Pop Rocks: Down On Their Luck

Future generations will judge us harshly for our failure to properly utilize Nick Nolte..
Future generations will judge us harshly for our failure to properly utilize Nick Nolte..

You may have noticed there was no Luck recap yesterday. No wait, that would've implied any of you were reading them in the first place, which we all know wasn't happening.

Anyway, before I begin, I just wanted to point out the decision to abandon the weekly write-ups was actually made a few days before HBO decided to pull the plug on the series:

Horse racing has long withstood the deaths of its skittish, injury-prone thoroughbreds. Hollywood proved it lacks the stomach for it.

HBO abruptly canceled its racetrack drama series "Luck" this past week after three horses used in the production were injured and euthanized during 10 months of filming in the last two years.

It's disappointing news, but hardly surprising. After pulling in slightly over one million viewers for the show's debut, Luck averaged just half that for subsequent episodes. Muddy dialogue and a (how to put this charitably) "deliberate" pace put many people off. And so, to hear some tell it, did the spectacle of a horse breaking down in the pilot episode. So it's perhaps fitting that it took the death of actual horses to finish the job strategic camera angles and special effects started.

Assuming you buy HBO's story, of course.

The best reaction to the news I saw (don't remember who said it, don't sue me) was on Twitter: "HBO cancels Luck due to three dead horses and zero live viewers." Now, I'm not saying folks on Twitter are prone to hyperbole, and 500,000 viewers is somewhat larger than zero (don't hold me to that, math was never my strong suit), but the network's lofty statements about "safety standards" don't hold up very well against those numbers:

"Safety is always of paramount concern. We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher in fact than any protocols existing in horseracing anywhere with many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won't in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision."

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"That's right, people: pastures! When we film a TV series, there's almost no chance of being attacked by mountain lions or giant tarantulas."

That's some good rationalizing. Dozens of race horses die every year, after all. However, you run the risk of going too far down that road, ending up with, "Sure, we drowned a few kittens. But do you know how many cats get run over every year on our nation's highways? Sack up, people."

It'd be easy to accept this explanation and move on if it wasn't such utter horsebullshit. The two horses that died during the first season's filming did so in horrific fashion and under somewhat questionable circumstances. The first, Outlaw Yodeler, had only raced once in his life and necropsy reports show he'd been administered a cocktail of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. The second, Marc's Shadow, hadn't raced in four years and was suffering degenerative arthrosis in two leg bones, which ended up fracturing "explosively" during a mock race.

The third horse? Reared up and fell backwards on its head while being walked by a groom. Not an everyday occurrence, but certainly more commonplace than getting doped up and trotted out in front of cameras. For a 'straw that broke the camel's back' kind of moment, it hardly seems to qualify. Unless you factor in those lousy ratings, that is.

The thing is, I don't even really care all that much about horses. Sure, they're beautiful animals and chicks dig them and all, but I'd take the internet outrage a lot more seriously if I didn't suspect it was being disseminated on several thousand slave-made iPhones. And I'd believe HBO's solemn pronouncements more seriously if they'd canceled filming before they knew Luck was a ratings disaster.


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