Monday, March 14, 2011
Review: brilliant start for Doyle on Endgame
The rest of the first episode of Endgame, however, is pretty engaging and holds plenty of promise. The series premieres Monday night at 10 p.m. on Showcase.
Endgame isn't just on Showcase, it is a showcase for lead actor Shawn Doyle. The Newfoundland-born, Gemini Award-winning actor plays Alkady Balagan, a Russian chess grandmaster stuck in a high-end Vancouver hotel after witnessing the murder of his fiancee right outside the front doors.
The series was created and the pilot episode written by Avrum Jacobson, a showrunner on ReGenesis who also wrote Republic of Doyle out of a few corners last season. He hands Doyle a flamboyant, showy character; part House, part Garry Kasperov. Balagan wanders the hotel barefoot and in a bathrobe all day. Doyle came up with the blond hair and, as he calls it, the "Alberto V05 accent."
I interviewed Doyle (for The Toronto Star), Jacobson and co-star Patrick Gallagher (for The Canadian Press) on the Vancouver set of Endgame in January. They were 12 episodes into the 13-episode order at the time and both appeared to be very into their roles.
The rest of the all-Canadian cast, including Melanie Papalia, Torrance Coombs, Katharine Isabelle and Carmen Aquirre, are all excellent in the pilot. Each finds their way around the handsome set, which is designed after the lobby and bar area of Vancouver's Bayshore Inn. Giving the man character agoraphobia was a stroke of genius on Jacobson's part. In a Canadian drama, you really can only afford to build one terrific set, so find a way to keep as much as possible happening in that one space. Brilliant.
Balagan, too traumatized to leave the hotel but in need of money, gets asked to do a little detective work which triggers the whole premise for the series. He solves the crime by thinking like a chess player--six or seven moves ahead, using those around him as pawns to do his legwork.
It's a premise that might get corny in the wrong hands but Doyle plays it to the hilt, keeping it fun yet making us care. His by-play with Gallagher--so good last season on Glee--is gold. Gallagher, as Hugo the hotel dick, keeps trying to throw Balagan out after the Russian starts bouncing Czechs. Most of their scenes take place near a soon-to-close elevator door, with Hugo hopelessly (and hilariously) over his head when it comes to outwitting Balagan. Jacobson's dialogue is sharp, but retyping it here doesn't do justice to the way the two actors playfully bat it around. Suffice to say that this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Endgame is so good it should be on Global, not just Showcase. This could, in fact, be the best Global drama not yet on Global.