I confess that this is the first David Milch show I've ever watched. I'm yet to get around to Deadwood, but if 'Luck' is any indication of his talent then I'm sure I have something special to look forward to. I knew a little about his work and style of writing, but what caught my attention was how he likes to throw audiences right in at the deep end and let them do their own catching up.
Luck certainly follows this pattern. The first few episodes left me reeling, desperately trying to piece together character motivations and backgrounds through their sparse yet convoluted interactions. The sheer number of characters, as well as the reliance on the kind of language found on and around the racetrack, meant I struggled at first to get to grips with things. Then, all of a sudden, it just clicked. There was a moment, and I couldn't say when exactly, when I realised that the dialogue should just be allowed to unfold, to just let it wash over you; what you pick up, you pick up, and anything you miss you can usually piece together yourself anyway. Emotions are often conveyed simply through characters' facial expressions and how they behave around one another. The fact that Ace and Gus, arguably the show's two main anchors, often fall asleep at night in one another's company after discussing business is a prime example of Luck's 'show, don't tell' approach. It is incredibly layered and nuanced in this respect.
This has, of course, turned a lot of people away from the show. Others claim that it is far too slowly paced, or that 'nothing ever happens'. This is simply not true. There is always the sense that something is going on, even if you don't quite know what. Some have even said that this is the worst show HBO has ever produced, which isn't remotely true - it just has a very specific target audience, that are willing to stick with it and allow it to develop. It definitely won't appeal to everyone due to the subject matter. I'll concede that the first few episodes are mostly about laying the groundwork for the ones that follow.
However, as others before me have already said, after Episode 4 you should know whether or not you'll continue to watch. The fourth episode features one of the finest moments I have ever seen on TV at any time; it is a moment of rare beauty that perfectly encapsulates what Luck is all about, and will either solidify your belief in the series or will turn you off it forever.
I find it hard to fault the acting, the direction or the writing talent behind the show. Michael Mann, as Executive Producer, brings his unique visual style to the series, and it really pays off, particularly during the horse races themselves. You really feel like you're there, on the track. The races are thrilling and terrifying in equal measure - there's always the fear that something will go badly wrong. And it's always great watching the characters' reactions during the races - you feel overjoyed when they win, and just as devastated when they lose. It really is awe-inspiring stuff.
In the end, 'Luck' is a show about a marginalised sport, a dying way of life and a different class of people. It is as majestic as it is gritty. It is about flawed characters trying to get even, stake their claim and put their lives back together, as well as all the difficulties and dangers this entails. It is about seizing the opportunities that life throws at you and running with them. There is a real sense of dread, the feeling that these characters will not get out unscathed, and that despite all their good intentions things will never just go smoothly. What fun would it be if they did?
All I can really say is to give it a chance. A drama about horse-racing isn't something I would usually go for, and yet I found myself loving it. It's hypnotic and compelling, and it makes me happy to know that mature, story-driven television isn't dead yet.