Hearing Hugh Laurie would be playing Dr. Eldon Chance on the new Hulu series, “Chance” — after eight seasons, of course, portraying brilliant infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory House on FOX’s “House” — might sound a little off.
Did the 57-year-old actor decide he only felt comfortable starring on shows named after medical professionals… named after common, monosyllabic objects? The two-time Golden Globe Award winner certainly has his choice of roles to choose from — why would anyone this devastatingly talented take on another role as a downer man of medicine?
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“Chance,” based on Kem Nunn’s 2014 novel, makes Laurie a forensic neuropsychiatrist at the head of his own practice. Rather than differential diagnoses, it’s Chance’s job to direct patients with mental illness to the doctors that will then treat them regularly. In addition to the slew of sometimes hopeless patients he sees daily, Chance is in the midst of a divorce, trying to salvage whatever relationship he’s got left with his teenage daughter and trying to settle into an empty new apartment in San Francisco.
It would be more fun to say it’s nothing like “House,” but the glaring comparisons are hard to ignore. Like Dr. House, Dr. Chance’s home life is painfully lonely. Few can understand the depths of what he deals with, day in and day out, and as a doctor acutely knowledgeable of the brain’s complex intricacies, he substitutes for Dr. House’s pill habit an even more unnerving addiction to self-analysis that seems, even early on, to have already become a very dark path toward doom.
But similarities be damned: “Chance” is, in and of itself, a pretty compelling show, and it seems clear Laurie chose this show because it’s unequivocally good, and entertaining, TV. With elements of “Mr. Robot” and Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” the twists and turns of the plot are head-spinning, if a bit melodramatic. We may find ourselves yearning for just one character to laugh, or giggle, or take any brief respite from the show’s nonstop intensity — but ultimately it’s the layered and self-aware nature of both the show and its narrative psychology that sets it far past even “House’s” groundbreaking take on the procedural.
We don’t even know who to trust on here — the title itself is “Chance,” after all, and we’re led to wonder what and whose points of view are even real. Consider the bipolar patient who captures Dr. Chance’s attention, Jackie Gladstone (Gretchen Mol): Anyone who saw HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” knows Mol is a master at playing a complex, unstable femme fatale, who can read and use desire for her own agenda, and on “Chance,” a much smaller world and more intimate machine, that agenda could potentially alter the course of the whole story. And so on.
The show asks — as timely and insightful, at the very least, as it probably always is — where our personality ends and the disorder begins, how chance encounters can effect our mental state and what’s to be done when that starts to feel permanent. How identity and coincidence — whether physiological and medical, or random (or, sometimes, both) — can collude and collide and eventually combine into something we think of as our self.
With Laurie at the helm and Mol pulling him off course, the show reminds us how bizarre it is that we naturally look at that self — that collection of coincidences and collisions, impressions and fears and ever-changing passions — and no matter how much it changes shape, contradicts itself, becomes unrecognizable, we can look at that mess at any time and say: “Yep. That’s me.”
“Chance” premieres on Wednesday, Oct. 19 on Hulu.