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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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Third-episode verdict: Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)

Posted on October 7, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerLimitless.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Living

In contrast to all the other shows that decided with their second episodes to improve on their crappy pilots this season, Limitless appears to have been planned this way all along. Which is odd. The first episode was generic dullness - a continuation that bolted a police procedural format onto the superior Bradley Cooper movie about a slacker who takes a drug that gives him incredible mental capabilities but which has lethal withdrawal symptoms.

As I mentioned at the time, it was inherently not much different from any number of other CBS "clever people solve crimes" shows, such as The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Elementary, Criminal Minds, IntelligenceScorpion, and CSI, beyond a little more spit and polish, presumably acquired through experience of making so many identikit shows.

The oddest feature of the first episode was its messed up casting, with livewire Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter cast as the dull FBI agent who plays second fiddle to twentysomething musician-slacker Jake McDorman from Manhattan Love Story. What were the producers thinking, I wondered?

Well, it's quite clear what they were thinking now, since apparently, the pilot was intended to lure in the fans of the movie. But as of episode two, the series officially became a comedy with occasionally dark undertones. It became Chuck. A better Chuck than Chuck in fact, since at least it can manage to do action and Carpenter doesn't have to look like a lovesick puppy the whole time (poor Yvonne Strahovski). 

And as a comedy, it's actually quite fun, warm, engaging and inventive - considerably better and nicer, in fact, than just about anything CBS classes as a comedy. Best touch of the show so far, beyond some wildly inventive fantasy sequences, has been the recruitment in the third episode of McDorman's fellow lead from Manhattan Love Story, Analeigh Tipton, as his ex-girlfriend, newly impressed by the NZT-improved McDorman.

What it isn't any more is either a good police procedural, since its plots wander between dull and unrealistic, or a continuation of the movie Limitless, beyond constant acknowledgements of the existence of Bradley Cooper's character and the NZT MacGuffin. Tonally, it's off completely here: Cooper has evolved into something a tad evil, and NZT does little except make McDorman a bit more energetic, focused and smarter. There's little of the OCD, drive and mastery of the world that the movie's NZT brought to Cooper.

Indeed, McDorman is well cast as the driftless and not-that-smart-even-on-NZT lead, well suited to the idea of an amiable shmuck who can drag up inspiration from old episodes of Miami Vice and dream-sequence all manner of hard-boiled shenanigans and adventures for Carpenter, since he isn't allowed to go on missions with her, only stay in the back room analysing things on his regulation one pill a day.

I still think Carpenter would have been a better lead, and it would have been interesting for a change to have a show about a female slacker turning her life around, and not through setting up a cupcake business. The vestigial dark through-narrative about Cooper blackmailing McDorman also sits oddly next to the rest of the almost exclusively comedic and heartwarming qualities of the show.

But as it stands, Limitless is now a considerably more interesting, albeit different show than when it started. 

Barrometer rating: 2
TMINE's prediction: I'm not on NZT, but I think this has the potential to run and run. However, I'm not convinced it quite has that magical ingredient needed to make an audience love it.

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Preview: Limitless 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted on September 21, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Limitless

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS

One of the best things about Dexter, Showtime's little-known show about a serial killer who only kills bad people, was Jennifer Carpenter. A foul-mouthed force of nature, she was both fun and clearly having fun in the show - for the first few seasons at least.

Post-Dexter, her career hasn't taken off, unfortunately. An attempted USA Network pilot, Stanistan, failed to make it to series, meaning she had to pin her hopes this year on CBS's Limitless spin-off.

Park that thought for a second because the progress of Limitless from book to TV series is instructive. It originally started life as The Dark Fields, a novel by Irish novellist Alan Glynn about a down-and-out writer who takes a new drug, NZT, that can expand his mental powers. Effectively a metaphor for how people on cocaine feel, it sees the hero turn his life round, become rich and powerful, and ultimately completely dependent on the drug, which turns out to have horrific side effects for those who stop taking it. Unusually for a European writer, though, the moral of the book was 'don't do drugs' and 'Eddie Spinola’ (spoiler alert) ends up dying alone in a motel room.

The book was eventually adapted by Leslie Dixon of all people. Until Limitless, Dixon was best known as the screenplay writer of Outrageous Fortune, Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire, Freaky Friday and Hairspray. However, for Limitless, although largely faithful to the original, Dixon actually improved on it in several ways: she added action scenes, a new female character (Abbie Cornish) and changed the ending. In her hands, hero Bradley Cooper also discovers the good side of drugs, solves NZT’s side-effects and ends up running for senator, thanks to the power of NZT. Director Neil Burger and cinematographer Jo Willems also gave the movie a unique visual appearance.

And now we have the TV version, which is both a sequel and an adaptation of the movie. In a script by Elementary producer Craig Sweeny, we get Jake McDorman of you'll-have-forgotten-it-existed-until-I-mentioned-it-again Manhattan Love Story as a down-and-out singer who ends up taking NZT and with the help of Bradley Cooper, becomes a vital FBI asset, using his vast mental powers to solve crimes no one else can. His helper and biggest support? Jennifer Carpenter.

And two things are clear:

  1. Although adaptations can improve on the originals, they can also make them worse
  2. You can be too slavish too the original when you adapt it

Why do I say that? Because although Limitless isn't all that bad and is actually quite fun, mainly thanks to all the things it lifts straight from the movie's script and direction, it lifts too much - by having a Bradley Cooper-esque hero, it overlooks the fact the show would have been about 1,000 times smarter and better if Jennifer Carpenter were the heroine on NZT, McDorman the straight-laced FBI helper.

Here's the trailer.

Continue reading "Preview: Limitless 1x1 (US: CBS)"

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