Early in the new HBO series Luck, a gangster's chauffeur-cum-bodyguard, Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina), goes to L.A.'s Santa Anita racetrack with his boss, Chester "Ace" Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), and makes a bet on a long shot. When the horse comes in, Gus clutches his winning ticket and says happily: "Don't ever let anyone tell you this isn't a great fucking country."
I wouldn't dream of it. But I will point out that Gus doesn't win his bet because he's been shrewd or even lucky. He wins because he's gotten an inside tip from a dodgy trainer, a fact that, in the exhilaration of victory, he either forgets or takes for granted.
Such is the slippery world of Luck, a program that aspires to capture not only the rich splendor of horse racing but this country in all its star-spangled dreams and delusions. This is no less than you'd expect of a show created by writer David Milch and co-produced by director Michael Mann, guys nobody would ever accuse of thinking small. While Mann has made a career in flamboyant pop mythology, from Miami Vice to The Last of the Mohicans to Public Enemies, Milch has spent years anatomizing the American soul (and underbelly), most famously in Deadwood where he took advantage of long-form TV to tell a story novelistic in its richness. At one in their obeisance to the samurai code of masculinity--which didn't stop them from battling on the set--they've cooked up a show that uses the racetrack to explore the tug-of-war between the opposing sides of our national psyche: the neon allure of excitement and moola and the quiet yearning for Something More.
If Deadwood was a teeming mural …