We can imagine some of the criticisms of what we feel is a budding hit series, HBO’s new drama “Luck”. The first few episodes seemed incredibly veiled, cloaked in terseness, as though the show was afraid to give away too much, too soon. On top of that, anyone not acquainted with race track vernacular and etiquette, as I am not, had another layer of code to wade through. But from early in episode one when the four amigos put together a complex pick six parlay, led by Jerry, a degenerate gambler genius, who reasoned out the long shot selection of Mon Gateau, a horse they now own, a person like me who fancies a good gamble–especially a good parlay, which is where the real money is–could feel that Luck was cultivating a certain electricity and excitement at Santa Anita. And when Mon Gateau went out and won its race, which was captured brilliantly in it’s full glory, as one would expect from a David Milch production, and the four amigos had won the 2.6M pick six, we felt that gambler’s high that only comes when a good wager goes green.
Jerry (Jason Gedrick), who tempts fate by playing in high stakes poker games he usually loses, has already lost a good portion of those massive pick 6 winnings, but the flawed nature of this character has hit home, making his storyline all the more interesting to us. The four amigos made him the point man for the acquisition of Mon Gateau, and his street smarts both sealed the acquisition and secured that ace trainer Escalante (John Ortiz) would continue working with the horse, who, it seems very few people have the patience or nature to get along with.
While Jerry, to us, has stolen a portion of the show, there can be no doubt that this endeavor belongs to the legendary Dustin Hoffman, whose Ace Bernstein character has just been paroled from prison, taking a Cocaine possession charge for his grandson, that landed him 3 years in the fed. While the first few episodes were exceedingly murky especially in regard to the Bernstein character, the plot has done enough to direct us toward a Bernstein revenge plan against those who have wronged him and his family.
In our minds, Bernstein is the next great HBO character, and will fall in line with the likes of Al Swearengen and Tony Soprano. And to see Hoffman on HBO in his first ever television gig has been an immense gift for acting buffs and an all time coup for the network, with the credit going to Hoffman and David Milch. To see Hoffman in scenes with his driver/confidante/right hand man, Dennis Farina (who could forget Farina as crime boss Jimmy Serrano in the all time DeNiro classic “Midnight Run”?) has been a real treat, and they are brilliant together. And what about Hoffman’s first scene with our guy, Michael Gambon, who played Eddie Temple in Layer Cake, and who delivered on one of our all time favorite film monologues that ended with him telling Daniel Craig, “Welcome to the layer cake, son.”? Gambon, most well known to youngsters for his work in the Harry Potter films, plays an ex and again business associate of Bernstein’s named Mike, dubious of character at best, and who was probably behind Ace’s set up and 3 year jail term.
Mike: ‘How’s your grandson, Ace?’
Ace: ‘He’s good. Don’t talk about my grandson again.’
Mike: ‘He’s very lucky to have someone do what you did for him. Really, he’s good?’
Ace: ‘You better fucking pray to fucking God every day he stays that way.’
There could be no doubting that Hoffman would bring his trademark electricity to the role, also establishing instant rapport with Patrick Adams (Mike Ross, Suits), who Ace has chosen to be his go between with the villainous Mike. When Adams, playing young lawyer Nathan Israel, is first enlisted by Bernstein, the uptight young man is mock chided for “answering a question with a question.” When Israel is a bit more comfortable with Bernstein, in a subsequent meeting, he asks, “so what will I be doing to earn my keep?” Bernstein replies, “so what do you think you’d be good at?” Israel retorts, “answers a question with a question.” After Israel reports back to Ace the details of his first meeting with Mike, he tells him he’s not sure he can continue because of his conscience. Bernstein replies, “that’s because you’re an honest man. So far.”
With all of the obvious big money on the line, and with Bernstein already spending a fortune to buy a 5.1% stake in the race track, while leading others to believe he will bring lucrative casino and parlor gaming to Santa Anita, the stage seems set for the sting, and we expect it will bring out the duplicitous nature of some. In the first episode, Ace tells Gus that he doesn’t trust anyone, but that in Gus’s case, he gets a pass.
In light of the congratulatory cake that Gus and Ace received in episode 6, a message to Gus emblazoned upon it that read not “Way to go Greek” but rather “Wait To Go Greek”, which was presumed as having something to do with Gus’s horse winning a race, from Mike and his crew, until Gus says out of earshot of Ace, “No icing error, this.”
Gus is obviously receiving a signal from the other side, but is he really one of them? Or are they possibly threatening him? All still part of the unrevealed plot.
While Ace has shown a forthright business nature in meetings with his board of directors, with the head of the casino, and with Escalante, whom he confronts over the training of the horse Ace secretly owns, Pint of Plain, he has also shown a tremendous soft side for the animal, spending one night in a chair in the barn outside the horse’s stall to see him through the night, and beaming in conversations about the animal. Bernstein is truly at peace when the horse is at peace, and is livid when he feels Escalante is misusing the horse as a means of manipulating the odds. Escalante, a major player in Luck, is a gruff trainer and a difficult guy, and Bernstein calls him to the carpet right away, because he wants to know if Escalante is a trainer or a gambler. Escalante replies, ‘who says if you’re one it means you can’t also be the other?’
To his credit, the hardened Escalante does obviously love the animals he trains, and seems to respect both Jerry and Ace for their smarts, and for the way in which they care for their animals. Also, Escalante doesn’t seem to know that it was Bernstein who got Escalante his break in the business, by suggesting that the stables hire him when he was only a kid who seemed to always be hanging around the horses. We feel this is a resting plot line right now that will be revealing itself in good time, which Luck most certainly is, a veritable cornucopia for TV fans, replete with two forms of lightning in a bottle. They have captured the tension, intensity, and magic of the races themselves, a tall order when filming with the animals, and also, the magical chemistry between fantastic castmates performing edgy, well written scenes.
We even get to see more of Kerry Condon practically naked (Octavia from Rome), who jockeys Walter Smith’s (Nick Nolte) star horse, Gettn’up Morning.
We like everything about Luck, including the song. If you’re behind on your Luck, you have some great television to look forward to, and for those caught up, while only 3 episodes remain, Luck has already been renewed by HBO for a ten episode run beginning next January.
Lucky for us.