WHAT IT’S ABOUT Dr. Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie) is a San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist, also the father of a teen and in the midst of a divorce from Christina (Diane Farr). A new patient, Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), may be suffering from multiple personality disorder, and her abusive husband, Raymond (Paul Adelstein), a homicide detective with the Oakland Police Department, may be to blame. Meanwhile, Chance needs cash — fast — and meets up with high-end furniture dealer Carl (Clarke Peters) for advice. Carl also has an interesting and dangerous associate named “D” (Ethan Suplee). Now an important viewer advisory: The first two minutes of the opening episode contain gruesome, horrific visuals. While they are not incidental to the theme of the series, they are shocking. Be warned. There is also sporadic and graphic violence throughout.
MY SAY In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock gave the world “Vertigo,” which is one of the greatest of films and (by chance) also the inspiration for Laurie’s return in a regular series role since “House” ended four years ago. While his new show is based on Kem Nunn’s 2014 novel of the same name, the ghost of Hitchcock haunts every scene. You almost expect to see the director turn up in one of those calling-card cameos he was famous for, perhaps seated in the back of a bus, or a fleeting walk-on just over Eldon Chance’s shoulder. Homage is what’s going on here, and — in the event that’s not obvious — a phrase or two evoking Bernard Herrmann’s famous score from “Vertigo” occasionally drifts by, notably when Eldon sees Mol’s Blackstone in the distance. After all, he’s the Jimmy Stewart to her Kim Novak.
But “Chance” and Nunn, who wrote the series along with Alexandra Cunningham, have their own compelling ideas. Nunn, an acclaimed writer of what’s called “surf noir,” set his recent novel in San Francisco because the hills reminded him of rolling waves. But built on the most active fault in North America, with perhaps the largest homeless population in the country, the San Francisco of Hulu’s “Chance” is setting, character and metaphor all at once. Alluring and beautiful, it’s also dangerous and disorienting. Anything could happen here at any moment — and does.
Little wonder Chance has lost his footing along with his bearings. He’s no longer certain of the distinction between right and wrong, or reality from fiction. He’s open, however, to ideas, even when offered by a huge, treacherous man who goes only by the name of “D” and who categorizes people in vampiric terms, as either victims or “feeders.”
And, since you asked, Chance and Gregory House are profoundly different characters, yet also similar. Season after season, House sought the truth — about love, life, and especially about himself. Season after season, he was embittered by the futility of the pursuit. The universe is indifferent, he decided. Deal with it.
By contrast, Chance knows love (his daughter’s), believes in the improvement of humankind and in the necessity of action: “We act or we despair.” But he’s also seeking the truth, and wonders whether “our lives are random meetings in time and space,” like atoms bouncing off one another. He and House may well arrive at the same conclusion.
In pure Hitchcockian terms, “Chance” is full of menace and mystery. Instead of fog, shadows engulf the city and its inhabitants. Also like Hitchcock, “Chance” is playing with heads — its characters, and yours. D appears to offer the best viewer guide to this terrific newcomer: “The question is not ‘Is it a game?’ The question is, ‘Who sets the rules?’ ”
BOTTOM LINE One of the best new fall series and — double bonus points — it stars the great Hugh Laurie and Ethan Suplee, who ruthlessly hijacks his scenes.