Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tribute to David: Tina Libhart

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David.

From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers. The only exception we made was the inclusion of Tina Libhart, a fan of the site from Waco, Texas, who also became David's friend when he wrote about the television series,
Endgame. Her piece begins our week of tributes

The Editors at Critics at Large.

There once was a little Canadian TV show called Endgame. It ran 13 episodes during hockey season in 2011. Although I am a native Texan, even I knew that was a death sentence for a TV show no matter how brilliant or unique it was in a sea of formulaic programming and plastic characters. Despite the odds, a few fans from all over the world rallied to save this show. We started a petition, a Facebook page, and a Twitter campaign trying to get someone, somewhere to hear our outcry of injustice at the cancellation. While we made a bit of a ripple and got some exposure, we were not successful in getting our beloved Arkady Balagan back into the Huxley Hotel.

However, one of the most amazing things happened to me as a result of this little cancelled Canadian TV show; I met David Churchill. I had written something brilliant on the Save Endgame Facebook page about why I loved the show, and he messaged me to tell me he enjoyed it. He then told me he was writing a piece about the show for Critics at Large and asked if he could mention my involvement in the campaign. I immediately became a follower of 'CAL' and was also privileged to meet Kevin Courrier as a result of my friendship with David.

The last time David and I chatted was March 16, 2013. He and his wife Rose were in Florida, and his last words to me were, “Love back at ya. Just about to shut down, so hope to talk soon.” When Kevin wrote me on Saturday regarding David’s passing, I could not breathe. The three of us had talked about them coming to visit me in Texas once David had kicked cancer’s ass. So I am saddened there will be no more chats on Facebook with him, and I will never again get excited to see him online or read his newest blog post on 'CAL.' Moreover, I am gutted that we will never meet in person, I will never hear his laugh, and I will never embrace my friend or look into his eyes or hear him say my name.

David Churchill believed in me. He encouraged me. He inspired me with his brilliance and awed me with his positivity. He deemed me an honorary Canadian and made me feel like I mattered during a time in my life when I desperately needed it. Therefore to be asked by my friend Kevin to participate in this tribute to our friend is indeed an honour (I spelled that like a real Canadian should!).

Kevin suggested the article about Endgame as the one I should use, and I could not have agreed with him more. This is the one where I first learned just how good of a writer David Churchill was. If you read his words, you will find for yourself that the world has lost an incredible writer and an even greater man. However, I take comfort in the fact his genius will live on here and in all of his writings, and his spirit will forever remain a part of those of us who were lucky enough to be loved by him.  

Tina Libhart is a guest contributor from Texas, who was introduced to Critics at Large by David Churchill. She is a former English major, teacher, and public relations goddess, who now writes when the mood strikes on her blog Verbalizations and Such.

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 of Endgame, 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 Hour, 24, Big 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's Invasion, 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 Trek, Family Guy, Jericho, 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 like Jericho, 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

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

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