What on earth is Chance all about?
A psychiatrist falling for his patient? A psychiatrist intervening in the personal life of his patient? A psychiatrist descending into disarray and losing control?
The opening episode of Hugh Laurie’s new drama is all of these and none of these… a slow-burn drama about a shrink whose work leaves the office and colludes with his personal life.
Laurie stars as San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance, who assesses patients only to recommend the best specialist for them to work with.
He’s recently split from his wife and his teen daughter isn’t happy about it. Chance is a less-than-perfect dad. He’s also another medical role for the man so synonymous with Dr. Gregory House, albeit less cranky, less brilliant and without the assistance of his cane.
The key patient in the premiere is Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), an attractive if troubled woman who explains she has split personalities. A straightforward diagnosis becomes complicated when some time later Chance meets her in public, appears to be curiously drawn to her, and is convinced by a colleague that she is the victim of domestic violence.
Concurrent with this is a sleeper B-plot of Chance visiting an antique dealer to sell a desk, who introduces him to ex-Afghanistan war veteran-turned metalworker Darius ‘D’ Pringle (Ethan Suplee). As ‘D’ touches up his desk to fetch a higher price, an odd friendship forms, opening an entry into a strange underbelly of San Fransisco lowlifes.
When Chance encounters Jaclyn’s dubious husband, cop Raymond (Paul Adelstein), he calls on ‘D’ for a bit of muscle assistance.
It’s hard to know what to make of Chance. On the one hand I admire the left-of-centre choices, and on the other I felt some frustration, unclear what our hero was looking for.
On the question of crossing the lines between doctor and patient (which Naomi Watts transgressed so brazenly in Gypsy), the rules are pretty clear cut. Here they seem to be overlooked by characters who are intelligent and noble. If we are to presume he is besotted by his patient to compromise himself, it is only lightly established.
Ethan Suplee (best known for My Name is Earl) gets an interesting role as a brooding, hulk of a man befriending a neuropsychiatrist, to the point of reversing positions and becoming his adviser, in at least one scene. Even Chance‘s cynical receptionist, can read her boss pretty easily.
Sometimes Chance plays with time, sometimes it overplays the darker undertones, and ultimately it raises more questions than it answers. This is a character piece, and one that it is again hard to see how it fits the SBS Charter, aside from arthouse aspirations.
At least with an actor of Laurie’s strength this could be an unexpected reward once it is much clearer about where it is headed.
9:40pm Thursday November 30 on SBS.