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HBO Rolls Dice on ‘Luck’ While Critics Fall in Line

Just curious: Under what circumstances, if any, would HBO not have ordered a second season of “Luck,” the tony new drama starring Dustin Hoffman and featuring producer-director Michael Mann and writer/showrunner David Milch?

Luck04HBO announced a second season on Tuesday, despite what can only be considered rather tepid opening ratings for such a high-profile project. But in a sense, the fix was already in, and critics played a substantial part in the process.

Before “Luck” made its debut, I kept hearing vague “Do you get it? ‘Cause I don’t” reactions from people in the industry. And for the most part, I didn’t, calling the show “at best a photo finish as to whether it’s worth the effort.”

Fortunately for HBO, much of the critical community had its back, as evidenced by the mostly favorable reviews, with some reservations, notched on Metacritic.com. But what I characterized as an “Emperor’s new clothes” phenomenon was summed up better by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker, who in the midst of her own mostly negative review conceded:

I take no pleasure as I type these words. To the contrary, I feel the ghastly critical chill of admitting that I was bored by such obvious prestige television, created by people whose work I admire. Milch was behind “NYPD Blue” and “Deadwood”; as a risk-taker in a world of easy bets, he’s venerated for good reason. The series gleams with HBO handsomeness. It stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte (and Dennis Farina and Joan Allen: the cast is so impressive that I giggled when Alan Rosenberg showed up). And yet I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing something.

She wasn’t missing something. The show was. But Milch and Mann have provided us so many enjoyable moments in the past, I think critics gave the series something they would never receive at any racetrack: In a close call, the benefit of the doubt.

Give HBO credit. They’re extremely good at declaring victory. But that can’t erase what I suspect will become clear to more viewers as the season drags on: For all its thoroughbred talent, “Luck” is kind of a  plodder.

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