San Francisco. Hugh Laurie is Dr. Eldon Chance, a consulting neuropsychiatrist: this means, apparently, that he assesses mental health issues then passes the patient to someone else for treatment. Not a million miles from House, then. Chance has marriage problems, a teenage daughter (“Life sucks”), money worries, and possibly a Secret Pain, which we’ll get to.
He is consulted by Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), who has been suffering memory lapses and appears to have developed a second personality, all after being assaulted by her husband Raymond (Paul Adelstein), a homicide detective who seems to be capable of turning on the charm or the menace as circumstances require. Chance refers her to a friend, Suzanne (Liza Gay Hamilton), for treatment. And that – an apparently accidental meeting in a bookshop aside – is that for Chance and Jaclyn, at least until she turns up in hospital badly beaten, and Suzanne suggests that Chance should visit her. Which brings him back into Jaclyn’s orbit, somewhat to the concern of both Suzanne and Chance’s receptionist Lucy (Greta Lee), both of whom drop hints about where this all might be headed: Suzanne implies that Chance has previous for messing about with a patient (“Once is a mistake. Twice is a decision”), and Lucy clearly thinks that Jaclyn is manipulating Chance. We also discover that Jaclyn’s last therapist was murdered in mysterious circumstances.
In the meantime, trying to raise some money, Chance has been visiting the antiques shop of an old friend, Carl (Clarke Peters), in order to sell a desk. Carl’s assistant D (a chilling Ethan Suplee) offers to restore the desk to enhance its value, and Chance and D start to hang out: D, it transpires, has a taste for vigilante violence, summed up in a tense and ultimately gruesomely bloody sequence towards the end of the episode when he essentially dangles Chance as bait in front of a group of muggers, all of whom he then beats up. I would imagine that Chance will shortly be inviting D to use his skills on Jaclyn’s violent husband.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the Golden Age’s glut of TV is that, in an odd way, it can be something of a relief when a new show turns out to be substandard. And so, on one level, I’m sorry to say that I loved Chance. The acting is excellent – Suplee, in particular, is mesmerising; the pace is measured, but that feels like a deliberate decision rather than an attempt to mitigate a paucity of material; the script is strong. And the production values are sky-high and satisfyingly noir-esque. I can’t imagine that the Vertigo references are accidental: San Francisco setting aside, there are occasional stabs of Herrmann-esque music; a blonde femme fatale who has to be saved by an older man; even the dual personalities. I was engrossed from start to finish.
So Chance is another one for my list. If you want to see if it might fit on yours, it’s on Universal in the UK, and the first two episodes are available on catch-up.