Why We Didn't Bother With the Second Episode of HBO's Barbaric Luck

I was really excited about the new HBO show Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman and created by the brilliant Deadwood scribe David Milch.

But since the show’s debut I’ve been mostly quiet about it, trying to figure out how best to articulate my objections to the series premiere.


I knew of course the show would be dark and feature plenty of evil people doing evil things. Deadwood is filled with horrific scenes and degrading circumstances. But Milch painted his canvas with many colors. Yes, there were some cruel people in Deadwood, but individuals at least struggled with moral questions. Good people did bad things, bad people sometimes redeemed themselves, and by season 3 the enemy of my enemy becomes my friend.

But with Luck Milch seems to have limited himself to varying shades of black. Watching the first episode ALL of the characters struck me as unlikable and too broken to inspire me to spend time with them in their seedy world. Only in the glorious racing of the horses did a sense of grace and beauty brighten the degenerate world of compulsive gamblers and career criminals.

And then what do they do? At the end of the pilot a horse breaks its leg on camera and has to be put down.

My wife — who has first hand experience in horse rescue and animal abuse — immediately started screeching in horror. Now it turns out that my attempt to remind her that it’s just a TV show and no animals were harmed was wrong. Two horses died in the filming of the first season of Luck:

Luck production chiefs rescinded its American Humane Association stamp of approval – which certifies no animals were harmed during the making of the programme – following the show’s pilot episode after a horse was euthanized on location.

Prior to filming, network executives at HBO assured officials at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that experts would be on hand to ensure all “necessary safety procedures” were in place, however reports of a second fatality have again prompted activists to worry.

I’m not an animal rights fanatic or anything. PETA is a terrible, hypocritical Marxist organization as Penn and Teller demonstrated in this legendary episode of Bullsh*t (language warning):

But this news now casts even greater darkness over the show.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on my picks for most overrated and underrated films of 2011. In the piece I confessed that April and I had skipped out on many movies because that year because of our addiction to Mad Men on Netflix streaming. One of the commenters expressed his own disappointments with the thick layers of nihilistic glue that hold the show together and admitted he’d stopped watching. I quoted the meat of his response and answered:

“Soon thereafter, however, I stopped watching the series. I made it through the first two and a half seasons before I could take no more. In those thirty or so episodes there did not emerge a single person of character or integrity. You’d think there would have been at least one person to serve as a focus of moral clarity, but there wasn’t. Even Peggy, the most likely early candidate, proved she was little more than shallow, self-serving, and whorish. When it became obvious early in season three that my dear January would soon rival her husband in debauchery, I said, “here’s looking at you kid,” and dropped the series from the NetFlix personal queue.”

I had those exact same sentiments at about that same point in the series! But my wife was already hooked so she kept dragging me through the episodes. I still enjoyed the show at the time for the reasons that Ed highlights and for the general great acting, engaging plots, and sharp dialogue. But the evil characters did start to bother me — almost getting under my skin when they’d do selfish, stupid things. But then you know what seemed to start happening? Some of them started to try and get better. My friends who had already seen the series promised me that this would happen and it did to some degree. (Whether it’s enough to satisfy you and make the show an entertainment choice is not something I know — I don’t know your tastes.)

But I very much sympathize with you not wanting to spend the evening with a bunch of evil, self-destructive people screwing up their lives more. I reject watching many shows and movies for just that reason. (Or I just need to really be in the mood for it.) After spending a few years of full time employment in new media where I’m spending all day keeping track of news stories when it’s time to close the laptop for the evening more and more I’m preferring escapist, positive options instead of dramatic reminders that people are broken.

I only managed to get into Mad Men because my friends insisted that the nihilism never got too poisonous and that some sun light eventually comes to penetrate the martini-fueled self-destruction at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. But there aren’t any trustworthy friends who tested the waters with the first season of Luck who can assure me that the punishment of the show’s nihilism is worth enduring. And even if they could, would the show really be that enjoyable knowing that two horses actually had to die so that we could watch it?

Guess we’ll have to just hit up Netflix for our next show and hope that when Game of Thrones starts again later this year HBO doesn’t find it necessary to engage in any additional animal sacrifice.

Very much Related: make the time to listen to this phenomenal 30-minute audio interview Ed conducted with author Thomas Hibbs for the revised edition of his book Shows About Nothing, a provocative analysis of nihilism in our popular culture today.


David Swindle is the associate editor of PJ Media and writes a post each day on news and politics at PJ Tatler and culture and entertainment at PJ Lifestyle. He can be contacted with feedback and story tips at DaveSwindlePJM[@] and on Twitter @DaveSwindle. He enforces commenting guidelines on his posts — rude, off topic and ad hominem comments will be deleted.