Luck Recap: Worth the Bother

After you've latched on to a new drama as enthusiastically as I've latched onto David Milch and Michael Mann's Luck, only to read tweets and Facebook posts and even whole articles declaring that it's slow and pretentious and not worth committing to, you start to see auto-critical flourishes in the program itself — shots and lines that tell people how to appreciate the series and what they'll miss if they abandon it. These touches are coincidental, of course; season one was shot in 2010 and 2011, before anybody really knew what kind of show Luck was, much less how to respond to it. But they're still useful, I think, because Luck is a rare TV drama with an intricately imagined worldview that you can see articulated, or at least explored, in episodes and subplots and scenes; I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that it's encoded in images and shots, too.

To wit: the recurring shot in Sunday's night's episode that starts by showing us the back of a character's head, then moves or cuts to reveal his face. On its most basic level, this shot is just a nifty, faintly mysterious way to unveil a character and ease into a scene. But it's also a metaphor for Luck's  M.O. as a series. Between Milch's baroque locutions, the slick and slightly chilly production design, and the many regional and international accents displayed by the cast, Luck might initially seem as off-putting as the back of a stranger's head, but in time the show's collective camera-eye swivels around and shows you faces worth getting to know. And as you get into this series, you'll get used to the milieu and dialogue and accents, become fluent in the rules and lingo of the racetrack (if you weren't already familiar going in), and — most importantly — grow attached to these characters, who initially present as bastards, cranks, and lost souls, but eventually become ... well, I better not go down that road right now, because I don't want to give anything away. Suffice to say that Luck is worth whatever bother it causes, but it's also a show that you have to study and absorb and reflect on. It doesn't connect the dots for you, it makes you do it. Milch's Deadwood and David Simon's The Wire were like that, too, but they had thriller plots and bursts of violence to keep people interested. Luck mainly has horses and grubby guys betting on them. Read More...


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