TV Review: Luck 1.2

Now the series is finished putting the characters onto the board, beginning next week, we’ll get some better idea of what the larger picture is.

rating: 4

It wouldn€™t be accurate to say that I don€™t know anything about horse racing. I know, for example, that it€™s a form of racing that involves horses. Beyond that, I€™m pretty much at sea. I can tell from watching the pilot of HBO€™s new series Luck, that horse racing knowledge isn€™t essential, but I€™m very sure it probably helps with the enjoyment. I enjoyed the pilot. I liked the setup and the characters were interesting. If I€™d reviewed the episode, I would have given it 4 ½ out of 5 stars. As for this first proper episode of the series, well...I€™m still more than a little lost at sea, but I€™ve never been so entertained while being so very uncertain as to what I€™m seeing. Our story opens with €œAce€ Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) meeting with his probation officer. This includes all the usual awkwardness one would expect of such a situation, like having to pee in a cup. Then as he leaves his driver, Gus, (Dennis Farina) tells him he€™s arranged for a lunch with a potential investor in Ace€™s idea to expand gambling at the track. Meantime, speaking of gambling, Jerry (Jason Gedrick) is proving that he€™s not very good at it. It seems that he and his associates cashed in their winnings from the last episode and he€™s been pissing his away at poker games. He spends all his days at a casino playing poker with an Asian man who seems to have a grudge against. This, you know, is not going to lead anywhere healthy. As for the other three friends, Lonnie (Ian Hart) is prancing about in a new suit and Renzo (Ritchie Coster) has plans to go down and put a claim on a horse. Throughout this, Marcus (Kevin Dunn) mostly just shakes his head and chides the others for going out and spending their money, then heads down to the track to place some more bets. Speaking of the track, that€™s where we see that Rosie (Kerry Condon) is practicing her riding while Walter (Nick Nolte, who in every scene sounds like he€™s about to die from emphysema) watches her. We also learn that Joey (Richard Kind) is taking quite an interest in Leo (Thomas Payne) which one can only assume is professional. Things kick into high gear when most of our principle cast shows up for this episode€™s big race, and it€™s the one where Renzo has a claim on a horse; a horse that€™s being raced by Leo, trained by Escalante (John Ortiz), who Gus bets on while hanging out with Ace and whom Marcus also has a bet on. So, yes, there€™s much riding on the outcome€ There€™s a lot to admire about this episode. It continues the previous week€™s efforts at making horse racing something interesting and familiar to people like me who have little to no knowledge of it. I went into the episode not having any idea what a claim is and now know exactly what one is (though I think it sounds insane). I also remain impressed by the racing cinematography. Excellent performances abound, of course, including those by Hoffman and Dunn, who proves to be much better here than his appearances in the Transformers franchise might lead one to expect. The actors playing his little cadre are also very good (and half of them are British!). But I found myself lost much of the time. There€™s obviously still a lot about horse racing that I don€™t quite €œget€ and I€™m sure that€™s causing a problem. I frequently had problems figuring out exactly what Ace was up to both on and off the track and what was going on with Escalante. It didn€™t help matters that frequently I could only barely understand what was being said. It might be my TV that€™s the problem, though as the network likes to say, it€™s not TV, it€™s HBO. Despite my being lost, though, I did find the episode fairly entertaining, even if it wasn€™t quite as compelling as the first one. I think now the series is finished putting the characters onto the board and hopefully beginning next week, we€™ll get some better idea of what the larger picture is.
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Chris Swanson is a freelance writer and blogger based in Phoenix, Arizona, where winter happens to other people. His blog is at wilybadger.wordpress.com