"Hunting is a game like stud poker,
only the stakes are higher."
-- Joel McCrea in The Most Dangerous Game
As of this writing, poker has been a mainstay of reality television for about two years. Joining the number of
poker movies that have been made over the years,
fiction television has now gotten deeper into the action with the debut of ESPN's Las Vegas-set Tilt. (More
Poker TV Shows)
The brainchild of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the feature film writers of Rounders, Walking Tall and the terrific
Runaway Jury, Tilt focuses on the shady exploits of a crew of lowlifes orbiting around Don "The Matador" Everest.
The Matador is played by Michael Madsen, one of the best, busiest and most watchable actors on the planet. Among his credits are
Reservoir Dogs, Species, Die Another Day, Free Willy, and two of my obscure favorites: the feature film
Kill Me Again, and the cult fave television show, Vengeance Unlimited.
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Despite all that, boy did the debut blow chunks. First of all, Madsen has played every variety of hero and lowlife (especially lowlife
heroes) that you can imagine in his career, and he has always been likeable no matter how naughty he has been. Here, he is dull dull
dull. To rise to the level of boring his character would need 10,000 volts shot through him.
The implausibilities, impossibilities and utter stupidities are piled on everywhere you can turn here. One example, the head of a
hotel is an old buddy of, hangs out with, and is involved in the scams of The Matador. This is a bit like Donald Trump helping one of
the parking valets key a bunch of cars. Poker is big business, but almost any individual poker game offers little opportunity to make
any sort of meaningful amount of money, at least an amount that you would risk control of a casino over. Poker games are small potatoes,
the poker industry is big potatoes, and the casino industry
is mega-mucho potatoes. It's delusional to think
that someone in the door of the big game will care about the kiddie pool.
A key conceptual error of the
show though is much more damning. It is so laughably lightweight because in this case: truth is stranger than fiction! Like the
lightweight fantasy world created in Rounders, what we have in Tilt is a poker show without any of the real comedy, drama,
excitement and pathos that can be found in the actual poker world. It's like someone decided to make a movie of Madonna's life and decided
to only show her reading the newspaper in the morning.
Again like Rounders we focus on scumbags, but they are neither realistic scumbags, nor even close to the scummiest of the poker
world. These guys are like Mary Poppins compared to poker scumbags. They do absurd nonsense. They think in idiotically brain-dead
terms (no less that FIVE characters seem motivated only by revenge without the slightest care about the money, wealth and power
swirling around them). A drama needs drama for heaven's sake. A poker-based TV show needs poker energy and motivations, not fantasies
more appropriate for a schoolyard where a pack of cigarettes was the most valuable thing at stake.
Of course, these comments are based on only one airing, so perhaps future episodes won't be so excruciatingly lightweight, but then
again, it appears likely there won't be many future episodes...
From a poker strategy point of view though, the show should develop even more new players who are led to believe trivial, unimportant
and utterly worthless nonsense about this business. This will of course inevitably lead to them making donations to people who make an
effort to understand the good, bad, complicated and genuinely important aspects of living a life in the poker world.