For writers of TV whodunits, there's probably only one challenge more daunting than concocting a caper that hasn't already been plotted and solved a hundred times before: creating a clue-hunting hero whose flaws and afflictions are uniquely interesting without seeming like a crass attempt to eclipse the disabilities of other well-known TV crime solvers.

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Suzuki (above) turns 75.

CBC

Suzuki (above) turns 75.

For writers of TV whodunits, there's probably only one challenge more daunting than concocting a caper that hasn't already been plotted and solved a hundred times before: creating a clue-hunting hero whose flaws and afflictions are uniquely interesting without seeming like a crass attempt to eclipse the disabilities of other well-known TV crime solvers.

The assumption that investigative genius must be offset by personal problems is deeply ingrained in the television mindset -- over the years, we've seen blind cops (Longstreet), deaf cops (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye), wheelchair-bound cops (Ironside), obese cops (Cannon), sloppy cops (Columbo), one-eyed cops (Columbo, again), elderly cops (Barnaby Jones), obsessive-compulsive cops (Monk), and even shape-shifting cops (Manimal).

What's left, you ask? Well, the producers of the Canadian-made crime-caper drama Endgame are hoping viewers will think they've found a refreshing new gumshoe gimmick.

Endgame, which premieres Monday at midnight on Showcase TV, follows the adventures of a chess grandmaster who uses his superior analytical skills to solve crimes that leave average-brained cops befuddled. His seemingly infallible genius is offset by the fact he's deeply agoraphobic -- afraid of public places, and as a consequence unable to leave the downtown Vancouver hotel he calls home -- and therefore must count on others to do his investigative legwork.

Shawn Doyle (The Eleventh Hour, Big Love) stars as Arkady Balagan, a Russian-born former world chess champion who developed his debilitating agoraphobia after witnessing the murder of his fiancée outside the hotel that is now both his residence and his prison.

He fills his days drinking and playing exhibition chess matches, but his inability to travel has put a serious crimp in his finances and he's on the verge of being evicted from his luxury suite. After overhearing his favourite bartender talking to a distraught friend about a missing child, Balagan offers a theory that the cops haven't considered, which turns out to be correct and leads to the rescue of the young boy.

But in order to prove that his hunch is well founded, Balagan must enlist the help of an aspiring chess master, Sam (Torrance Coombs), bartender Danni (Katharine Isabelle) and a hotel housekeeper named Alcina (Carmen Aguirre) who's the only one he trusts to clean his suite. Along with hotel security chief Hugo (Patrick Gallagher), who loathes the Russian for his arrogance but has a grudging respect for his intelligence, Balagan's loose-knit team of at-first-unwilling amateur detectives demonstrates a surprising knack for finding the people and clues that validate the chess master's moves.

The show gets a bit too gimmicky at times -- Balagan's imagined crime-related scenarios are acted out in soft-focused sequences that include talking chess pieces and conversations with victims and villains. But there's something sufficiently compelling about Endgame's central character that makes this show worth tuning in at least a time or two.

The producers have opened with a genuinely original notion. The next move is yours.

 

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A quite-convenient format: CBC's two-part celebration of The Nature of Things and host David Suzuki begins Sunday (8 p.m.) with the broadcast premiere of Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, which marks the host/scientist/environmental activist's 75th birthday with a look back at the events and people that have shaped his perspective on the world.

The film, which ran at Cinematheque last fall, is built around Suzuki's delivery of his "Legacy Lecture," a summation of his opinions and wisdom that he describes as "a distillation of my life and thoughts, my legacy, what I want to say before I die."

The address is, in equal parts, a biographical review, an environmental assessment and an urgent call to action, combining footage from the lecture with archival images and footage that help explain how Suzuki became the celebrated figure he is today.

Comparisons have been made, quite fairly, between this lecture-driven offering and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth; like that Oscar-winning film, Force of Nature makes some emphatic declarations but delivers them in a way that is not quite as compelling as it might have been.

Still, there's no denying that Suzuki's is a life worth celebrating. The second half of CBC's milestone-marking endeavour airs March 24 in the form of 50 Years of The Nature of Things.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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