Five episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
It’s easy to see why people will compare Hulu’s newest original series, Chance, with Fox’s long-running drama House.
Yes, they both find Hugh Laurie playing troubled doctors dealing with their fair share of personal and professional ailments, battled on a seemingly hourly basis, but neither share the same DNA. House was broadcast melodrama with nearly 200 episodes under its belt centered around the Head of Diagnostic Medicine in a fictionalized high-end New Jersey hospital. Chance, meanwhile, is a decidedly more intimate, accessible noir-tinged character drama following the social and, perhaps, mental decline of a broke, divorced and emotionally/physically exhausted neuropsychiatrist.
Neither were particularly lighthearted, but Chance is a bleaker, more adult-orientated exploration into crime, corruption and psychological unrest. Those expecting another quippy, enjoyably pessimistic PhD Laurie doctor will need to look elsewhere. That’s likely for the best.
With that in mind, Chance might have trouble earning as many fans as Laurie’s claim-to-fame (at least stateside). Adapted from Kem Nunn’s 2014 novel of the same name, its unpleasant, starkly violent presentation is perhaps too grim and solemn for mainstream tastes. Those viewers wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to reject it; the drama series, developed by Nunn and Alexandra Cunningham, is a little too incessantly dark to win fans easily. But those who take the plunge might soon be taken by its endearing supporting cast —most notably Ethan Suplee and Gretchen Mol — and Laurie’s empathetically haunted lead performance.
However, its sloshy pacing, subdued direction, and tempered suspense might leave some viewers lacking the compulsive drive to continue onward. Granted, it typically rewards the patient in these initial five episodes, which should sound assuring, yet it still has trouble providing that hook, the one that can’t be found elsewhere and the one that distinguishes Chance from the rest.
While competently executed, for the most part, Chance is missing an authentic edge that hasn’t been whittled down by its tough competition. Maybe it would’ve been considered more shocking, say, five years or so prior. But by today’s standards, it’s relatively tame, despite its wishes to be something else.
That’s not to say that its sharp, often brutal bursts of violence aren’t effective, but they come few and far between, and they’re lacking past the initial two episodes, both directed by recent Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank). It needs to be just a little more cutting to sink in, but it’s on the right track, at least. Stark editing and several other artistic flourishes offer a moodier, more stylish program opposed to your average by-the-number cop procedure or Amazon’s Bosch. But these, too, often seem shortsighted in their delivery.
At its best, Chance is perhaps two octaves too low from where it needs to be, settling down at 6 when it should be cranked up to 8, maybe even 9. But it has time to develop itself fitfully. This televised adaptation is at its best when it centers around Laurie’s Dr. Eldon Chance and his loyal carpenter accomplice, the hulking, menacing, street-smart ex-military carpenter known as D (Suplee).
D’s the kind of character you’ll only find in fiction: an all-knowing, three-steps-above-it-all watch-dog with an endless line of secrets regarding his past and connections. But he’s exactly the kind of character you want to unravel and explore, and he’s one of the main reasons why Chance often works in spite of its sluggish demeanor and its otherwise perfunctory execution. Their dynamic is engaging, surprising and often colored with clever dialogue and riddle-friendly metaphors. If this show has a heart, it’s shared between the pair.
Even though Chance stumbles a few more times than it skates, there’s enough promise and potential on display here that it might prove itself worthwhile. Hulu’s latest is not a particularly bad show, but it’s clearly not living up to its full promise, especially with shows like Casual and the often-recommended The Path and Different People coming out of its streaming service simultaneously. It’s hard to say there’s greatness in its future, but there’s enough goodwill here that it’s unfair to shrug Chance off completely.
Hulu's latest dramatic series doesn't live up to its full potential, but there's a good chance it'll find its way as it continues onward.