HBO has been producing great television for a long time, shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show and Band of Brothers have established HBO as one of the best channels for new shows, and they have increasingly attracted the biggest names in television and even film to make shows with them.  In 2010, Martin Scorsese directed the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire, a show which was met with great critical acclaim and subsequently received a raft of nominations during awards season.

In 2011, HBO premiered Luck, a new show created by David Milch, creator of NYPD Blue and another HBO show, Deadwood.  Luck is based in the world of horse racing, something Milch knows a lot about, having owned horses that have competed (and won) in the Breeder’s Cup for over 20 years.  After HBO gave the show the green light, two of the biggest names in Hollywood (on both sides of the camera) signed on.

On screen, headline billing will be given to Dustin Hoffman, marking the first time he has starred in a TV show.  He plays Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, out of prison after three years, and looking to get back into the gambling business.  His friend and driver Gus (Dennis Ferina) has become a horse owner as a front for Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), as well as buying another horse, under Ace’s direction.

Behind the camera, the pilot is directed by Michael Mann, returning to television for the first time in a decade.  Mann is of course a well respected Hollywood director, with a string of hits including Heat, Thief and Collateral under his belt, and like Scorsese with Boardwalk Empire, Mann has directed the pilot episode and will serve as an executive producer going forward.

The cast is filled with many recognisable faces, most notably Nick Nolte playing Walter Smith, an ageing horse trainer still hungry for more.  Also amongst the cast are Kevin Dunn (most recently seen in the Transformers movies as Shia LeBeouf’s dad), British actor Ian Hart, and Jason Gedrick who has experienced success on television before, after appearing in Murder One in the mid-90s.

Luck is now coming to the UK, and is the latest big US show to be snapped up by Sky Atlantic.  It is set to start sometime in February, and seems to have all the ingredients required to enjoy similar success to the likes of Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos.  In fact, The Sopranos is the show that Luck is most likely to be compared with, with shady mobsters all looking for a cut in the world of horse racing.  The pilot episode sets up what is to come with a group of degenerate gamblers acting on a tip they’ve received about Escalante’s horse, and subsequently placing a bet that could win them more than $2million.  While the pilot is a bit of a slow burner, and heavy on racing terminology that might make it hard to follow, it looks like being the start of a show that will live up to the successful history of HBO and make it one of the must see TV shows of the year.

David Dougan

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