Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Hulu’s newest original series, “Chance,” premiering today, October 19th, has the elements of great noir, but too often doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. There’s a femme fatale who may or may not be telling the complete truth. There’s an abusive husband from whom the hero can save the damsel-in-distress. There’s a tough guy there just to teach our protagonist about the seedy underbelly of the world. And there’s dialogue like “Question is not ‘Is it a game,’ question is ‘Who sets the rules?’” But “Chance,” despite a great cast and a pilot directed by Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”), relies too much on coincidence and gullibility to be effective. And, more damagingly, doesn’t generate the sexual heat or sense of danger that great noir needs to resonate. As is, it feels more like an interesting exercise in genre, with perhaps enough plot twists to keep viewers engaged through the weekend, but nothing much of value to garner buzz beyond it.
Dr. Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie) is a neuropsychiatrist who becomes infatuated with a patient named Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), who claims that abuse from her husband Raymond (Paul Adelstein) has created a split personality named Jackie Stone. While Jaclyn wants to leave Raymond, although is too fearful to do so, the more sexually aggressive Jackie is still sleeping with him. Is Jackie real or a game that Jaclyn is playing? Over the first four episodes that I screened, it’s not only unclear but barely developed. To say Jaclyn/Jackie is an underdeveloped character would be an understatement. She’s essentially the pivot point on which our protagonist’s life turns but we spend almost no time with her.
In fact, Chance is in the company of a massive gentleman named D (Ethan Suplee) far more often than he is Jackie, or even his daughter Nicole (Stefania LaVie Owen). Chance meets D through a high-end furniture dealer named Carl (Clarke Peters), and D is the brawn to Chance’s brains. When the doctor tells his new muscular friend about Jaclyn, D offers to help, for a price. As Chance heads to the dark side of the tracks, he makes decisions that he may come to regret.
“Chance” is the kind of show that takes a long time to get where we know it’s going early on. A slow burn is not uncommon for noir—the private dick is often the last to know that the femme fatale is playing him—but that’s why they rely so heavily on atmosphere and sometimes even camp, both of which are lacking in this show that takes itself way too seriously and contains surprisingly little tension. The biggest problem is that one never feels any stakes in “Chance.” There’s no real connection to the characters—despite Laurie’s best efforts to make him feel genuine, the doctor can be inconsistently naïve—and so we don’t have a reason to care what happens to them.
Again, I’m a sucker enough for noirs and mysteries that I will likely finish out “Chance,” just to see what happens to our white knight doctor. “Chance” is the kind of show that could have been greatly helped by the streaming/binging format in that simple curiosity could keep viewers going to the next episode. Then again, multiple hours of this program in a row does highlight its faults. Maybe one should experience “Chance” like a weekly trip to the therapist—one hour at a time.
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