TV review: Luck

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From the January 26, 2012 edition

HBO’s “Luck” may be the most anticipated drama series since “The Sopranos,” with its excruciating hiatuses between seasons. See, “Luck” is the latest project from David Milch, the creative force behind the much-revered “Deadwood.”

Milch’s previous HBO projects have been complex series that required time investments and patience at first, but paid off immensely — some may argue that’s not the case with “John from Cincinnati,” but que sera, sera.

Many lament that “Deadwood” never got its proper finish and have ached for another Milch series to satiate their appetites for rich dialogue and knotty plot. “Luck” will surely fulfill those salivating for Milchness, but will also welcome those either unfamiliar or unresponsive to his previous work thanks to some wonderful character-driven work on page and screen.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters on “Deadwood” were some of the all-time best; I just never connected with them like I already have with the people on “Luck.”

Dustin Hoffman as Chester “Ace” Bernstein, an ex-con fresh off a three-year stint, is the utterly mesmerizing star, but this is a full-on ensemble piece. “Luck” is a sprawling look at horse racing through so many trainers, jockeys, agents and gamblers that it would be impossible to do justice to it all here. I’ll just focus on the best.

I quite enjoy Ace, but not the way I do Nick Nolte’s Walter, an aging trainer/owner harboring a dark past. Walter’s tempered excitement and adoration for his sleeper horse is a masterful performance by Nolte.

Expert handicapper and degenerate poker gambler Jerry (Jason Gedrick) is pathetic, yet sympathetically so. The jockeys, Rosie (Kerry Condon), Ronnie (jockey legend Gary Stevens) and Leon (Tom Payne), offer hope and pathos.

Rounded out with executive producer (and pilot director) Michael Mann’s (“Heat,” “Collateral”) arresting visuals, the aesthetics (and stellar cast) make the insider horse-racing lingo — the press materials contained a five-page glossary — go down much easier. I grew up around thoroughbred racing and was still occasionally puzzled.

Milch’s writing may feel laborious and outrageously odd to some — remember the “c---sucker”-riddled Shakespearean soliloquies on “Deadwood”? — but the effort is easier with “Luck” and oh, so worth it.