeper. It isn’t as compelling yet, and let’s face it, there will never be another Tony Soprano but, I don’t think the comparison is too premature – themes like revenge, addiction, betrayal, power have all been introduced and time will tell if they are fleshed out as well as they were in The Sopranos. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the official trailer.