“Chance” is a tense Hitchcockian drama series about chance. It’s about the way accidents, both happy and unhappy, can govern who we are and who we become. We bump into people, we trip into experiences, we tumble forth into catastrophe, or tragedy, or maybe glory. We react to everything that happens to cross through our perception, and we define ourselves in the process. And it doesn’t matter how impenetrable our own personal boundaries may be; the world, or fate, or God, will break through your walls and alter you.
And that’s particularly so with Dr. Eldon Chance, the other, more obvious — too obvious? — reason the show has its title. Chance, played by Hugh Laurie, is a neuro-psychiatrist in San Francisco who evaluates patients before sending them on to other treatments. He has emotional walls of steel, it seems, as he distantly assesses troubled people according to their phobias and pathologies. He has a kind, watchful face but you can always sense his detachment and professionalism, along with hints of loneliness. He hardly bonds with these one-off clients, even while they fascinate him.
And then along comes Jaclyn (Gretchen Mol), a fragile, abused wife who appears to have developed a second personality — Jackie — to withstand violent treatment by her husband, a brutal cop named Raymond (Paul Adelstein). Chance is going through a tough divorce from Christina (Diane Farr), and he misses his teen daughter Nicole (Stefania LaVie Owen). He is vulnerable, ripe for a midlife crisis, and even desperate, as his legal fees pile high. Somehow, he lets down his guard with Jaclyn, and he begins to act on his fears that she’s in mortal danger. He becomes obsessed with this blond beauty, and in that way — and in the San Francisco locations — “Chance” feels like an homage to “Vertigo.” Once Chance meets the alternative personality Jackie, who is highly sexual, he loses all traces of his professionalism — something his friend, a therapist played by LisaGay Hamilton, keeps telling him.
But there’s more to Chance’s downhill slide in this teasing thriller, which premieres Wednesday on Hulu. He also happens to meet a thug named D, played by Ethan Suplee (from “My Name Is Earl”). D makes it clear that he’ll do anything for Chance for the right price. “Chance” is Hitchcockian — some of Chance’s scenes with D even recall “Strangers on a Train” — but Chance’s relationship with D, and the aggression it brings out in him, evoke Walter White’s transformation in “Breaking Bad.” D, and to some extent Jackie, represent the id that the controlled Chance has fought against all his life. Now he is succumbing in a midlife bid for power and dominance, it seems.
I say “it seems” because some of the events in “Chance” may be happening in the real world, but they may be happening only in Chance’s mind, too — it’s hard to tell. Is “Chance” going to pull a “Mr. Robot”? Does D really exist, or is he a product of Chance’s agitated imagination? The show is a strongly psycho-dramatic look at a man who spends his life drawing psychological portraits of others, and it’s possible that he is going mad.
The tone of “Chance,” like its title, is not particularly subtle. The creators, Alexandra Cunningham and Kem Nunn, author of the novel, have fired up all atmospheric cylinders. The soundtrack, by Will Bates, is high strung, the colors are bold and blurry, the character interactions often quickly heat to a boil, and the editing — which occasionally jumps back and forth within the same scene — is needling; they all combine to make the show stylistically in-your-face. Laurie gives a beautifully receptive, almost submissive performance, miles from the caustic doctor he played on “House,” but his Chance lives in an audacious world that puts him through his paces. “Chance” is provocative, mysterious, overdone, and, bottom line, entertaining..
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Ethan Suplee, Diane Farr, Paul Adelstein, LisaGay Hamilton, Gretchen Mol, Clarke Peters, Stefania LaVie Owen
On: Hulu, Wednesday