Luck (TV series)
|Created by||David Milch|
|Opening theme||"Splitting the Atom" by Massive Attack|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||9 (List of episodes)|
|Original run||December 11, 2011– March 25, 2012|
Luck is an American dramatic television series created by David Milch and starring Dustin Hoffman. The pilot episode was directed by Michael Mann. The series premiered on January 29, 2012. HBO aired the first episode on December 11, 2011, as a preview. It was immediately renewed for a second season of 10 episodes, scheduled to air beginning in January 2013. However, the show was canceled on March 14, 2012 due to animal safety concerns. The first season's remaining episodes continued to air. The complete first season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 27, 2012.
- Dustin Hoffman as Chester "Ace" Bernstein
- Dennis Farina as Gus Demitriou
- John Ortiz as Turo Escalante
- Richard Kind as Joey Rathburn
- Kevin Dunn as Marcus Becker
- Ian Hart as Lonnie McHinery
- Ritchie Coster as Renzo Calagari
- Jason Gedrick as Jerry Boyle
- Kerry Condon as Rosie Shanahan
- Gary Stevens as Ronnie Jenkins
- Tom Payne as Leon Micheaux
- Jill Hennessy as Jo Carter
- Nick Nolte as Walter Smith
- Michael Gambon as Michael "Mike" Smythe
- Ted Levine as Isadore Cohen
- Barry Shabaka Henley as Parole Officer
- Chantal Sutherland as Lizzy (Rosie's friend)
- Weronika Rosati as Naomi
Chester "Ace" Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), a career mobster, has just been released from a three-year prison sentence. Gus (Dennis Farina), his long-time friend and driver, has become the owner of "Pint of Plain," a promising Irish racehorse. Ace immediately begins making plans to take control of the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles, while simultaneously plotting revenge against the ones he holds responsible for sending him to prison.
Season one (2011–2012)
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2012)|
In his late 60s, Chester "Ace" Bernstein has had a long and apparently profitable career in organized crime, primarily in gambling, and has just finished serving a three-year term in federal prison in California. Ace's longtime driver and factotum, Gus, picks him up at his release. On the drive to Ace's home in Los Angeles, Ace confirms that Gus has become the registered owner of "Pint of Plain", a promising Irish racehorse whose purchase was arranged by business associates of Ace while Ace was in prison. The horse is being trained at Santa Anita Park by Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), a successful trainer whose career Ace has quietly followed for many years.
Ace visits his former business associate Nick DiRossi (Alan Rosenberg) to discuss a plan to gain control of the Santa Anita racetrack in order to introduce casino gambling there. It soon becomes clear that the real purpose of this plan is to strike back at the people Ace holds responsible for his prison term. These people include DiRossi, Isadore Cohen (Ted Levine), a casino executive whose company Ace wants to handle gaming at the track, and Michael "Mike" Smythe (Michael Gambon), Ace's former business partner; it appears that Mike's unauthorized use of an apartment owned by Ace in New York to stash a large quantity of cocaine is what led to Ace's prison term.
Simultaneously, Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Lonnie (Ian Hart), Renzo (Ritchie Coster) and Jerry (Jason Gedrick), a group of "railbirds" (habitual gamblers and hangers-on at the track) are planning to make a killing by pooling their money to bet on a "pick six" that could pay the winner over $2 million. Jerry, a brilliant handicapper of races who is perpetually broke due to his addiction to poker, has selected the six bets. The key to maximizing their chances is focusing on one horse that is a longshot in the 4th race - "Mon Gateau." Jerry knows that Mon Gateau has been trained by Escalante, who he believes has been hiding the horse's true quality in order to manipulate the odds and profit by betting on the horse. Leon (Tom Payne) is Mon Gateau's rider, a "bug" or young jockey who is just beginning his career. Leon knows nothing of Escalante's machinations, but merely wants to win the race so that other riding opportunities will come his way.
Jerry's hunch proves accurate when Mon Gateau comes from behind to win the 4th race, and the four bettors find themselves splitting more than $2.6 million. The impecunious railbirds must now deal with the attention and the temptations that come from winning a large sum of money. Escalante, meanwhile, quietly collects his own winnings of more than $30,000 from placing bets on Mon Gateau.
Walter Smith (Nick Nolte), an elderly trainer/owner from Kentucky, is training his own horse, "Gettn'up Morning," at the track with the help of young Irish jockey Rosie (Kerry Condon) but so far has not entered any races. Few people besides Walter know that Gettn'up was sired by the famous Kentucky thoroughbred "Delphi" and has the potential to win the highest honors in the sport. Unknown to Walter, however, Joey Rathburn (Richard Kind), a jockey's agent who is always at the track looking after his clients, has seen Gettn'up on a morning practice run and also has an inkling of its tremendous potential. Joey begins scheming to have his client Ronnie Jenkins, a once successful jockey who is struggling with alcohol and drugs, ride Gettn'up in place of the neophyte Rosie.
Gettn'up's sire Delphi had been owned by Walter's late employer in Kentucky, "the Colonel," and trained by Walter. Ronnie runs into Walter at the track during Gettn'up's morning exercise; the two men know each other from their years in Kentucky, so Walter asks Ronnie to drop by his barn later for a chat. In a conversation overheard by Rosie, Walter tells Ronnie that when the Colonel died, the man's heirs killed Delphi in order to collect on a large insurance policy. Walter is angry and bitter about the incident, but hopes to find success with Gettn'up, Delphi's colt. That evening, Rosie tries to persuade Walter to let her ride Gettn'up in his first race. Walter gently and sympathetically refuses, telling her that she is too inexperienced. Shortly afterward Walter asks Joey to arrange for Ronnie to ride Gettn'up in the colt's first race. Joey, delighted, agrees. Walter officially enters Ronnie as the jockey for the race, but days before it is to take place Ronnie is injured during another race and is ruled medically ineligible to ride for weeks. Walter now asks Rosie to ride the colt rather than choose a jockey who does not know the animal. Although Gettn'up gets off to a bad start, he comes from far back to win the race easily, astonishing everyone with his speed.
Leon, meanwhile, is having trouble "making weight." After a long spell in the sauna for that purpose, he faints, hits his head on the floor and suffers a concussion.
Escalante enters Mon Gateau in a "claiming race," in which all horses running can be purchased by bidders who file their bids or "claims" before the race. Escalante's purpose is to continue raising the odds on a horse he clearly believes has much potential, but his plan backfires when two bidders file claims to purchase the horse. One is Renzo, one of the four railbirds, who wants to present the horse to his three partners because its victory in the 4th race was the key to their "pick six" success. Another is Mulligan, a rival trainer. Mulligan's bid prevails and he takes ownership of Mon Gateau after the race. The railbirds, represented by Jerry, negotiate a deal with Mulligan to buy the animal and, having purchased it, hire Escalante as trainer.
Ace moves ahead with his plan for gaining control of the track by ordering his investment company to purchase stock in the corporation that owns it. During a board meeting at his company, Ace notices Nathan Israel (Patrick J. Adams), a young, brash and obviously intelligent money manager. He summons Nathan to his hotel for a private meeting, grills the young man, then offers him a huge salary to work directly for him. His intention, unknown to Nathan, is to use him as a go-between with the former business associates he is targeting for revenge. He then meets with one of those people, his former partner Mike, on Mike's luxurious yacht. Mike wonders whether Ace is still angry about the situation that led to his prison term, but Ace assures Mike the racetrack deal has nothing to do with it and Mike agrees to participate in the deal.
At his hotel, Ace encounters Claire LaChea (Joan Allen), who is there to ask for a contribution to her foundation for the care of former racehorses. Impressed with her charm and good intentions, Ace decides to get involved - both with the foundation and with her.
Marcus, the "elder statesman" of the railbirds, is hopeful that buying Mon Gateau will give Jerry something to do that will keep him away from the poker table. That hope is dashed when Jerry agrees to a private high-stakes game at a restaurant owned by Leo Chan, a canny Chinese poker expert who enjoys taunting (and beating) him. Jerry is in danger of losing the bulk of his winnings from the "pick six" to Leo when the other railbirds show up and persuade him to quit the game by pretending that Marcus is deathly ill and needs his help. Although he realizes that his friends tried to trick him, Jerry thanks them for intervening.
When Gus informs Ace that Escalante has entered Pint of Plain in a race without telling him, Ace decides to go to the track to confront the trainer. Leon has been listed as rider for the race; Ace, once a bookie himself, realizes that Escalante has listed the inexperienced Leon as rider in order to lengthen the odds on Pint. He demands that Leon be replaced by the most experienced jockey available and gives Escalante $5,000 to compensate Leon. Escalante reacts angrily, confirming Ace's suspicion that he was planning to profit by betting on the race, but finally submits. Ace invites Claire to watch the race with him and Gus in Escalante's box. During the race Pint's leg is injured when another horse throws a shoe, but Pint goes on to win. Ace is delighted by the horse's performance but worried about the mishap. When told that the full extent of the injury will not be known until tests can be run the next morning, Ace insists on spending the night in the barn watching over his horse.
Escalante gives Joey the $5,000 provided by Ace to compensate Leon, and promises that Leon will ride Mon Gateau again in his next race. Leon is pleased to learn he will ride Mon Gateau, but becomes upset when he finds out it is a consolation prize for being replaced as rider of the far more prestigious Pint. Ronnie, Joey's other client, has begun drinking again while sidelined by his injury. After an argument with Joey, he tells Joey he is moving to another agent.
Ace meets with Santa Anita's CEO to make an offer for the track and is received hospitably. Meanwhile, he sends Nathan Israel to meet with Mike, DiRossi and Cohen on Mike's yacht. The ostensible purpose of the meeting is to inform Ace's three partners of the details of the offer he is making for the track. The real purpose is to see if they will try to suborn Nathan, which they do by offering him a "second paycheck" to provide information on Ace's activities. Nathan accepts the offer and tells the three men that Ace is counting on the cooperation of California's Indian gaming lobby to get the state's approval for his casino gambling plan. Nathan, who remains loyal to Ace, tells him everything that happened after the meeting.
Walter Smith, who is preparing for Gettn'up Morning's second race, receives a letter from an attorney claiming that he owes $145,000 to the inheritors of Gettn'up's sire Delphi for stud fees and other expenses, even though the Colonel had waived those fees as a bequest to Walter at the time of his death. In Gettn'up's second race, Rosie disobeys Walter's instructions and uses the whip to urge the horse on. Gettn'up wins by six lengths, setting a new track record and drawing attention that Walter would rather avoid. Rosie apologizes and Walter is forgiving, but soon afterward one of the Colonel's heirs shows up at the barn to assert a claim to Gettn'up.
Joey Rathburn is depressed by the loss of his star client Ronnie and by his ex-wife's coldness when he contacts her to suggest a reconciliation. Alone in his dingy apartment he picks up a pistol and points it at his head. When a minor earthquake rattles the area at that moment, he is startled and fires elsewhere; the bullet ricochets and injures his cheek. After the wound is treated in a local emergency room, Joey finds that his constant stammer, which has made him a figure of fun to people at the track, is now gone. He treats the event as a sign that it is not time for him to give up on life.
The four railbirds attend the track to watch their horse, Mon Gateau, in his first race under their colors. Ridden by Leon, the horse wins convincingly, but because it bumped against another horse during the race the track stewards put the result on hold while they interrogate Leon about what happened. The stewards ultimately decide to confirm Mon Gateau's victory, and the railbirds celebrate at their hangout, the Long Shot bar. They give Leon a handsome tip and promise that he will always be their choice as rider.
Ace spends an afternoon visiting the horse farm where Claire's foundation is caring for old and injured racehorses and what he sees confirms his good opinion of her and of the project. Meanwhile, Nathan has another meeting on Mike's yacht. He tries to persuade Mike, DiRossi and Cohen that Ace is sincere in wanting the racetrack deal to go forward and to benefit everyone. Mike remains suspicious, however. When he concludes that both Ace and Nathan are trying to deceive him he explodes, clubbing Nathan repeatedly with a heavy glass ashtray. Nathan collapses in a pool of blood while DiRossi and Cohen look on, horrified. On his way back from the farm, Ace meets briefly with the chief of an Indian tribe who is expected to support his plan for the track. One of Mike's henchmen is following Ace and photographs the meeting - but Ace and Gus are well aware of this. Returning home that evening, Ace is concerned that Nathan never called to report on the meeting with Mike.
Rosie is anxious to find out whether Walter will let her ride Gettn'up again after her mistake with the whip. She asks Joey to talk to Walter about it and agrees that he will become her agent. Ronnie has resumed attending AA meetings and has recovered from his racing injury; he goes to Walter to ask to be considered once again as Gettn'up's rider. Walter, who has just enlisted the help of a lawyer to defend his ownership of Gettn'up, tells both Ronnie and Joey that he will decide on a rider shortly. Later that day he meets with Ronnie again and promises that if he remains sober and makes weight, the mount will be his. That evening, he tells Rosie of his decision and she takes it with good grace. But within hours of receiving Walter's good news, Ronnie has started using again.
Dr. Joanna "Jo" Carter is Escalante's veterinarian - and his lover. While a workman is disrupting the routine in Escalante's barn by installing a Webcam to allow Ace to look in on Pint of Plain from time to time, she asks Escalante to walk outside with her to discuss something. Before she can begin they encounter Eduardo, a young Mexican-American boy from a family of migrant workers, near Escalante's barn. She strikes up a conversation with the boy, who is fascinated by the horses and jockeys, but Eduardo's brutish uncle, who is in the training area to make a delivery, demands she pay $10 to talk to him. Escalante wants to throw the boy and his uncle out. To his annoyance, Jo pays the uncle and takes the boy on a tour of the barn and track. Later, she takes him to watch a race in which one of Escalante's horses, "Niagara's Fall," is running. When the filly is injured during the race she goes to help and gets Escalante to take charge of the boy. Unable to find the boy's uncle, Escalante gives him a ride home. Escalante drops Eduardo off in his neighborhood, which is little more than a shantytown; something about Eduardo clearly reminds Escalante of his own past as a penniless immigrant, so he gives the boy his contact information and tells him to get in touch if he needs anything. When Escalante and Jo get together again that night at his home, she tells him what she had meant to say earlier that day - she is pregnant. Jo is surprised when the normally brusque and undemonstrative Escalante reacts with tenderness and love.
At the direction of Mike, Isadore Cohen meets with the chief of the Indian tribe with whom Ace has been working and offers the chief an envelope full of cash to induce him to do business with Mike instead. The meeting is recorded on video by the chief's people, who then present Gus with a disc showing everything.
Ace and Gus receive an email purportedly from Nathan stating that although he believes everyone involved in Ace's racetrack deal is acting in good faith, he does not wish to continue "serving two masters." The email states that he is resigning his position and leaving town. Ace immediately understands that the email is a fake and that Nathan has been killed by Mike. When DiRossi arrives at Ace's hotel to "take the temperature" of the deal, Ace invites him to accompany Ace and Gus to the track to see their horse. Once there, Gus takes DiRossi to a disused room in Escalante's barn and makes it clear that DiRossi is not going anywhere until Ace has a talk with Mike.
With Gus keeping DiRossi on ice, Ace drives himself to Mike's yacht. He tells Mike that he knows about Nathan's murder but that he will take no action - other than cutting Mike and the others out of the racetrack deal. He presents Mike with a copy of the disc Gus obtained, conveying a warning that the authorities will find out about Cohen's bribery attempt if there is any more trouble from Mike. Mike is noncommittal with Ace, but when DiRossi returns to the yacht Mike lets him know that it is Ace who will be cut out of the racetrack deal, not him.
Dr. Jo Carter arrives at Escalante's barn for her morning rounds, bringing with her the boy Eduardo, who now works there. While removing a shoe from one of the horses she is kicked and suffers a bad fall. After telling Escalante she is fine, she has her assistant take her to the hospital out of concern for her pregnancy. An initial examination shows no serious problem, but while spending the afternoon in a hospital room for observation she experiences some symptoms of a miscarriage. When Escalante learns what is happening, he rushes to her side.
The Western Derby, a race for three-year-olds with a total purse of $1 million, is approaching, and both Pint of Plain and Gettn'up Morning are entered. Ronnie Jenkins is to ride Gettn'up. Another race will be run on Derby Day with lesser contenders and a smaller purse, and the railbirds' horse Mon Gateau is entered in that one. When it is decided that the weight limit for Mon Gateau will be 112, Leon, who cannot seem to get below 117, is told by Joey that he will not have the mount. Instead, the mount will be given to Rosie, who can easily make the weight. Leon and Rosie have been seeing each other off the track and Rosie fears this news will complicate their relationship, but despite his disappointment Leon reacts graciously.
On Derby Day, Ace and Gus are looking forward to watching Pint run when three things happen that complicate matters considerably. Gus sees a news article about the discovery of a body near Marina Del Rey, where Mike's yacht is docked, and realizes that it may be Nathan. Gus detects that Ace is being stalked by a contract killer hired by Mike. Finally, as Ace and Gus are preparing to leave Ace's hotel, Ace's grandson Brent shows up, having received a plane ticket and invitation to the race that he thinks were sent by Gus; Ace and Gus immediately understand that the ticket was sent by Mike as a message to Ace that Brent is within Mike's reach.
Warning Brent to remain in his suite rather than come to the track, Ace and Gus visit the morgue to view the body that was found near the Marina. Recognizing Nathan at once, Ace is shocked by his body's mutilated condition and feels a heavy weight of responsibility for getting the young man involved with Mike.
Before heading to the track, Ace and Gus stop for lunch at a restaurant Ace frequents. While they are eating, Gus notices that a man he recognizes as a "spotter" for Mike's hit man is in the restaurant. Using a stratagem they have clearly employed before, Ace and Gus fake a loud argument to draw the spotter's attention. Gus appears to stalk out of the restaurant angrily; Ace gets up from the table and walks toward the men's room. The spotter signals the hit man, who goes to corner Ace in the men's room. When he enters the men's room, he is immediately assaulted by Gus, who has been waiting for him. Gus kills the hit man in seconds. Gus and Ace, who were never in the men's room at all, then leave the restaurant together.
Before creating Luck, David Milch had worked in television for three decades. He started off as a writer on the series Hill Street Blues before co-creating NYPD Blue with Steven Bochco and creating the HBO series Deadwood. Milch had been fascinated by horse racing from an early age as his father would take him to the track. “My dad started taking me to Saratoga at age 5 or 6. You have so many associations from childhood that stay with you.” He stated that he had been thinking about creating the series for 25 years and always pictured that it would be set at Santa Anita Park. "It's the most beautiful setting for horse racing that I've seen, and I'd include Saratoga", he said.
The character of on-the-skids jockey Ronnie is portrayed by racing fixture Gary L. Stevens, a Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in the course of his career. Stevens portrayed jockey George Woolf in the 2003 film Seabiscuit.
The series used 50 horses, trained by Matt Chew at Santa Anita. As he described, "Because it’s a natural tendency for horses to want to be a part of a herd, most adapt to it very well. We have a couple individuals that have been taught to be race horses; we’re not going to get that out of their system. We'll just have to adapt to it. But of the 50 horses, I’d say 45 of them have adapted to it real well."
Safety concerns and cancellation
The safety of the series' working environment was called into question by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which criticized Luck over the injury and euthanization of two horses during filming for the pilot and the seventh episode. The American Humane Association (AHA) said both racehorses "stumbled and fell during short racing sequences" and that "the horses were checked immediately afterwards by the onsite veterinarians and in each case a severe fracture deemed the condition inoperable." HBO pointed out that precautions had been taken: each horse was "limited to three runs per day and was rested in between those runs." On March 13, 2012, HBO agreed to suspend all filming involving horses while investigations took place over the death of a third horse. The AHA insisted the stoppage remain in effect until a comprehensive investigation was completed; it also noted the horse's injury did not occur during filming or racing. The following day, HBO canceled the series, saying that while it "maintained the highest safety standards throughout production ... accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future."
At the time of the show's cancellation, the second episode of the second season was in production. Footage shot for the second season has not been released publicly.
Linda Stasi from New York Post said in her review: "With an impossibly good cast, writing so spot-on it's poetic, and slow-build stories, I, for one, was left wanting more—even after watching the entire season." Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times, on the other hand, found the show "needlessly opaque". Newsday's Verne Gay praised the talent behind the series, "There are three excellent reasons—Milch, Mann and Hoffman—why your faith will be rewarded." Alan Sepinwall from HitFix called the series "clear and engaging" and singled out Hoffman's performance: "Hoffman is the big name, and gives an impressively buttoned-down performance."
Some criticism focused on the opacity of the plot, the apparent lack of attractive characters, and their audibility.
The December 2011 preview episode garnered a total of 1.14 million viewers on its original airing with a 0.36 ratings share among adults 18-49. The official series premiere, which was shown on January 29, 2012, garnered 1.06 million viewers with a 0.3 ratings share. The viewership reached its second lowest mark with the seventh episode at 474,000 viewers and 0.14 share.
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