The old favourites who keep on riding their Luck

HBO's new drama features the oldest cast on television. It's a must-see, says Sarah Hughes

Television these days is supposed to be about youth.

Executives are obsessed by what twentysomethings want to watch; audiences tune in only to watch the young and the lithe. Which is just one reason why Luck, HBO's much anticipated horseracing drama, which comes to Sky Atlantic in February, stands out. With the notable exceptions of the rising British star Tom Payne (29) and Irish actress Kerry Condon (28) who play a pair of would-be jockeys, this is a story about old men.

Written by Deadwood's David Milch and produced by Michael Mann (who also directed the pilot), Luck is a slow-burning examination of loss and regret. As such, it's a world away from HBO's current hits, the sleek Boardwalk Empire or the bold and brutal Game of Thrones.

It stars Dustin Hoffman (74) as a weary gangster, his first lead role in a television series (he won an Emmy in 1986 for his performance as Willy Loman in a television adaptation of Death of a Salesman), Nick Nolte (70) as a trainer for whom the word grizzled appears to have been created and eye-catching supporting roles for Michael Gambon (71) and Dennis Farina (67).

While Luck flies in the face of modern television wisdom – in addition to having what must be the oldest cast on television, it also has barely any female roles – Milch's decision to gamble on experience pays off in interesting, and often unexpected, ways.

Take Hoffman's character, Chester "Ace" Bernstein, newly released from jail and angry at his perceived betrayal. On paper, Bernstein's tale should be a standard quest for vengeance but, as the first episode plays out, it becomes apparent that there is something far more compelling at stake.

This is a portrait of the gangster as an old man, weakened both by his time in prison and by his creeping suspicion that his faculties are fading. Both character and audience are left unsure of the extent to which dementia might be encroaching but Hoffman's restrained performance and, more importantly, the ever-present fear lurking just behind his calculating eyes, make this a candid look at aging rarely seen on our screens. Similarly, the plight of Nolte's trainer, scrabbling around the margins of the racing industry, hoping against hope for that one special horse, is made more powerful by the fact that a lifetime of small disappointments are etched on his weather-beaten face.

The fact that Luck is about more than simply horses and gambling (although it is excellent about both those things) should come as no surprise. Milch, 66, has always taken risks with his material whether reinventing the Western with Deadwood or upending the police procedural in NYPD Blue. Here, he seems to be as interested in meditating on the passage of time as he is on examining the close-knit racing world. This might be a drama about the thrill of the race but it is also a subtle look at the slow ravages of age.

It isn't always an easy ride. We enter conversations midway through and are introduced only briefly to characters before the camera spins off to hang out with someone new. The cast is large and the plot, essentially revolving around three different racehorses and the people connected to them, is not always easy to follow.

For all its complexity and despite an occasional tendency to meander towards the finishing line, those with the patience to stick with Luck will be amply rewarded. This is a clever, absorbing piece of television, and, thanks in part to its experienced cast, is quite unlike anything else on screen at the moment.

'Luck' comes to Sky Atlantic in February

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen