The railbirds

Luck.  It really should have been so sweet.  A show created by one of TV’s most commercially and critically successful producers, a pilot directed by one of the more important filmmakers of his generation, a cast of famous faces and stellar supporting talent, on the network Americans (and indeed, the world) have come to associate with the highest quality programming.

Thirty-five million dollars later, we’ve got little to show for it.

I defy any of you out there to claim you were more excited for Luck than I was.  After all, you have not, I dare say, been maintaining a series of essays on every single episode of NYPD Blue, the ’90s cop show created by David Milch (along with Steven Bochco).  Milch then went on to create for HBO the western Deadwood, easily the finest western to ever grace the small screen and no minor factor in the success of Timothy Olyphant, current star of Justified.

After his next HBO show, John from Cincinnati, tanked pretty much out of the gate, I was worried he might not get another show on the air.  When Luck was announced to begin soon after the second season of Boardwalk Empire concluded, my worries looked to be unfounded.  The pilot was to be directed by Michael Mann (also an executive producer), director of such crime classics as Thief, Manhunter, and Heat.  Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte were the top-billed stars, and as if that weren’t enough, the show was also peppered with the typical Milch-brand supporting cast, heavy-hitting character actors like Richard Kind, Kevin Dunn, and Dennis Farina.

Only problem was the show was kind of boring.  Oh, and a buncha dead horses.  So, two problems, then.

I dug the show, but it was a slow burn.  A really slow burn.  It was not action-packed by a long shot, but two point about that:  a) the actual horse-racing scenes were positively nail-biting, and b) Milch’s stuff is not as action-driven as some think it might be.  Many remember Deadwood as bein all full of sex and violence, which it was, but it was also full of scenes of people talking, the dialogue riddled with sub-text.  Characters in Milch productions never talk about what they’re talking about–it’s all metaphor.  True, horse-racing metaphor is really dense, especially since so few of us out here in TV-land are railbirds.  But I would have stuck around for a second season, no doubt about it.

HBO did not feel the same way.  Their first-quarter earnings report for this year, according to Deadline, shows the network basically had to write off $35 million for Luck.  An awful lot of goodwill there, folks.  And while I do miss the show itself, what worries me more is that it might be another five years before we get another David Milch production, or even longer.

That would be really shitty luck.