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luck, season/series finale

I’m not sure it’s worth discussing the reasons why there will be no Season Two of Luck. I’m in agreement with David Milch, who said that he had no bitterness towards HBO (“I think they were in an untenable position”) but that if it had been up to him, they would have continued making the series.

Those of you who are wondering if you should catch up on Luck when it turns up on disc should know that the season works fine as a standalone. There are some plot threads left hanging, but there is also a feeling that this first round has completed its run. If the show interests you, don’t let the sudden cancellation keep you from watching.

There was a lot of big-name talent behind Luck, and they all delivered: David Milch, Michael Mann, Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte. (Dennis Farina is a big name in my house, but I appreciate he might not fit everyone’s description of big name.) There were intriguing secondary characters played by the likes of Michael Gambon and Joan Allen. There was a finely-tuned understanding of the horse racing milieu, and Milch dropped us right into the middle of it, leaving it to us to figure out what the hell was going on (it didn’t take long to feel like a true racing aficionado). And there was a fascinating portrayal of an inscrutable trainer by John Ortiz. Finally, the was the usual array of “hey, it’s that guy!” … Richard Kind and Kerry Condon come to mind. Heck, we even had a jockey-turned-actor, three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens, who more than held his own.

But for me, the heart of the show was found in the four racing addicts that Milch referred to as “The Degenerates.” Marcus, Lonnie, Renzo, and Jerry, each distinct personalities, all of them crazy in one way or another, but all of them true believers in the joys and sorrows of the track. Marcus was my favorite … the HBO website describes him as “a misanthropic ball buster in a motorized wheelchair”, and Kevin Dunn did a great job creating a King of Complaining who came alive during a horse race. As Jerry, Jason Gedrick pulled off quite a visual feat. Gedrick is 47, but in Luck, he looked like a drop-dead handsome guy of 35, gone to seed because of a gambling addiction. (The difference between a good-looking 47-year-old and a formerly good-looking, currently dissipated 35-year-old is subtle, but Gedrick makes it work. Or his makeup artist did.)

And I can’t finish without giving a shout out to Dennis Dun, who 25 years ago was Kurt Russell’s friend in Big Trouble in Little China. I looked forward to his every appearance on Luck, as a poker player who could throw Jerry’s game off just by greeting him. “Jerry!”

It might make sense to give Luck an Incomplete. But it was far better than that, and enough closure was offered to remove the “I”. It’s too bad the series got cancelled just when it was finding itself, but Luck is not a candidate for a Karen Sisco Award … the cancellation had nothing to do with ratings or the show not getting any attention.

Grade for series: B+. Projected grade for the Season Two we’ll never see: A-.

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