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Ranking Hugh Laurie's Post-House TV Bastards

His new Roadkill character is hardly the first, but is he the worst?
  • Hugh Laurie is, by all accounts, a kind man. His post-House characters? Not so much.
    Hugh Laurie is, by all accounts, a kind man. His post-House characters? Not so much.

    While many Americans were first introduced to Hugh Laurie as as the titular star of House, the Fox drama which re-imagined Sherlock Holmes as a cantankerous diagnostician who solved diabolically puzzling medical mysteries, most had no idea what a departure from type this was for him. A former president of the Cambridge Footlights, Laurie got his first big career break in comedy, playing the Prince Regent George IV in Blackadder the Third. He went on to play a posh WWI Lieutenant in Blackadder Goes Forth, and Bertie opposite his longtime comedy partner Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster, a series adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's beloved stories. In other words, Laurie's lane was amiable, good-natured upper-class twits. Then House came along, and since then — on TV, at least — it's been nothing but bastards, up to and including his current role in David Hare's miniseries Roadkill, currently airing on Masterpiece. How does Laurie's Peter Laurence compare to the other assholes Laurie has played post-House? Let's count them down from least dickish to most.

    6. Ryan Clark — Avenue 5

    In the not-so-distant future, people can book eight-week luxury space cruises, and Laurie's Ryan Clark is the captain of the Avenue 5, the humble hero who saved the Avenue 3 — another ship in the Judd fleet — when a fire broke out. Unfortunately, a freak accident several weeks into a cruise causes the ship to go wildly off-course, causing the ground crew to revise the trajectory: now it's going to be more like three years before the ship can return to Earth. As the top team discusses how to address the issue of who's in charge, Ryan — so frustrated by the situation that he has a Basil Fawlty-esque freakout, including dropping the American accent he's been affecting and using his real British accent — admits that he's not a captain; he's just a figurehead hired to assure the guests, because the engineer who actually knows how the ship works hates interacting with the public... or, rather hated it, because he died in the accident. When we first meet him, Ryan is curt in private and only offers the guests a studied professional performance of warmth, but by the time everyone on board has gone through a season's worth of crises together, the crew and guests have come to admire him and appreciate his attempts to solve their problems.

    5. Eldon Chance — Chance

    In the 2016-17 Hulu thriller Chance, San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance seems, at first, to be a typical sad divorcé, one who is trying to raise fast money to pay his teen daughter's various living expenses. It's in this pursuit that he first meets Darius "D" Pringle (Ethan Suplee), a furniture restorer working at the antique shop where Chance has brought pieces to sell on commission. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, the two have become entangled with one another in a vigilante justice scheme to help extricate one of Chance's patients from her abusive partner, and you know how that goes. As an individual, Chance is generally pretty mild-mannered — "shambling" and "recessive" are not adjectives one generally applies to bastards — but he is a knowing participant in multiple murders, earning him a spot on this list.

    4. Major de Coverley — Catch-22

    Hulu's recent miniseries adaptation of Joseph Heller's ageless anti-war satire introduces Laurie's perfectly uniformed Major de Coverley by having him cut the mess line, contemptuously lift a ladle out of a pot, and ask the grunt behind the table, "What is this nonsense?" (It's meat, apparently. The grunt thinks there might also be "vegetable," but he's not sure.) Disdaining the meal on offer, Major de Coverley demands a custom order of sardines on toast in his tent. Said tent is, frankly, the prototype for glamping: he seems to have had copious amounts of down time to set up a charming back garden with flowering shrubs, lounge furniture, a gramophone, and a dug-in horseshoe pitch. Naturally, Minderbinder the hustler (Daniel David Stewart) identifies him as the perfect partner for his fine-foods smuggling scheme. The Major eventually wanders into the wrong building and interrupts a Nazi briefing, after which he goes missing; one hopes someone back at camp is properly enjoying his tent in his absence.

    3. Peter Laurence — Roadkill

    We are, sadly, quite aware of how an American politician can be utterly unaffected by scandal in the post-shame era; are the circumstances the same in the UK? Roadkill revolves around MP Peter Laurence, who starts the miniseries having won a libel suit over a newspaper report of corruption earlier in his career. A claim from an incarcerated woman that he is her biological father is another setback he has to absorb before learning he's lost his Cabinet portfolio in retribution for the court case. That's about all I can say when only the first episode has aired, except that any character portrayed by the luminous Sidse Babett Knudsen (of Borgen and early Westworld) deserves a better boyfriend than Peter.

    2. Richard Roper — The Night Manager

    Richard is an international arms dealer, so even if he were an absolute sweetheart in his interpersonal dealings, he'd still be a bastard on an ethical level. However, he's not. We see him gleefully throwing his weight and wealth around to inconvenience the high-end hospitality professionals serving him at a mountain resort in the first episode of the 2016 AMC miniseries The Night Manager. He's also casually racist on multiple occasions, and controlling with his girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). Oh, and then there's all the torture and murder he orders.

    1. Tom James — Veep

    In her initial run for president, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) resists choosing Tom as her running mate due to what she thinks is lingering sexual tension between them, but which he claims was entirely one-sided. The exact nature of their attraction changes depending on the day, though it is consummated; sometimes it seems like Selina might have actual feelings for Tom, while other times it reads more like entirely mutual hate-fucking. And when they're not fucking, they're trying to fuck each other over: this is the arc that has its midpoint with a tie in the Electoral College, followed by a vote in the House which Tom maneuvers to fall short of the required 26 votes for either candidate so that it will go to the Senate for a vote between Tom and the other ticket's VP candidate, Laura Montez (Andrea Savage). In the days before the vote, Tom offers Selina the job as his Vice-President, which she initially furiously rejects only to sheepishly accept a few days later after no better options present themselves, enduring Tom's mocking laughter in the process. The joke's on both of them, though, as the vote in the Senate ends in a tie (thanks to old grudges held by Tom's colleagues there, so: Selina's not the only one who thinks he's a dick), which Selina's vice-president then spitefully breaks in Montez's favor. Tom returns in the final season as a primary opponent in Selina's latest run for the White House, negging her whenever anyone is around, only to unbalance her with a declaration of love right before she's supposed to give an enormously important speech before a huge donor. Unlike several of the other characters on this list, Tom isn't either a party to or actual participant in any murders, so he might not end up in the worst part of Hell, but he is absolutely the biggest prick.

    Laurie's Roadkill is currently airing Sunday nights on PBS.

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    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Hugh Laurie, PBS, Avenue 5, Catch-22, Chance, The Night Manager, Roadkill, Veep, Andrea Savage, Elizabeth Debicki, Ethan Suplee, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sidse Babett Knudsen