Chance, Season One (TV 2016) created by Alexandra Cunningham and Kem Nunn
The TV series Chance was recently cancelled by Hulu after two seasons and having only seen the first, I think I know why. The cancellation probably had little to do with the show’s quality, but rather with its being misunderstood. Chance is totally noir, completely disturbing and dark, dark, dark. Yet many of what we’ve come to accept as typical noir trappings – shadows, chiaroscuro lighting, rain-soaked streets, darkened alleys – have become so caricatured we often find it difficult to identify noir by any other touchstones. Chance is noir of the soul, a deep examination of desires and motives, actions and consequences, risks and death. Total noir.
Hugh Laurie stars as Dr. Eldon Chance, a San Francisco forensic neuropsychiatrist who’s dealing with a divorce, a teenage daughter, and a tax audit. A guy this busy has no time for a client dealing with memory loss, an abusive husband, and possibly multiple-personality disorder, but those things don’t matter when you’re overtaken by desire. Once Dr. Chance meets Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), it’s a done deal: he’ll do anything to see her again, risks and danger be damned.
Problems ensue when Chance discovers that Jaclyn’s abusive husband Raymond (Paul Adelstein) is also a police detective with lots of connections and perhaps a nasty secret or two. Investigating this guy could be very bad for your health, both mental and physical. Chance is soon in constant turmoil with himself, knowing what he should do at various points along the way, but talking himself out of doing the right thing. Or is he even sure he knows what the right thing is?
Chance discovers a furniture restorer called “D” (Ethan Suplee), an intimidating-looking ex-military guy who knows a lot about how to hurt people and is willing to help Chance in his quest for the truth, especially when vigilante techniques are used. “There are no victims,” D tells Chance, “only volunteers,” which makes us wonder whether the things that happen to the characters in the show are based on their conscious decisions or predetermined events over which they have no control.
Chance is at its best when it explores the inner workings of Dr. Chance, Jaclyn, and Raymond. Not only does psychiatry come into play with all three characters, Jaclyn’s possible multiple-personality disorder (Is she faking it?) makes things both interesting and unsettling. Yet the conflict that carries the greatest interest is between Chance and Raymond. How do they see themselves? How do they see Jaclyn? Is this simply a power struggle over a beautiful woman or is there more at stake? Is Jaclyn a survivor of abuse, a femme fatale, or both? Character is at the core of Chance and the series is most compelling when character is at the forefront. That’s not to say that the action is lacking in any way. Far from it. Be prepared for some pretty violent stuff, especially when D is onscreen. And Raymond, for that matter.
Chance isn’t a perfect show. There’s probably not quite enough story to spread out over 10 episodes and some of the subplots feel like distractions or maybe even padding. Yet I think a few other things worked against the show:
Although he has a long list of acting credits (many of them from British TV), Hugh Laurie is an actor known primarily for his work as the misanthropic doctor in the TV series House (2004-2012). Laurie also brings a masterful comedic touch to many of his roles, but Chance calls for something far different from his comedy work or his character on House. I’m not convinced audiences ever latched onto the character of Chance, a man who constantly seems haggard, obsessed, and on the verge of total despair.
Although some streaming companies such as Netflix release their original shows with all their episodes at once, Hulu released new episodes of Chance each week. Although that practice (like traditional TV) allows the cliffhanger endings of each episode to linger in the mind of the audience, it also gives them an opportunity not to tune in next week. If it grabs you from the first episode, Chance is probably a better binge-watching experience than a week-to-week one.
Chance also seems, on the surface, to be a typical mystery/thriller show. Yes, some of it is predictable, some of the characters contain stereotypes, etc. You may get the feeling that you’ve seen all this before and if don’t look beyond the surface, you’d be right. Yet the depth of character is strong and worth watching. If you let these characters seep into you, I think you’ll find Chance is not only a very good show, it’s also one of the most neo-noir experiences you’ll find in the vast offerings on TV. Seasons One and Two are available on Hulu.
Photos: Hulu, Recap Guide