Track Marks


The slam of a prison door is one of the first sounds you hear in Luck, the hyper-pedigreed new drama series that premieres on HBO on Sunday, January 29. Objectively considered, it should not be a mournful noise: that door is slamming behind Chester “Ace” Bernstein, an amiably shady entrepreneur—played by Dustin Hoffman—who is leaving federal prison after a three-year incarceration. But real freedom turns out to be in short supply for Ace and Luck’s myriad other protagonists. Be they jockeys, trainers, gamblers, owners, or assorted hangers-on, the characters in this strenuously atmospheric portrait of the horseracing world are all in abject thrall to the track.

Given this potentially suspenseful premise and a starry talent list—David Milch (Deadwood, etc.) created the series; Michael Mann (Miami Vice, etc.) is an executive producer; Nick Nolte co-stars; Michael Gambon makes recurrent appearances—Luck might seem to be an entertainment sure thing. But the series itself appears to have fallen captive to the racing milieu, reveling so exhaustively in the arcana of stable routines, sweepstakes procedures, and betting lingo that story itself becomes an also-ran.

Most problematically, Milch and his collaborators bestow comparable gritty, gloomy emphasis on too many characters, creating a biographic sprawl that even the actors’ consistently terrific performances can’t focus. The tale’s most intriguing figure is the...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.