Recent episodes crystalize virtues of HBO’s ‘Luck’

You might think it says something about “Luck” that it doesn’t appear to be even as popular as its little-seen HBO counterpart “Treme” and might not quite measure up from a critical standpoint either.

At the same time, the past two episodes, the fifth and sixth out of nine in the first season of “Luck,” showed off the increasingly lyrical beauty of the latest David Milch creation, eliminating what few doubts remained about this being a show worth watching.

Examples of its bright but slow-burning fire can be found involving many of the characters, but I’ll point to merely two: The almost romantic connection between Ace (Dustin Hoffman) and his horse in the stables at the end of episode five, and the small arc in Sunday’s episode six that saw Joey (Richard Kind) briefly gain control over his stammer following a brush with suicide, only to lose control again in a quiet, heartbreaking twist.

These moments, so well-earned and so beautifully played, were pleasures in and of themselves. They’re also an indication that Milch and his writers have, not surprisingly, gained mastery over many of the characters, too many of whom sounded too much like Andy Sipowicz of “NYPD Blue” in the show’s early episodes.

Some have scoffed at “Luck” for its creative inaccessibility and at HBO for greenlighting a second season of it. I honestly can’t think why. HBO’s business model is clearly built to allow for prestige, patiently developing series that don’t draw big numbers — the wild success of “Game of Thrones” is one enabler of these differently paced efforts.

Though neither “Luck” nor its cousin “Treme” popped for HBO’s broader audience, they still serve a purpose if for no other reason than branding. Even if you’re not a fan of the shows, they speak to HBO’s ambition and the promise of its next projects.

In other words, HBO has created a universe where even its supposed failures speak to the network’s strengths. “Work It,” this show is not.

HBO is hanging art on its walls, folks. Yeah, it’s not necessarily art for everyone — though I think that’s to a great extent a function of an audience that largely demands instant or near-instant gratification. (Put another way, it helps if you don’t expect to understand and appreciate everything that’s going on the second that it’s happening, but rather have faith that the value will be revealed.) In a TV world where so many have given up on art for the sake of commerce, let’s be thankful for programmers who can and do consistently aspire toward it.

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  1. Not that it matters what I think… But Luck is more interesting because your not really sure what’s the point of the show… It’s certainly tring to be a character study but more is afoot. Commercial success for HBO is whatever keeps people subscribing to HBO. It’s shows like Treme and Luck that keep folks paying for HBO. Netflix and Hulu are serious threats to the pay cable networks. If they don’t create interesting content they are cooked.
    Luck has some wonderful actors doing some great work. It shouldn’t be just about some silly explosion or who’s getting naked. Luck is a mystery and it’s not about how they are going to get off the island. I haven’t really figured out where the show is taking the viewer but that’s part of it charm. It is a bonus seeing some terrific actors do nice work.

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