Life for Michael “Lucky” Linkletter has been all downhill in the year since he won $1 million in the World Series of Poker: His wife has died, his money is gone, he’s jonesing in Gambler’s Anonymous, and he doesn’t know how he will come up with the $2,500 he owes his former in-laws. “Lucky” takes off from there in a captivating serial comedy that finds John Corbett in the most suitable role he’s had since “Northern Exposure.” Corbett’s Linkletter is man who puts in emotional overtime convincing himself he’s doing the right thing, even as he succumbs to the lure of high-stakes poker and, eventually, love.
Linkletter is a car salesman when “Lucky” opens, but that career is a short-lived one; throughout the next three half-hours, the only money that comes into his life is via a casino gaming table. He has two goofball friends in tow — Vincent Sticcarelli (Billy Gardell) and Buddy LeGendre (Craig Robinson) — who have similar gambling addictions but are much less likely to strike it rich any time soon. Sticcarelli, proving his friendship to Lucky, helps raise the $2,500 through bogus car-pedestrian accidents; a later episode finds them dealing with a possessed fighting rooster.
They are hustlers who don’t work the game that well. In the second episode, they infiltrate a doctor’s convention looking for pigeons and end up getting taken for a ride by two others playing the same game. Theirs is a never win situation — until “Lucky” tries a trick worthy of “The Sting.”
Other characters, such as Dan Hedaya’s loan shark Joey Legs and Kevin Breznahan’s street-living junkie Danny, are of the loveable criminal sort. Everyone, in fact, is so likeable that their lack of moral or legal concern makes them much more well-rounded than most series characters. The humor here is visual, the writing serious.
“Lucky” thrives on the vulnerability of Corbett’s character and his agility in the role. His absorption in the game is wholehearted and even vicariously thrilling, so when he tosses away a winning hand in the name of a woman, auds could well be left mystified. The woman in question is another hard-core gambler, Theresa Phillips (Ever Carradine), who has more desire to quit than Lucky and his cohorts.
Producers were obviously impressed by the rapport between Corbett and Sarah Jessica Parker on last season’s “Sex and the City” and has cast and costumed Carradine in a Carrie Bradshaw mode. It’s the weakest part of “Lucky,” as Phillips’s appearance in Linkletter’s life is far too unlikely — especially after her husband tosses her from their home.
Debut episode makes good use of source music — a little James Brown, the “Mister Rogers” theme and some jamming on Cream’s “Strange Brew.”