In watching the first two episodes of Luck, David Milch's new series about the world of thoroughbred horse racing at Santa Anita Park in LA, two things are evident.
The horses, who are at the center of the sport and serve as beautiful props in this HBO show, move very quickly. Everything else does not. But that's not a bad thing.
Milch, whose western Deadwood is still sorely missed by subscribers of the premium network and the impenetrable John From Cincinnati by not nearly as many, weaves a layered tale about those in and around the race track. The mostly sad current/back stories and the varied angle (s) of the players -- whether owners, trainers, stable workers, jockeys, gamblers or track officials -- don't rush out of the gate.
Dustin Hoffman's Chester "Ace" Bernstein has just finished a three-year stint after taking the fall for a family member, who was set up by a former business partner. Ace loves the ponies, the life and wants to expand his former power base, all the while looking to exact revenge, with the aid of his driver, confidant Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina).
A wizened Nick Nolte is trainer-owner Walter Smith looking for his own form of redemption through a promising colt, sired by a champion that met his death under mysterious monetary circumstances.
John Ortiz is the talented, irascible Peruvian trainer Turo Escalante saddled by a major case of paranoia. Jo (Jill Hennessy) is the track vet and the brilliant Escalante's girl. Richard Kind plays Joey Rathburn an overbearing agent for minor and would-be jocks, including Rosie (Kerry Condon), who is looking to graduate past training sessions. Kentucky Derby-winning rider Gary Stevens,(Seabiscuit) is Ronnie a boozed-up rider nearing the end of his career.
A quartet of track gamblers is also examined. Lonnie (Ian Hart) and Renzo (Ritchie Coster) have their issues with women and stupidity, respectively, while wheelchair-stuck, oxygen-sniffing complainer Marcus (Kevin Dunn) and Jerry, the stellar handicapper Jerry (Jason Gedrick) without similar talents at the poker table, are far more intriguing.
Then, there are the horses. Lovingly filmed from low-angle camera positions on the track, one gains a sense of the equine's majesty that doesn't necessarily come across from the grandstand or in the living room during network race coverage. Milch's characters share/convey their awe of the steeds' speed.
The sport of kings -- and those who would be so --has been on a long descent in America, so interest in show that opens up myriad aspects of the stables may not be broad. But even if you've never been to the track -- and some of the dialogue is a tad too inside the paddock -- it's still worth placing a bet on at least a few hours of Luck.
The first of nine hours of Luck debuts Jan. 29 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on HBO.