The subject (and title) of HBO series Luck (HBO; Mondays at 10pm) would seem to sell itself in a city like Hong Kong, where horse betting, based on both strategic data analysis and superstitious twinges, is a way of life.
A crash course in American race jargon, as well as the gorgeous cinematography worthy of HBO budgets, leads the series' way to deeper story arcs - of ambition, revenge and redemption - which creator David Milch (NYPD Blue) means to develop on a slow boil. Like punters on the rails, we feel the hum of mounting expectations as we wait for the gates to open and the moment of truth to come rushing through - but that's getting ahead of ourselves.
We begin with Chester 'Ace' Bernstein (far right; Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate) leaving prison after serving a three-year sentence for a white-collar crime. As a felon, Ace can't legally own a racehorse, so he sets up his driver, Gus Demitriou (right; Dennis Farina, Law & Order), who he affectionately calls 'The Greek', as his frontman. Milch gives equal time to the introduction of the larger cast of characters that make up the racetrack ecosystem: ball-busting self-made trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) and his overly chatty 'bug boy' (freelance rider) Leon, Walter Smith (Nick Nolte; Warrior) who works with exercise rider Rosie (Kerry Condon; Rome) to warm up his potentially Derby-winning horse, and a bumbling gang of gamblers all hoping for that big win.
Despite his less than illustrious introduction, our money is on Bernstein; our guess is that underneath his stoic, at times cold, exterior - tempered by his affectionate relationship with happy-go-lucky Demitriou - there is a complex and compelling backstory just waiting to be revealed. Let's hope Milch doesn't take too long to trot it out.
Elsewhere, Nikita (WarnerTV; Mondays at 10pm) has wasted no time kicking the door down to its second season. Everything that happened in the first season finale resets the playing field in this game of good versus evil - or Nikita against her former organisation, Division.
We find Nikita (Maggie Q; Rush Hour 2) and Michael (Shane West; ER) continuing their quest to take down Division - now armed with the intel-rich black box but a pared-down secret headquarters. No longer in league with Nikita, her former mentor, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), is now a free agent working with the new Division headed by former in-house psychiatrist Amanda, who dangles the promise of helping her find the man who killed her father.
Nikita and Michael's primary mission involves a military man named Merrick who accepted a prison sentence to protect his son. They break Merrick out of prison to track down his son, but run into all kinds of trouble. At the eleventh hour they are aided by eccentric former Division tech-genius Seymour Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford), who will no doubt prove to be a strong ally to the power couple. A showdown in a dark alleyway between Nikita and Alex reveals an intensely personal rivalry - steeped in betrayal and guilt - that will likely come to explosive ends later in the series. We look forward to finding out if the student will school the teacher in the exciting new season.