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Place Your Bets on HBO’s Luck

By Jac Kern · February 21st, 2012 · Television
ac_tvcredit- gusmanocesaretti-hboCredit: Gusmano Cesaretti
A show about horseracing might seem too niche to captivate a wide audience, but HBO’s Luck is entertaining for all types of viewers thanks to the varied perspectives from inside the track.

Dustin Hoffman stars as Ace, an organized crime man fresh out of his stint in federal prison. Eager to get back in the game, he returns to Los Angeles to head a gambling scheme and get revenge on those who paved his way to prison.

The real action takes place at Santa Anita Racetrack, where the audience can see horseracing through many eyes — a rag-tag group of gamblers, horse owners and trainers, the jockeys and even the horses themselves. The shots of these giant beasts galloping around the track are some of the most beautifully filmed scenes of the show. Every muscle movement is visible in these slow-mo race scenes, and for a moment you realize how much burden these characters put on a single animal.

As a child, I’d occasionally accompany my grandfather to “the shrack” (as my then-toddler sister would say), and at the time I could not appreciate all the work and pressure that goes into the sport, only the pretty horsies. Watching Luck, there’s a constant tension — will Jerry lose all his winnings in a back-alley poker game? Could Gettin’ Up Morning snap one of his delicate legs as he barrels around the track? Can anyone understand a word Leon says (it appears Tom Payne has trouble nailing down that Cajun accent)? It may not match up to my whimsical memories of the track, but it’s gritty and real. 

For the light TV-watcher, it may require more attention than the average show, but Luck is definitely a hit. Nick Nolte’s strong yet understated portrayal of dedicated trainer Walter Smith is enough reason to check it out.

Tune into HBO 9 p.m.

Sundays to see for yourself — Luck has already been picked up for a second season.


American Weed (10 p.m., National Geographic Channel) – This new Nat Geo documentary series follows the family behind a marijuana dispensary in Fort Collins, Colo., as they’re faced with backlash from local residents and police.


30 Rock (8 p.m., NBC) – Leap Day means different things to the folks at TGS — for Jack, it’s an appreciated extra day of work; for Tracy, it’s an opportunity to spend a giant Benihana gift card.

Up All Night (9:30 p.m., NBC) – It’s Amy’s first birthday! Ava tries to put her own special touch on the event; Nancy hopes to meet a man at the party.

Project Runway All Stars (9 p.m., Life- time) – The designers head to the United Nations HQ and create ensembles based off the flags they find there.

Delocated (midnight, Cartoon Network) – “Jon” and David take a weekend trip out of the city. Todd (Todd Barry) gets engaged. Drinking game suggestion: Take a shot for every “breve” “Jon” adds to the Delocated dictionary.


Grimm (9 p.m., NBC) – Three words: monster fight club.

Portlandia (10 p.m., IFC) – Women and Women First, Portland’s finest feminist bookstore, celebrates her 10th anniversary.


The Academy Awards (8:30 p.m., ABC) – Billy Crystal hosts his ninth Oscars show with Hugo, The Artist, Moneyball and War Horse leading in nominations. Red carpet starts at 7.

The Walking Dead (9 p.m., AMC) – The new injured guest forces an even bigger rift between Rick and Shane. The ladies stick together to swap advice and support.

Eastbound and Down (10 p.m., HBO) – When April leaves Kenny with the baby, he turns to some old favorites for help: Stevie, Ashley Schaeffer, Dustin and Cassie all return this season.

Life’s Too Short (10:30 p.m.) – After catching the first episode after its premiere last week, I can’t believe I missed it (insert little person joke here)! Warwick Davis (Willow, Star Wars, the critically-acclaimed Leprechaun saga, to name a few) tries to get back in the acting game with the help of his well-connected friend, Ricky Gervais. Johnny Depp cameos this week.


Modern Family (9 p.m., ABC) – Mitchell is pressured to plan the perfect birthday party for Cameron, as he’s born on Leap Day and can only really celebrate once every four years.

Top Chef (10 p.m., Bravo) – In this finale, the two remaining chefs each take over a Vancouver restaurant and create a four-course meal for the judges and, without knowing, their family and friends.

American Weed (10 p.m., Nat Geo) – The weed shop is robbed; meanwhile, a former Fort Collins mayor fights to close the city’s dispensaries.



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