Though I haven't checked yet, I'm assuming that many racing bloggers and turf writers will be taking stock of the sneak peek of the new HBO drama, "Luck", which is set around a racetrack in southern California. I’ll weigh in with some of my impressions as a race fan, horse owner and big fan of HBO’s roster of dramas.
I watched the show with the folks in the “Twitterverse” which was absolutely fascinating. It was very interesting - and a lot of fun - to get instant feedback from many in the racing community. Hazarding a guess, I would say that the commentary seemed to be running about 2-1 against with a few folks “riveted” and thought it was “great” but most “disappointed” and thought it was downright “bad.”
I’m willing to see where it goes and, for the most part, I won’t put a bullet in a show after one episode but I have to say that after the pilot I find myself in the disappointed camp.
Some of my issues:
- There wasn’t a single character that I feel drawn to…or even like, yet. The Irish exercise rider seems like she might have some potential but no one else so far. Nick Nolte and Gary Stevens’ characters have some potential but the rest of the cast… I’m afraid that general consensus from the non-racing public will be “I KNEW that the racetrack was full of degenerates! And horses just die all time.” Never mind Dustin Hoffman's organized crime boss ("and the tracks are run by the mob!"). Sure I’ve run into some real characters on the backside, but mostly warm, caring folks who are insanely passionate about what they do and the animals they work with.
- To add a (b) to the above, there was a lot of racing insider lingo as well as classic (trite?) portrayal of racetrack denizens. My wife is on the periphery of the track because of me, so she understands more than the "layman" and she was turned off by the characters and the unexplained slang. And she is a BIG fan of most HBO dramas so she is in the target demographic wheelhouse and she wasn’t remotely drawn in.
- The racing was disjointed to me. The cutting of the race showed the stretch then the backstretch and then the stretch again. I understand that it’s hard to photograph a real race, but after the start there was too much space in between the horses – most likely to allow for movement and positioning. It appeared contrived.
- The breakdown. Did we really need to have a breakdown right off the bat? We have enough of that in real life, did we really need it in the very first episode?
- It may be early for this and may be addressed, but it’s been made clear that this is a track in California. As our Cal friends know, a casino at a track – or even in place of a track that is not Native American – can’t happen given the parameters of the agreement signed by Gov. Swartzenegger with the California Tribes. As part of a way to try and ease the budget crisis, the Tribes agreed to pay a portion of their casino proceeds to the state in exchange for exclusivity which amounts to billions of dollars. That money goes away if a non-Native casino is approved/built so the premise is a little shaky.
I didn’t hate the entire show. There were some portions of it that I did like.
- When the trainer tells Dennis Farina’s character (an Italian playing a Greek – close, but there are enough Greek/American actors that could have stepped in here…just sayin’) that the horse “will tell us” when he’s ready to run was fabulous and spot on. A good trainer can read the signs of his/her racehorse and know when the horse is letting them know it is time.
- Filming at Santa Anita is fabulous. It’s a gorgeous racetrack and the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains is breathtaking. The “color” shots of morning workouts are visually very appealing.
- There is the possibility that some of the story lines will grow on me. I know that the substance abuse tortured jockey story line may be a bit cliché, but I’m looking forward to that backstory and hoping that it’s a bit of an uplift. I thought Stevens did a great job in relating the pain the entire track community feels when a horse goes down. Nick Nolte’s character’s recognition that he may just have landed the once in a lifetime horse gave me something to look forward to, though the shadiness hinted at (“how they killed” his daddy) in the pilot has the potential to be off-putting.
- While I ripped some of the racing photography above, there was some of it that was great. Morning works were excellent and the race shot of the apprentice shooting the gap on the rail near the finish line was thrilling. THAT was very nicely done.
All in all, I’ll give it a shot after the first of the year but I’m predisposed to loving “Luck” and I’m not sure I even like it yet.