Sep 25, 2013

Lucky 7: “Pilot”

By Josh Oakley

I went into the Lucky 7 pilot expecting very little. The buzz for the show is non-existent, and critical reaction has been rather chilled. To be fair, this show has a number of problems, mainly abrupt tonal shifts that sometimes deflate certain scenes and a series of odd stylistic choices from slo-mo to an out-of-nowhere dissolve. Yet there is so much the show is doing right that I feel like I may over praise in an effort to counteract the disdain others have spread. So I will qualify that this is far from a perfect pilot. I’ll admit that there’s every chance that for the next week or two (I don’t see this show last much longer than that), the quality may dip. There is so much good here, though, from a handful of absolutely stunning performances to an ability to play hope off of dread. If Lucky 7 has any luck of its own, it will be able to move to Friday nights and burn off a season, quietly becoming a critical favorite.

In Lucky 7, five employees and their boss enter the lottery every week, mostly to allow the hope to stymie what their low-income and generally unhappy lives bring about. Samira (Summer Bishil) is pushed by her father to agree to an arranged marriage, despite her affection for another employee. Leanne (Anastasia Philips), a seemingly single mother, wants to provide her young daughter. Denise (Lorraine Bruce) is trapped in both a loveless marriage, and a body she’s grown to hate. Matt (Matt Long) and his wife (Christine Evangelista) have a baby in the episode, and Matt isn’t sure how to provide for his family. Matt’s brother Nicky (Stephen Louis Grush) is an ex-con who is finding it difficult to completely detach from the man he once was. The boss, Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is about to lose his gas station to a nationwide chain. And then there’s Antonio (Luis Antonio Ramos), who has to tell his wife that he’s been saving money instead of putting it towards the lottery ticket.

There are a number of other threads that begin before and after the coworkers win the prize. Most important in the former category involves Matt and Nicky faking a robbery of the gas station in order to acquire some cash. This becomes problematic when Bob, with whom Matt is very close, stumbles upon the scene. Before he can surmise what it occurring, Bob is knocked unconscious and nearly to death by Nicky. A major event that occurs after the winning numbers see a specific rule in the lottery guidelines forcing five of the six to vote on whether Matt will receive a portion of the winnings. The vote is 3-2, meaning multiple people wanted to deprive the new father of the money so they could have more for themselves. And one of those people is potentially Nicky.

You’ve seen any number of these stories before, some of them told better than they are here. But the overall effect of the show results from the disparate tones locking together instead of clashing. Lucky 7 incorporates tension, comedy and pathos, occasionally very well. This only happens about two-thirds of the time, but the performances are enough to sustain the weaker sections. Long, whom I’ve been rooting for since Jack & Bobby, does some beautifully layered work here. After this show’s inevitable cancelation, I do hope he finds something as sustainable as his talent. Ramos is quietly charming, and the relationship between him and his wife is one of the best parts of the episode. Grush, Philips and Bishil are still finding corners of their characters, but are doing so very well.

Lorraine Bruce gives the standout performance here, and one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. She was also on The Syndicate, the British drama that Lucky 7 has been adapted from, and it’s obvious why the producers brought Bruce along. Her story most dangerously rides the line between wounded drama and comedy grotesque, but Bruce unveils every aspect of a human being, translating her worst scenes into successes and her best scenes into masterpieces. She creates a sympathetic, heartbreaking, triumphant character in a only a scene, and continues to build upon that foundation throughout the episode. It’s unfortunate that the show is being overlooked for a number of reasons, but this is the main one. American audiences should be aware of this performance, and this actress, no matter what show she or it happens to be on.

The most lacking detail in Lucky 7 is details themselves. When Matt’s baby is born, Bob gives him a “little survival kit” that includes oil for a squeaking rocking chair. It’s a sweet moment, built upon the specifics of their relationship and individual characters. It’s too bad then, that that sort of attention isn’t paid throughout the hour. Lucky 7 may not be around long enough to become one of network television’s great dramas, but it does enough in one episode to prove why that wouldn’t be good luck for any of us.

Grade: B+

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