Tuesday 16 January 2018

Review of Hugh Laurie's Chance: It's not quite Hitchcock, but there's a dark side to this new drama

Hugh Laurie in Chance
Hugh Laurie in Chance
Master of None
Upbeat: Anne Moore (88) from Kildare, who featured in RTÉ's Too Old for the Road?

John Boland

Watching the pilot episode of Chance (Universal), directed by Lenny Abrahamson, I kept being reminded of Alfred Hitchcock's great 1958 movie Vertigo.

This was no doubt intentional. There was the same San Francisco setting, the same femme fatale whose predicament lured the main character over to the dark side. And there was the same nagging sense that things were not as they seemed.

There, though, the similarities ended. Hugh Laurie, playing neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance, is no James Stewart and Gretchen Mol, despite the blonde hair and air of mystery, will never be Kim Novak, while Dubliner Abrahamson (Adam and Paul, Garage, Room) didn't manage to conjure up the haunting images and sickly romanticism that distinguished Hitchcock's troubling masterpiece.

Still, it was an intriguing opener that afforded Laurie more range than he was allowed as the grumpy medic of the long-running House. Here he was almost as vulnerable as his client Jaclyn, with her tale of domestic abuse and confession of personality disorders, including having an alter ego who "does things that I don't".

Unsettled by a costly marital separation, he was easy prey, both emotionally and financially, falling in with a dodgy antiques dealer's hulking assistant whose flair for righteous violence began to excite him.

How the series will develop is anyone's guess, but certainly there was enough in this week's pilot to warrant further viewing.

But if Eldon Chance is heading for the dark side, Jimmy McGill has long been sliding that way, though still capable of acts of kindness, as he demonstrated in this week's finale to the third season of Better Call Saul (Netflix).

Better Call Saul.jpeg

To be honest, I had assumed this would be the end of Jimmy's story and that we would next see him reinvented as Saul Goodman in reruns of Breaking Bad. But clearly his own prequel life isn't over yet.

A major character may have died in this week's season-closer, but there are still loose ends to be resolved, not least his relationship with the marvellous Kim, so a fourth season seems inevitable.

That's the good news. The bad news is that there's talk of Redwater (RTÉ1/BBC2) being revived for a second season - a rumour given credence by this week's finale, which ended on a blatant cliffhanger, though if you care a hoot about what happens to any of these clichéd characters you're a more tolerant person than I am.

Still, RTÉ manages the odd interesting programme, if seemingly more by chance than design, and this week's Too Old For the Road? (RTÉ1) proved much better than I thought it was going to be - a finger-wagging inquiry into whether elderly drivers are a hazard both to themselves and to others.

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Upbeat: Anne Moore (88) from Kildare, who featured in RTÉ's Too Old for the Road?

Indeed there was no sermonising as producer-director Shane Hogan introduced us to five elderly people from different parts of the country and told us their stories, some of which were enlivening and some dreadfully sad, especially that of 83-year-old Michael from Kilkenny, who hates driving but does so for constant visits to wife Margaret, who has suffered strokes and is being cared for in Thomastown.

Michael's view of old age was grim, though that of 86-year-old Joan from Co Galway was positively jolly, despite the fact that she was summoned to court for speeding. "She's unbelievable", said daughter Bereneice, "she's like an Eveready battery".

Upbeat, too, was 88-year-old Anne from Kildare, even though in the past year she'd taken "a rapid leap into old age", while 101-year-old John from Tipperary loved the electric car that enabled him to visit his daughter in Naas. Indeed, if he was compelled to stop driving he hoped he'd "die fairly quickly".

This absorbing film was marred only by its musical soundtrack, which used jaunty showtunes from an era even older than its participants. The effect was both inaccurate and rather patronising, but it didn't really take from a programme that was clearly made both with affection and with a genuine interest in its participants.

Given Theresa May's calamitous couple of weeks, it was intriguing to re-watch her wiping the floor with her political rivals a mere year ago. This was the story recalled in Theresa v Boris: The Battle to be PM (BBC2), a docu-drama in which the dramatised bits were often very funny in a The Thick of It kind of way.

The actors portraying vampiric May, buffoonish Boris and ghastly Gove didn't look like the people they were playing, but they were amusing nonetheless, while some of the actual advisers had pithy things to say. I especially liked the guy from Team Boris who dryly remarked of Gove's late betrayal of Johnson: "It takes a very special sort of person to knife one of your best friends of over 20 years in the back."

We heard, too, of May's "competence" and "safe pair of hands", with adviser Gavin Williamson assuring everyone that "the one thing I can promise you is that Theresa will not be holding an early general election". She should have listened to him.

The opening episode of Brazilian serial-killer drama Merciless (Channel 4) was very reminiscent of BBC1's The Fall. As in that overrated, indeed increasingly ludicrous, series, the killer is a handsome young guy and we know his identity from the outset. Add into the mix some sleazy politicians and an imperious female cop and you have a thriller that's quite absorbing in a trashy sort of way.

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Master of None

But if you want a laugh, try Master of None (Netflix) in which co-creator, scriptwriter and main actor Aziz Ansari tries to negotiate family, relationships and other aspects of New York life. It's sharp and funny and quite rude, though never unkind.

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