Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Luck" recap: The rise of the Four Amigos

Gary Stevens plays jockey Ronnie Jenkins in "Luck"
Spoilers for the third episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week on "Luck," several of the main plots inched forward a bit more. The Pick Six gang (briefly re-named the Four Amigos before becoming the Four A's) finally got their hands on Mon Gateau after Renzo's failed claim in last week's episode. Gus and Ace found the go-between for their scheme against Mike in Nathan Israel (Patrick J. Adams from USA's dramedy "Suits"), an uptight employee in Ace's investment business. Ronnie got back in the saddle to prepare for his upcoming gig as the jockey for Gettin' Up Morning, only to fall off and break his collarbone. Leon whacked his head after getting woozy from trying to sweat off excess weight. And we learned that the reason for all the tension between Escalante and Jo the vet stems from the fact that they're lovers (and that Escalante is suspicious, secretive and a bit of a jerk).
These early episodes of "Luck" have been criticized in some circles for being too slow and talky (don't worry -- future episodes bring plenty of action). However, I still enjoy these episodes, even as I realize that they're just putting the wheels in motion. Yeah, there are a lot of scenes with a lot people standing around talking. But when the actors doing the talking are as interesting as Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, John Ortiz and the rest -- and when their dialogue has that uniquely poetic David Milch feel to it -- even the less exciting episodes are worth your time.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on Episode 3 (note: by now, you might have noticed that the episodes don't seem to have any titles. Apparently, Milch doesn't like episode titles. And, apparently, David Milch has built up enough clout with HBO to ditch the device entirely, so good on him).
  • This episode isn't all talk, of course. There's the fairly eye-popping race where Ronnie gets injured, and the scene near the beginning when Pint of Plain shows his value -- both by how well he runs and by how well he handles the situation with a loose horse.
  • In the latter scene, Escalante pointedly tells Gus to "tell whoever you want" about Pint of Plain's quality. Funny that Escalante -- who is himself so secretive -- always has to let Gus know that he knows Ace is the horse's real owner.
  • Speaking of Escalante, I like how Jerry -- such a mess in other ways -- sees through him so easily. When Escalante claims Mon Gateau is no good at running any more, Jerry wonders if his spiel isn't akin to a man telling lies to turn off a would-be suitor from an ex he still has eyes for.
  • In addition to Nathan Israel, this show introduced another new character -- Claire, played by acclaimed film actress Joan Allen. Claire is setting up some kind of farm where convicts work with retired racehorses and is looking to Ace as a potential benefactor. Ace is intrigued enough by her guts (she muscles her way into the elevator with him and doesn't wilt under the gaze of Ace's security guy) to consider her plan. Tough to believe that the lonely ex-con isn't also looking for a little companionship.
  • Just as the Walter Smith storyline seems to based on the story of Alydar, the Ronnie Jenkins storyline seems inspired by the stories of numerous jockeys who have battled substance abuse, including Chris Antley, who rode Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. Antley, who died in 2000 at age 34 of an apparent overdose, was the subject of the excellent ESPN film "Charismatic" (worth checking out if you enjoy "Luck"). He was also a friend and contemporary of retired jockey Gary Stevens, who plays Ronnie.
  • This episode also deals a bit with Leon's battle to make weight, a common struggle among jockeys. Spending time in a sauna, or "the box" isn't unheard of as a way to shed weight. Neither is vomiting, also known as "flipping." At any rate, Leon's time in the box leads him to pass out and crack his head open -- and he and Joey are too worried about losing the mount to give him time to recover from the injury.
  • Here's an uncomfortable game to play during most episodes of "Luck" -- I call it "Acting or Nolte?" Every time Walter's hands shake or he looks like he's about to have a massive heart attack, I ask myself -- "Is Nick Nolte really good in this role, or he just in such bad shape that it no longer takes much acting for him to play a physically and emotionally battered wreck of a man?" I still haven't come up with an answer.
  • My notes from Ace's meeting in the suite with Nathan Israel read thusly: "There's a lot of stuff about derivatives that I don't understand." That is all.
  • Of course Escalante is the kind of guy who would come on to his girlfriend with the line "So, you wanna do it?" A charmer, that one. Yet, Dr. Jo doesn't seem to mind.
  • Look, just because the Four A's bought the cowboy's beaten up barbecue as a bribe doesn't mean they can't make good use of it. And they do, employing it to feed the cop who stops by to give them the lowdown on the insurance ladies who tried to kill Lonnie. Resourceful, those Four A's.
  • Gus and Ace Pillow Talk of the Week: This week's meeting of the criminal minds has Gus and Ace chatting about their new inside man, the intriguing Clair and, of course, their beloved Pint of Plain. Gus tells Ace how well the horse fared during its run. And Milch and co. wisely give Gus this most Dennis Farina-y of lines: "That's some beautiful  f---in' horse." Indeed.


Bill Scurry said...

Wow -- after three eps, this is proving to be a dense show, as dense as they come. Having to explain the intricacies of claiming races is difficult enough for any series to undertake, much less one with 3,000 characters already floating around the ether.

The big stumbling block is not just the penchant towards standing around talking, but rather the fact that they are larding each script with a metric tonne of exposition. I can't figure out if that's just a Milchism or a consequence of trading in such a thick universe.

I missed the added involvement of Irish damsel Kerry Condon, whom I like more and more in everything she does.

Fun fact: Jerry's Chinese poker nemesis was Jack Burton's best buddy in John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China."

IScreen said...

You know, I'd never really seen Condon in anything else, but I really like her here. She gives the show a spark and lightness that it might not otherwise have.

And yes, the show's Milchiness is both asset and liability. It's great fun to watch the likes of Hoffman, Nolte et al. mouthing this profane poetry. But it does make for tough sledding.

Plus, as "John from Cincinnati" showed, non-professional actors aren't really up to his shows' demands. Thus Gary Stevens, though he has charisma and a good presence, can seem a bit out of his league at times.