On HBO’s Cancellation of ‘Luck’

While I was on the way home from Austin last night, HBO permanently suspended production on Luck and announced that it wouldn’t air the episodes it had produced for a second season of the critically-praised but little-watched horse-racing show from David Milch, Michael Mann, and starring Dustin Hoffman. Three horses had been injured so badly in the making of the show that they had to be euthanized, and as Jamie Weinman suggests, I think correctly, that track record became a liability that offset the benefits HBO garnered from renewing the show despite the fact that it wasn’t a smash.

For me, Luck became a kind of litmus test: it was the first critically-regarded show about middle-aged (mostly) white men that I gave myself permission to stop watching because I felt like it didn’t have anything to say to me. I don’t mean to say that I don’t want to watch shows that aren’t about characters who match my demographics exactly—though you are going to hear a rather enormous amount about Girls in coming weeks. But I’m tired of a sense that shows about middle-aged white men behaving aberrantly attract a cultural and critical cachet that attaches itself to no other type of programming. And I just care too much about other things to push them out of my schedule to make room for something like Luck.

My personal feelings on the show aside, though, I do think it’s probably a positive thing that, if the show couldn’t find a way to continue production without destroying horses, HBO cancelled it. We’re not that far removed from the use of trip wires to bring horses down in Westerns, and it’s a good thing we don’t see the damage we do to animals, either accidentally or intentionally, as acceptable. Now if only we could get folks as exorcised about reality shows that require participants to sign contracts that exempt the companies producing the programs from any responsibility if they get raped, we’d be in good shape.