Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Game is Still Afoot

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Popular television shows come and go often breaking the hearts of fans who devote so much of their time to them. But some programs, like the popular Endgame, create the kind of lobby group that likely give programmers nightmares (especially those who flagrantly cancel them). When David Churchill wrote about Endgame last summer who knew he would find allies all over the world who are still today fighting to keep the show alive.

Rallying Support: The Effort to Save Showcase's Endgame

It's not often that I choose to write about a current TV show that is already cancelled, but this is a special case. This past March, the Canadian specialty channel Showcase launched Endgame to critical acclaim. Its first episodes did well, but then it started to slip. In June, Showcase pulled the plug and ever since there has been a feisty fan movement afoot to convince them to uncancel it. The best way to describe the thoroughly entertaining Endgame is to call it a whodunit with a somewhat unique twist. The solver of crimes is Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle), a Russian chess master who suffers from severe agoraphobia: the fear of going outside. We learn in flashback that the agoraphobia hit while he was staying at a luxury hotel called the Huxley. The condition developed when he witnessed his fiancée (Lisa Ray) getting blown up by a car bomb just as he was exiting the hotel to join her. He now spends his days either in his suite (a suite he is having trouble paying for), bugging the head of security (Patrick Gallagher), wandering the hotel corridors (often barefoot and in a housecoat) or hanging out in the hotel bar manned by the beauteous Danni (Katharine Isabelle).

Since he is very logical, people start coming to him to solve various crimes: murders, thefts, assaults, etc. They all offer to pay him a lot of money, money he desperately needs. He solves the crimes with his mind. He is ably assisted by the youthful Sam (Toorance Coombs – The Tudors) who is a chess nut. Arkady “pays” him with chess lessons whenever Sam does external investigations. A sympathetic maid (Carmen Aguirre) also pitches in by running interference for him with the hotel management and security. The show gets creatively around the Arkady-stuck-in-the-hotel scenario by having him fantasize conversations with the victims or probable perpetrators of the crimes. This allows him, in his head at least, to go outside. Frequently, they turn into rather comic encounters shot in a hyper-real manner.

Earlier, I said this show was “somewhat unique,” because it is pretty clear that the sharp creator ofEndgame, Avrum Jacobson, has read Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, or at the very least saw the TV series which ran from 2000 to 2002 and starred the late Maury Chaykin. Wolfe never left his home to solve the crimes presented to him. But he wasn't agoraphobic; he just liked staying at home cooking and tending to his orchids. His investigator, Archie Goodwin (Tim Hutton in the TV show), did the 'flatfoot stuff' and brought Wolfe the evidence needed to solve the crime. This is not me taking Endgame to task. After all, why not rework a scenario especially when you have as fresh a take on it as this?

Shawn Doyle.
At the show's head is a wonderful performance by Shawn Doyle, a Canadian actor who is one of those “best kept secrets.” He has worked in both Canada and the US (The Eleventh Hour24Big Love, playing the serial killer in the movie Frequency), but he is not a name people know. His Arkady, even if the show isn't saved, should change this. Arkady is an egotistical genius who will not suffer fools easily. He insults people left, right and centre, but seems completely oblivious to his behaviour. He constantly has to do some quick tap-dancing to avoid eviction by the hotel (or a punch to the jaw by an aggrieved party). And yet, Arkady has a very self-deprecating sense of humour. He also has a classy streak that Doyle deftly deploys, often without a word of dialogue. In an early episode, Sam joins Arkady in the hotel bar. Sam plunks his motorcycle helmet on Danni's counter. Part way through their conversation, Arkady subtly reaches up, takes the helmet off the bar and hands it back to Sam. Within all his bluster there are certain things Arkady knows you just don't do. And then there's Arkady's accent. Newfoundland-born Doyle's sounds convincingly authentic.

Alas, this season may be its only one if the efforts of a growing group of enthusiasts do not succeed in their efforts to save the show. Shortly after the cancellation announcement, a moment of serendipity occurred. Almost at the same time, Nikhi Cormier started a Facebook page called Save Endgame, and Sabrina Thomas created a website called www.saveendgame.com. The two didn't know each other, but they quickly came together to put forth a united front. They were soon joined by Tina Libhart (yet another stranger) who began to work the Twitter side. They, and other fans, have been relentless. They also established a petition on http://www.petitiononline.com/ that now has more than 5,000 signatures. And they have also started an online auction (featuring some items from the show) to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Plus, they have an online charity drive where people can donate cash, in the show's name, to the same charity. Access both the auction and the online charity drive at http://bit.ly/n455Ne . (Actors on the show, such as lead Shawn Doyle and Patrick Gallagher, have actively supported these efforts.) These efforts are far worthier than sending nuts to CBS as fans did in their effort to save the show Jericho from cancellation. Five thousand may not seem like a lot, especially when superb American shows that suffered the same fate, such as Shaun Cassidy'sInvasion, had 29,000+ signatures and it wasn't saved. However, Canada has 10% of the population of the US, so 5,000 is a very impressive number. What is also interesting, and what Showcase clearly has not taken into account, is the international audience (including the UK and India!) that is watching it on a vast array of internet sites such and tv-links.eu (no, these sites aren't legal, but the show currently has no legal presence internationally on the web). I know for a fact that someone in Waco, Texas watches it this way. These numbers mean the 150,000-175,000 odd viewers that Showcase thought was watching it are actually substantially higher. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine how much higher those numbers are because many of these internet sites are, as stated, doing so illegally. This is a whole other subject for another day.

I might be mistaken, but I think this is the first time a substantial effort has been made to save a Canadian series. There have been several US shows saved this way (Star TrekFamily GuyJericho,Veronica Mars, etc.), but usually they don't last (with the exception of Family Guy – that, however, might be a case of an animated show being a lot cheaper to produce than live action). In a case likeJericho, where CBS was somewhat shamed into putting it back on by the “nuts” stunt (it's a line from the show, which basically meant 'screw you'. Fans began to flood CBS with nuts), the network did absolutely nothing to promote the return of the show and so it quickly died again.

Endgame deserves to be the first Canadian show to be saved from cancellation by fan efforts. Its characters are wonderful, the acting is terrific, it is hugely entertaining, and often very funny. Sure, some of the scripts have been a bit wobbly (the first episode had an ending so abrupt it looked like it was cut in post due to length), but this is true of many TV shows in their freshman year. They exhibit lots and lots of promise, but it just needs a bit more time to deliver it. Endgame deserves that time. It is still running in repeat on Showcase on Monday nights at 10pm. It is definitely worth your time.

Addendum (August 3, 2011)Endgame has just been nominated for five Gemini Awards, including Best Dramatic Series. The Geminis are Canada's Emmy Awards equivalent. Plus, news is afoot that other Canadian networks are about to pick the show up. So, these efforts may, fingers crossed, be paying off.  

- originally published on July 3, 2011 in Critics at Large.

David Churchill is a film critic and author of the novel The Empire of Death. You can read an excerpt here. Or go tohttp://www.wordplaysalon.com/ for more information.

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