‘Chance’: Hugh Laurie Returns as a Wearier, Warier Doctor

Ken Tucker
Hugh Laurie as Eldon Chance — Chance, Season 1, Episode 1. Photo: David Moir/Hulu
Photo: David Moir/Hulu

Hugh Laurie returns — to whatever we’re now calling television when it appears on a streaming service such as Hulu — in Chance, a melancholy suspense series. He’s playing a doctor again, but one unlike the snippy hero of House. The British actor is again going American, portraying a San Francisco neuropsychiatrist named Eldon Chance.

Chance gets involved with a patient named Jaclyn Blackstone, played by Gretchen Mol — even Chance’s receptionist knows by Blackstone’s second visit that her boss is attracted to more than just her problems. We see many glimpses of Chance’s patients, and none of them looks like Mol. Mol’s Blackstone has a split personality — at least two, I should say, perhaps three: She’s a real banana split. She also has an abusive husband who’s a cop — “a homicidal homicide detective,” Chance ruefully calls him.

Related: Hugh Laurie Dissects His Character on Hulu’s Dark New Drama Chance

The overarching theme of Chance is that the title character is a man in crisis. His soon-to-be-ex-wife (Diane Farr, who deserves as much screen time as she can get) is causing him financial worry, but he’s also approaching despair in that he’s not doing any good in working with his patients. He’s depressed, he’s drinking a bit too much, and he’s ripe to fall for the alluring Blackstone, who seeks comfort from him in a way that exceeds doctor-patient boundaries.

Laurie is an avid jazz fan, and I’d say he’s working in a very blue, Chet Baker mood here. Chance is based on a novel by the excellent writer Kem Nunn, who’s also worked on Sons of Anarchy and (remember it?) John From Cincinnati. At its best, the TV show has a bit of a Hitchcock feel (the doomed romance of Vertigo) and an even stronger pull toward Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock homage, Obsession (1976). At its weakest, Chance is melodramatic, with our hero uttering overblown lines, such as, “I spend my days in the company of those mutilated by life” and seeing life “through a glass darkly in the midst of my own decline.” Clearly, Chance is not the guy to invite to your next tailgate party.

The co-stars include The Wire’s Clarke Peters as an antiques dealer and My Name Is Earl’s Ethan Suplee as Peters’ muscle-bound assistant who becomes Chance’s avenger-in-adventure. Paul Adelstein is very good as Blackstone’s menacing husband. Based on the two episodes I’ve watched, Chance exerts a kind of morose fascination. I’m willing to play along with this hard-boiled tale to see where it goes.

Chance is streaming now on Hulu.