Last night while taking refuge from the Super Bowl I tuned into the second episode of Luck, HBO's new horse racing show. I fell asleep, just as I did during the first episode. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a "slow burn," but how long am I supposed to wait before feeling the heat?
Luck has all the hallmarks of a prestige project: It was created by Deadwood mastermind David Milch, it stars dramatic heavyweights Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, the pilot was directed by Hollywood's Michael Mann, and it has already been renewed for a second season after a healthy three million people tuned in for the first episode. Like so many of television's recent critical darlings, Luck—with its Dickensian world of intricate webs woven by the rich and poor festering around a California horse racing track—seems like it will take some time to get into. But now, after falling asleep during both of its episodes, I'm wondering if I really want to stick around.
That's the problem with these slow burn shows, especially ones with fancy pedigrees backed by highbrow channels like HBO or AMC. We can't imagine how they could not be good, so we keep watching, episode after boring episode, all the while waiting for some amazing payoff. And sometimes, like a skilled horse coming from behind, it pays off. But remember: For every The Wire there is a Treme, and for every Mad Men there is a The Killing.
Thanks to shows like The Wire and Mad Men, two of the best series in recent memory, we've been lead to believe that shows with a deliberate pace will be rewarding. We're told that if we keep drinking the gross medicine, we'll eventually be the better for it. As we get deeper into the creators' complicated universe, the plotting becomes more intricate and the characters more complete, and the show improves. In most cases, that rule is generally true. But on the flip side, it took me two entire seasons to see that the cacophony of storylines on Treme would never come together to make beautiful music. It took 13 long weeks of The Killing to realize that there was no real answer to all of our questions about who killed stupid Rosie Larson. Sometimes slow isn't good. Sometimes slow is just drab.
My attention span is getting shorter and shorter. I gave The Comeback a chance when that aired and ended up loving it, but I jumped ship after the second episode of Enlightened. Yes, for every show like Game of Thrones, Deadwood, and Homeland (which, yes, I finally watched), there has been Boardwalk Empire, John from Cincinnati, or Ringer (which, yes, I am still watching). I'm not sure what to think.
Not every show has to take so much time to build. Breaking Bad, thanks to the audacity of its premise, was great right out of the gate. It's gotten better over time (though potentially a little too baroque in its last season), but I was hooked from the first episode. Then again, I was hooked on Lost and Battlestar Galactica for years before being destructively disappointed in their outcomes.
Strangely enough, I think Lost and Glee have more to do with my shortened attention span for prestige television than anything. Many people were drawn into these shows starting with the pilots. They were left foaming at the mouth for any news about upcoming episodes and speculating on what the future could hold; so rabidly devoted that it might have even ruined a few lives. Lost gave us the sense that if we just stuck with it, everything would be explained in time. It never would. Glee made us think that we had found something new and original that would be great for seasons and seasons. It spiraled out of control after only one year and continues to sputter on, a mocking shell of what it once was.
I've learned my lesson. Now, before investing so much time into getting into a show, I want a promise that I'm not wasting my time and effort. I need to have some glimmer, some little iota of hope that the people who are running this whole thing aren't going to take the space I've reserved for them in my DVR for granted. So far, Luck, I'm not getting any of that. After two episodes (and two naps), I'm pulling the trigger. It's off to the glue factory with you.