Public Service Announcement 44 of 2017: Chance, Red Oaks

On the basis of its excellent first episode, I was all in on season 1 of Chance. It would be fair to say that the rest of the run didn’t quite live up to that, but it remained intriguingly noirish and Hitchcockian, with excellent performances from Hugh Laurie, Ethan Suplee, and Gretchen Mol.

For season 2 we’re much closer to American transmission, and all I know about the plot is that Chance will be asked to help with taking down a tech millionaire who might also be a serial killer. Now, the millionaire is played – and here’s where it gets really interesting – by Paul Schneider, who was, of course, Mark Brendanawicz in Parks and Recreation, the character who famously disappeared without a word being said. I always thought Mark was, to say the least, a little… off – other opinions are available – and Schneider himself appears to be, uh, not uncomplicated. In short, this could be inspired casting, and it’s certainly made sure that I’ll be watching (Friday 20 October, 10pm, Universal).

And season 3 of 80s-set comedy Red Oaks hits Amazon Prime tomorrow: I’ve never seen a minute of it, and probably never will, but it stars Unpopcult’s beloved Ennis Esmer so it’s almost certainly great.

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Chance s1 ep 1

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.