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Hugh Laurie is Back in the TV Medical Profession
August 6, 2016  | By David Hinckley

BEVERLY HILLS -- Hugh Laurie (top) is returning to the medical profession.

But anyone who expects to see the last doctor he played on television is looking in the wrong house.

The arrogant misanthrope Gregory House that Laurie played for years on Fox has been supplanted by Eldon Chance, a world-weary neuropsychiatrist, in a Hulu series that is simply called Chance and premieres Oct. 19.

“I don’t really see any similarities,” Laurie told television writers Friday. “To me, the characters are massively different. Their practices are different. Their attitude to life is different, and the story that unfolds is infinitely removed from that other world.”

Like House, Chance tackles the tough cases. Unlike House, he does so with little hope and feels no thrill in the challenge.

He doesn’t even treat patients, he notes in the pilot of Chance, which already has orders for two 10-episode seasons. He’s a referring doctor, seeing patients who have been terribly traumatized and trying to find someone or some place that could help them.

One of his first cases is a woman who saw her father decapitated in a car accident.

“The best you can do,” Laurie said, “is to hold someone’s hand through a situation that’s almost unsurvivable.”

After playing Chance and talking with real-life neuropsychiatrists, Laurie said, he concluded that “I wouldn’t last a week in that job.”

But Chance, which was created by Kem Nunn and Alexandra Cunningham based on Nunn’s book of the same title, doesn’t just chronicle the depressing professional life of its title character.

One of his referrals, Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol, left, with Laurie), works her way into his life and gets him involved in hers.

It’s not professional, but Chance is at a vulnerable point. He’s just gone through a divorce compounded by serious financial problems that include a large back tax debt incurred by his ex-wife Christina (Diane Farr).

Jaclyn tells Chance her estranged husband Raymond (Paul Adelstein) has threatened her life, at the same time Chance happens to run into a menacing guy called D (Ethan Suplee, below, with Laurie) who operates in an extralegal world previously unknown to Chance.

The story spools out from there, and Cunningham says its dark turns make Chance – sounding a little like Walter White from Breaking Bad here – feel both uneasy and more alive.

“Chance feels he never had any effect on the world around him,” says Cunningham. “He feels like he’s part of a broken system. Gretchen’s character and Ethan’s character take him into a rabbit hole that show him how to become a person who can have an effect. They teach him how to become a man of action, whereas before, he was just a man of the mind.”

“When we join the story, I think that Chance has reached a point where it has become intolerable to simply carry on knowing that he’s not making a difference,” says Laurie, “because that is, after all, what most of us would like to have on our gravestones, ‘They Made a Difference.’ It’s a modest ambition, but it’s a pretty important one, I think.”

Set in San Francisco, Chance has more than a whiff of film noir, particularly in Mol’s shadowy character. Mol agrees, but says she tries not to make it overt.

“Shooting in San Francisco and knowing Vertigo and things, I think the trick is to try to not think about those things too much,” Mol says. “You want to make something feel modern and let the audience be surprised if there is a noir aspect to it.”

“One of the reasons noir is great is because the heroines are always so smart,” says Cunningham. “That’s what Gretchen reminds me of, the smart female leads of noirs like Gloria Grahame. Gretchen’s performance to me is a throwback to that in the best way.”

Laurie, who won further acclaim recently for his role as the bad guy in the miniseries The Night Manager, says he surprised himself “a little bit” by coming back to television this soon. He calls Chance “a wonderful project that was simply irresistible.”

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