Pick Six. Furlong. Backstretch. Quinella. Trifecta. Daily Double.
These are just a few of the racetrack terms that may be thrown around in HBO's new horse-racing series Luck, which premieres Sunday at 9/8c. From executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann, the gritty show looks at the owners, jockeys and the degenerate gamblers in the horse-racing world.
While the lingo, the setting and the overall story line may feel alien to those who don't frequent one of the more than 100 racetracks around the United States, Milch, the man behind Deadwood and NYPD Blue, says that shouldn't deter viewers from watching. "It's an act of faith," says Milch of creating a series on such a foreign topic. "Your fundamental responsibility is to stay true to the deepest nature and intention of the materials and that's what we did."
"I think [viewers] can relate to the story the way they relate to any other well-told, dramatic, emotional story," adds Mann. "That's the whole point. If they have a sense of the important things, they'll let the lingo go by, trusting they'll pick it up later."
At its basic level, the premise is simple. Chester "Ace" Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) has just returned from a stint in prison taking the rap for other unsavory types. Now unable to hold an owner's license due to his criminal record, Ace enlists his driver Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina) to act as the owner of a fleet-footed horse, now trained by Turo Escalante (John Ortiz). Another trainer, played by Nick Nolte, is also looking to make a splash with a horse sired by one of the greats (think of it as Seabiscuit's baby).
"Although the racetrack is the beating heart, I'd say the show is more of a study of the characters," Milch insists, adding that even the degenerate gamblers, who live race-to-race by handicapping the winners, will be relatable to viewers. A horse owner himself, Milch would even classify himself as one of them. "My dad took me to the track when I was five years old and identified me as a degenerate gambler then, which is a little hard for a 5-year-old to understand," he says with a laugh. "I've been busy figuring out what that meant for the past 60 years."
Worrying about the audience's ability to understand and relate to the series is only one hoop to jump through for Luck. There's also the high expectations from the people whose real lives color this story. "There are certain parochial responses," Milch says of the racetrackers. "It's like the way people are protective of family, and you don't tell any secrets outside the family. It becomes our responsibility to be truthful in our portrayal. If someone is going to get upset, that becomes their business."
Not unlike his other series, Milch hopes that audiences will find a passionate connection with Luck through "its ups and its downs, and its tragedies and its successes." And he hopes they make it soon. By nature of the horse-racing circuit and when they'd have to start filming again, the producers are already hard at work on what a second season would look like, though HBO has yet to pick up the series. "I would hope to find out over the next week or two," he says.
Will you be tuning in to Luck?
Luck premieres Sunday at 9/8c on HBO. HBO Go users can watch the second outing immediately following the premiere.