RogerBW's Blog

Chance season 1 08 May 2017

2016 noir thriller, 10 episodes. A forensic neuropsychiatrist finds himself getting in way, way over his head.

Hugh Laurie was the reason I started to pay attention to this series, and he very nearly makes it work. His character, Dr Eldon Chance, thinks of himself as one of the good guys, but quickly finds himself to be more morally flexible than he'd expected once he hits some minor adversity (he needs to sell some furniture to pay for his divorce); and wouldn't you know it, he's met a patient who could really use some help from a morally flexible man. Alas, while he's played by a Laurie who's visibly aged from his role in House, he comes over as far too trusting and naïf, particularly for someone his age, and for someone whose work deals constantly with victims of mental illness and traumatic brain injuries (both groups including quite a few compulsive liars).

Jaclyn Blackstone, the patient, is played by Gretchen Mol, shifting effortlessly from damsel in distress to full-on noir vamp. Unfortunately she's profoundly underwritten, and one never gets any idea of what Jaclyn is really like: she's just one of the tools that pushes and cuts at the workpiece which is Chance. See, she has a husband who may be abusing her, and he's a homicide detective so it's not as if anyone can call the police…

The other major tool working on Chance is Darius "D" Pringle, played by Ethan Suplee (known mostly for his roles as idiotic thugs) as a surprisingly thoughtful thug, a traumatised veteran who's found several outlets for his tendencies to violence. Suplee effortlessly steals scenes from Laurie in a way that leaves me looking out for him in future roles.

The real problem here is pacing. The show was written with everyone knowing that it had twenty episodes over two seasons to tell its story, and with only a fairly skeletal plot to spread over all that time, it has a distressing tendency to go down sidetracks and pad things out with lots of slow meaningful scenes in which nothing actually happens. It doesn't help matters that it feels at times like a rehash of Final Analysis, a 1992 Richard Gere vehicle, which in turn was a gallimaufry of Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep among others. While I admire the ability of modern serial TV to tell a single cohesive story across a season, in this case there just isn't enough story to justify the screen time, and while wallowing in the atmosphere of total suspicion and corruption may well appeal to many, it didn't work for me.

The next ten episodes will be broadcast probably later in 2017; it's not yet clear whether the show may be up for renewal after the second season.

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 12:53pm on 08 May 2017

    The problem of pacing that comes from format, or is you prefer as I do, the story structure. This is where the writers fall into the habit of having episodes that 'flesh' out characters at the expense of plot, which provides the narrative momentum. I saw this in the Primeval reboot, and more recently in Almost Human (the Karl Urban future cop show), where the series just didn't get on with telling the story.

    I think a thin plot describes a goodly part of this problem.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:50pm on 08 May 2017

    Yes, if there were more meat to the primary story they wouldn't need to resort to all the Hamburger Helper.

    I don't mind a slow development of the overall plot if the stuff that's getting in the way (a) is apparently going to be relevant to that overall plot or (b) is interesting in itself. Some of the padding here manages one or the other, some is neither, occasionally it does both.

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