The TV Series:
The dated, enjoyable yet frustratingly one-note '80s British sitcom Chance in a Million deals with your typical "boy meets girl, girl falls for boy's quirkiness, they shack up and marry" setup. Although there's a lot of absurd, tough-to-believe humor at play in each episode, the cozy rapport of the couple (appealingly played by Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn) was the key to what made this show a modest hit in its home country.
For those used to the intricacies of modern TV, the premise of Chance in a Million's 18 episodes is simple to the point of being almost childish. Year one: the main couple meet-cute and her parents/coworkers adjust to him; year two: they get engaged; year three: we meet his family and they conclude the final episode in wedded bliss. Oh, and there are a lot of comic misunderstandings (sometimes involving scantily clad women) along the way. The whole shebang - an odd mishmash of lowbrow slapstick and adult romantic comedy - has been recently packaged for curious American audiences by Acorn Media in a nifty 3-DVD set.
Chance in a Million stars Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Tom Chance, a dim yet affable fellow who seems to inadvertently cause disaster every where he goes. In the first episode, he meets shy librarian Allison Little, played by Brenda Blethyn (My Left Foot). Although he was looking for his computer dating service match (also named Allison) and she was seeking an unseen-since-childhood cousin (also named Tom), the two hit it off so splendidly that they wind up planning a date for that very night. Their first dinner at a ritzy restaurant runs afoul, however, when yet another absurd comic misunderstanding results in the couple getting covered in food. At episode's end, Tom offers to help out the temporarily homeless Allison by (platonically) putting her up at his place, but he runs into trouble when the police find him maneuvering a panty-clad Allison through his apartment window.
From the first notes of the opening credits theme (a perky rendition of "Taking a Chance on Love," arranged by British E-Z Listening maestro Ronnie Aldrich), Chance in a Million establishes itself as relaxed fluff. Tom and Allison's world is a finite place with only a few ancillary figures (like Allison's flummoxed parents, hilariously played by Hugh Walters and Deddie Davies). Events happen slowly and there isn't a lot of character growth, which in Tom's case is frustrating. Although Callow gives it a game, enthusiastic try, the character is merely a pile of quirks - which include an odd, pronoun-free method of speaking and his way of finishing off pints of lager in a few gulps. Blethyn's Allison is a more satisfyingly full-bodied (physically and otherwise) character. Indeed, one of this show's few pleasures is Blethyn's surprisingly adeptness at sitcom acting; she pulls off Allison's growing assertiveness over the three seasons well. It helps make the show more bearable, especially considering that each episode plays out exactly the same - far-out coincidence, humorous misunderstanding, lather, rinse, repeat. It may have made for familiar mirth on a week-to-week basis, but shows like this aren't too conducive to modern-age binge watching.
Produced by Thames (dig their logo, preserved on most of the DVDs' episodes) and airing on the U.K.'s Channel 4 in 1984-86, Chance in a Million stands as a good example of how different UK sitcoms were from their American counterparts. Hollywood product of the day was generally sanitized, professionally made, and full of jokes while making room for the occasional schmaltzy, so-called "moment of shit" just before the end credits. British sitcoms like Chance in a Million were less interested in moralizing, however, with more of an accent on physical/visual gags (surprisingly, there's a lot of influence from The Benny Hill Show going on here). Another hallmark of U.K. sitcoms is the lesser production quality - the dowdy clothes, modest set decor and harsh, retina-burning lighting on Chance in a Million make it as much of a product of British TV as the actors' accents. One style is not necessarily better or worse than the other - it's just different. Unfortunately, for every Fawlty Towers or Black Adder that holds up well to repeated viewings, there are dozens of Chance in a Million-type entertainments which may as well be forgotten as soon as they've been watched.
Long story short: if you enjoy the lead actors or quirky, absurd humor, check it out. If you don't, avoid.
Shot on videotape with that ever-present bright lighting, the 4:3 image on Chance in a Million is as decent as can be expected for vintage '80s television (at least the packaging warns of occasional flaws). Except for a strobing video effect that sometimes popped up in the corner of the final episode, the show looks good - and the mastering, with one 6-episode season on a disc, is fine.
Chance in a Million's sole audio track is a nicely mixed yet underwhelming track with clear dialogue, very little distortion, and no obvious flaws. Optional English subtitles are also provided on all episodes.
Acorn has thankfully ported over some interesting bonus content from Chance In A Million's U.K. release, most notably an Alternate Pilot Episode which reveals what worked about the pilot as it aired (Callow and Blethyn's chemistry) and what didn't (the restaurant scene and final police confrontation, completely re-cast and re-shot). There are also Audio Commentaries on four episodes from Simon Callow, joined by series writers Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegan. The tracks mostly consist of the three men jovially making observations on the onscreen action, but their fun and have a few good tidbits. An admiring, text-only Note from Simon Callow rounds out the extras.
A cutesy-poo sitcom from Thatcher-era England, Chance in a Million mines much of its wild humor from unbelievable coincidences and the quirky appeal of leads Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn. Sounds like a hoot, but the show gets bogged down in its own repetitiveness - which makes it a curiosity, at best. Acorn's nicely packaged DVD set collects the entire series on three discs. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.