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Review: Chance 1x1-1x3 (US: Hulu)

Posted on October 31, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Chance

In the US: Wednesdays, Hulu

For most people in the UK, Hugh Laurie is Hugh Laurie. He may have played Gregory House in House for umpteen seasons, but he's also the guy from Blackadder, Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster, and Stephen Fry's comedy writing partner for most of the 80s and early 90s.

For most Americans, though, he's House. He is the grumpy, misanthropic, genius American doctor from House. End of. So you can kind of understand why Laurie would take on a two-season role as an eponymous doctor again, if only to cleanse American viewers' memories by playing something similar, but crucially different in one big regard: he's nice.

Based on the novel by Ken Humm (John from Cincinnati), Chance sees Laurie playing a consultant psychologist, who tries to sort out treatment for people who have neurological problems. When Gretchen Mol (Life on Mars) is referred to him with disassociative personality disorder, which she says started after her cop husband Paul Adelstein (Prison Break) began to abuse her, he tries to help her but soon the husband is coming after him.

Meanwhile, the non-confrontational Laurie is in the middle of a no-fault divorce from his wife Diane Farr (Numb3rs) and needs money. When he takes his antique desk to Clarke Peters (The Wire) to be sold, Peters tells him he could get nearly twice as much money if it still had the metalwork on it. Fortunately, Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl) works for him and could add the missing metalwork if Laurie doesn't mind a little deception. In turn, Suplee doesn't mind a little bit of ultra-violence and is potentially willing to help Laurie out with his other problem…

I'll play a little game now. I'll list a few things and you have to say at which word you realised what the show's biggest influence is.

San Francisco. Psychiatry. Blonde. Femme fatale. Different personalities. Hitchcockian strings.

Well, if you haven't got it already, the answer's Vertigo, one of Alfred Hitchock's finest, in which Jimmy Stewart falls for Kim Novak who plays two women who turn out to be just the one. Certainly, Chance has huge ladels of both Vertigo and film noir spread all over it. There's also lashings of Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanours, with Suplee and Peters leading the normally ethical Laurie towards a life of escalating moral infractions towards possibly even murder.

But Chance is certainly a lot more than that and knows that you know what its references are. Certainly, Laurie doesn't do anything massively stupid, instead doing all manner of smart, prudent things rather than leaping in at the deep end. There's also a certain House of Cards - David Mamet's, that is - quality to it all which the show is also keen to highlight. Is maths tutor Mol really disassociative or is she faking it? Is Adelstein really doing all the things that he seems to be doing or is the surprisingly bright Suplee actually doing it all to lure Laurie into a huge con? Could they even all be in league with one another?

Chance wants you to be wondering all of these things, which is why, despite its depressing qualities, it's also compelling, very tense and claustrophobic (rather than vertiginous). The double meaning in the title, which becomes hugely important in the second episode, makes you wonder exactly how much of what's going on is genuine coincidence and what's not - or even if Laurie's character is facing a Sixth Sense discovery that he's had a brain injury himself. Even if you're not exactly sure what the trap is, you can feel the jaws slowly closing around Laurie, who's a good guy who wants to do the right thing.

It's a good, smart, well-paced thriller that's definitely worth a try.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? No
TMINE's prediction: Commissioned for two seasons

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Review: Jennifer Falls 1x1 (TV Land)

Posted on June 6, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


Jennifer Falls

In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land

TV seems to have a thing against women executives at the moment. To be slightly more accurate, it has a thing against women executives who in some sense ‘desert their friends’ (i.e. spend less time with them) in order to get ahead.

We recently had USA’s Playing House, in which high-flying executive Lennon Parham discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Jessica St Clair to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more emotionally satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.

And now, over on TV Land, we have that network’s first single-camera comedy, in which high-flying executive Jaime Pressly discovers that despite working hard for a decade, leaving behind in her home town her bestest pal Missi Pyle to have a normal life, her career is always on a knife-edge, her male bosses don’t really respect her and actually, returning home to spend more time with her family and her friend and getting a less demanding job is more satisfying, you know? Perhaps that’s even all she really wants.

Cue Cheryl Sandberg to explain how women only feel they (and others) should be allowed to succeed as long as everyone - not just themselves - benefit and they’re not seen as selfish.

The big difference between the two shows? Jennifer Falls has a better cast and is marginally - just marginally - less irritating. Here’s a trailer.

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Mini-review: The Millers 1x1 (CBS/Comedy Central)

Posted on October 7, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Millers on CBS, with Will Arnett

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Mondays, 9.30pm, Comedy Central. Starts October 14

This season in the US appears to be one for great casts and great creative talents turning in comedies that are more than a little short on actual laughs. We've already suffered through Dads and Mom, and now we have CBS's The Millers, starring Will Arnett, Beau Bridges, Jayma Mays and Margot Martindale, and written by My Name is Earl's Greg Garcia. Arnett and Mays are brother and sister, Bridges and Martindale their parents. Arnett gets a divorce and when his father finds out, he's inspired to do the same. Cue hilarity as old people try to cope with the single life, fulfil supressed ambitions, and mess around in their kids' lives and 'over share'.

Now there is at least the germ of a comedic idea in there and although it's CBS, the home of mean-spirited comedy, Greg Garcia is a far more amiable writer. Unfortunately, that means Arnett, who is always fabulous as pampered, spoiled and slightly evil characters, is here playing second-fiddle to Bridges and Martindale, their comedic foil who has to bounce off them, rather than vice versa. Despite being a TV reporter, he's shown to quite nice: a generous brother who helps support Mays and her husband's struggling business.

Meanwhile, Bridges and Martindale dominate the action, shouting at one another. Bridges, however, is a buffoon verging on the senile, a source of fart gags and a man incapable of using a microwave without his soon-to-be-ex-wife's help. Martindale, by contrast, is a controlling nightmare, picking away at her entire family, oblivious to her faults. Mays just gets to be the glue that joins everything together, with barely a joke headed her way the entire episode.

And if you find befuddled, farting old men and old women critcising everyone they come across, while Arnett mugs for all he's worth, you might well like The Millers. But unfortunately, that's really the extent of the comedy in the show, so if your tastes are a little more discerning, look elsewhere for laughs because you won't find them here.

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