When a horse is catastrophically injured, the protocol is simple: The horse needs to be put down. But with a TV show, things are rarely so straightforward. Or so it seemed. Late yesterday afternoon, hours after suspending production on the second episode of the second season of its racetrack saga Luck because of yet another animal fatality, HBO euthanized the show entirely. The move comes as a shock to industry watchers used to HBO cleaning up its messes off the air with the brutal elegance of a highly paid assassin (just ask Entourage producer Doug Ellin, who this month had two high-profile projects disappear into the Meadowlands), as well as to ornery co-star Nick Nolte — or at least it will when he fully processes the information sometime around 2015.
It goes without saying that an unsafe work environment for living beings of any species is more than enough reason to reconsider any endeavor — especially considering that the notoriously shy folks at PETA were likely to make Luck’s set more unpleasant than executive producer David Milch armed with a Louisville Slugger ever could. (Although it is a bit strange given that actual horse racing is far more fatal than pretend horseracing. Perhaps it’s evidence that Richard Kind’s performance was amazingly accurate: Jockey agents somehow have lower standards than even their famously noxious Hollywood counterparts.) But it hasn’t stopped trade vultures (and Vulture) from suggesting that other, non-equine issues factored into the decision, citing Luck’s anemic ratings (it’s averaging a late-night-rerun-of-House Hunters International-esque 500,000 viewers per episode) and behind-the-scenes beefing. As if galloping to the moral high ground were actually just a conscientious cover-up of what was really a bottom-line decision.
It’s standard practice for television shows set in unfamiliar milieus to provide what are referred to as “POV characters.” Think Tim/Jim in either version of The Office, or a pre-preggo Peggy Olson on Mad Men: sympathetic newbies whose encounters with confusing, contextual insanity mirrors the audience’s. Luck is a show that takes viewers deeply inside the world of horses in a way not usually possible without a large animal veterinarian and an elbow-length latex glove. Knowledge of the intricacies and rhythms of the racetrack are assumed. Relationships between characters are unexplained. Foreign accents are cartoonish and unintelligible. So you’d think a little extra narrative help might be provided. And yet, two episodes into its first season, Luck offers no understanding audience surrogates or even a friendly trail of hay to follow.
Did you miss Andy Greenwald's review of HBO's Luck back in December, following the show's sneak preview? Now that the series has officially premiered, here's another chance to see what he had to say about David Milch and Michael Mann's serialized love letter to the racetrack. But, you know, a macho love letter.
Movies are no country for old men. Or old anything, really: women, dogs, even Spider-Men. And so one of the instant pleasures of Luck, HBO’s new prestige drama that premieres in January but sneak-previewed last night, was watching hungry lions like Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte shake off the indignity of paycheck sequels and tabloid benders and roar and stomp like the bad old days. Even below the fold, David Milch’s horseracing series is packed with more well aged hams than a Barcelona tapas bar, from veteran mustache Dennis Farina to grizzled “that guys” Kevin Dunn, Richard Kind and John Ortiz. Even onetime heartthrob Jason Gedrick is on-board, though, at 46, he looks less like a teen idol and more like the sort of no-hoper who might stalk and murder one. All this experience and all these wrinkles add an immediate gravitas to a show about racetrack desperation set in one of those seedily picturesque parts of California they don’t show you on the postcards. Future episodes promise appearances by other talents pushed past their Hollywood sell-by date, including the ferocious Joan Allen and the immortal Michael Gambon. If nothing else, Luck is guaranteed to showcase more ravenous dinosaurs than Fox’s Terra Nova.
Julia Roberts will star in as well as produce (through her company Red Om Films) the workplace comedy Second Act, which revolves around a woman who has never had to hold down a job before and is forced to enter the workplace. But what kind of job will fictional Julia Roberts be forced to work? Ice cream truck vendor? Geeky record store clerk? Fiery-hoop-jumping and trampoline-dunking NBA mascot? I’ll be waiting patiently to find out. Grade: B- [HR]
Gerard Butler is in talks to star in Hunter Killer as Captain Joe Glass, the untested commander of the submarine USS Toledo, who is working alongside a Navy SEAL team to rescue Russia’s president from a military coup (Sam Worthington is being targeted to lead the SEAL squad). By the way, this is the movie director Antoine Fuqua left the Tupac biopic for. Ah, Antoine Fuqua, come on, man: Gerard Butler can’t rap! Grade: C+ [Showblitz]