Wednesday, March 21, 2012

As Luck Would Have It, or Luck Running Out

Luck will culminate after just one season. The apparent result of three equine deaths that occurred during production of season one, and two episodes into season two. Because of the arcane subject matter and relatively unsexy ratings*, there is a lot of speculation that canceling Luck was more of a business decision than a response to horsey-cide. Although HBO's business model seems much more insular to the whims of the market than most television series, I'm inclined to believe poor numbers and bad pub were too steep a price.

*Luck was averaging approximately 4.8 million views per episode - including DVR viewings, repeats, and on demand numbers. For comparison's sake, Game of Thrones averaged around 9.3 million, and the vapid True Blood 12.6 million.

Luck had already been guaranteed a second season, but probably needed a Hail Mary of sorts by scoring some prestige awards to keep going beyond that. By all accounts, Luck was one of the most expensive series that HBO had ever undertaken. The sprawl and logistics of filming at Santa Anita Park, and the care of all that horse-flesh, is obviously an expensive proposition. Are three horse deaths evidence of cavalier animal stewardship? Probably not. It would have been more significant if an 18 episode show about horse racing was produced without fatality.

Horses are an incredibly fragile breed.  Allegedly, Luck had more equine fatalities than Secretariat, War Horse, Sea Biscuit and hundred's of previous TV, film, and commercial projects combined. Prior to Luck, the last fatality was during filming of 3:10 to Yuma remake--"No one forgets velvet." However, Luck had far greater ambitions at re-creating honest to God horse racing than the aforementioned flicks. This year at Aqueduct race track in New York there have been 18 fatalities since the season opener in November. More than a dozen died last summer at Del Mar Park's meet in California. The sport is notoriously tight-lipped about fatality numbers, but the general rule of thumb is one fatality per 500 races. For context, a horse meet is generally 3-6 months long, with approximately 40-50 races a week. Where there is horse racing, there will be horse death. Racing fatalities are a dark and repugnant side to an otherwise grand sport. I'm hopeful that the pressure animal rights groups applied to HBO--and are currently leveraging against Aqueduct Park in New York--will result in much needed dialogue and reform for a sport that will obviously need to change to survive. As Luck has often displayed, there is a mythic love affair between the people and horses. As Lorca famously said, "All that has dark sound has duende."

As for episode eight. Things are coming to a nice crescendo towards the finale on Sunday. The hint of violence that was evident from the beginning has crept into full view. Most satisfying is seeing some cool brooding menace from Denny Farina's Gus Dimitriou. Equally at home playing Ace's nurse-maid and late night pillow talker, he also stood down one of Mike's business partners in a horse stall with a heavy threat of bodily harm hanging in the balance.

Episode # 8 Recap

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