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Former World Chess Champion Arkady Balagan uses his abilities to solve crimes. Suffering from agoraphobia ever since the murder of his fiancee Rosemary Venturi, Balagan is unable to leave his Vancouver hotel. His inability to travel has seriously impinged on his ability to make money, or access assets held out of the country, and his luxury suite is building up quite the bill (which the hotel would like to have paid). In order to scrape up enough cash to keep the hotel from evicting him (or forcing him to move to a cheaper room) he starts using his chess skills to solve crimes (which he refers to as "People Puzzles").
Since Balagan can't leave the hotel, he is assisted by various members of the hotel staff, including Alcina the housekeeper and Danni the barkeep, and Samuel Besht, a university grad student/chess enthusiast who does Arkady's leg work in exchange for chess lessons.
An ongoing background case in the series is the circumstances of his fiancee's death, which he investigates alongside his fiancee's younger sister Pippa.
The show lasted from March to June, 2011. A total of 13 episodes in a single season. However, fans (and the show's actors) are continuing to push for renewal. In response to the fan support, a decision for a second season has been delayed until after the response to the series on Hulu. The first season is now available for streaming on Hulu.
- The Bartender: Danni, of course.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Sam ends up doing Arkady's legwork at all hours of the day and night.
- Berserk Button/Heroic BSOD: Rosemary is this for Arkady.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: People still hire Arkady despite his somewhat ah... unconventional approach.
- Call Back: Every single episode somehow manages to include the last few seconds of Arkady seeing his fiancee before her death. Averted in "Bless This Union"... but the case did involve Rosemary's ring being stolen.
- The Chessmaster: Arkady Balagan, in his ability to think logically, quickly run multiple scenarios through his mind, and read and manipulate people.
- Chess Motifs: But of course! Arkady's languages tends to be full of things like "Concentrate on the move at hand." and so forth.
- Clear My Name: Arkady's first case was helping a man falsely accused of kidnapping his ex-partner's child prove he didn't do it.
- Covert Pervert: When Alcina does a little hip-shaking dance, Arkady can't help but glance and smirk.
- City of Adventure: The Huxley, to an extent. After all, the cases have to get to Arkady somehow...
- Crazy People Play Chess: Arkady the shut-in.
- Deadpan Snarker: Arkady.
- Fake Russian: Arkady. Shawn Doyle is Canadian.
- And Peter Wingfield, who plays Arkady's old friend Oleg, is Welsh.
- Ms. Fanservice: Averted, surprisingly (and refreshingly), with Danni. There really isn't much emphasize on her sexuality or attractiveness even within context of her working on cases. The one instance where it might be played up (Arkady bumps into her after she's finished taking a shower), it's presented as awkward more than anything else.
- Foot Focus: Arkady is nearly constantly barefoot, and the camera often pans up from his bare feet to show this.
- Friend to All Children: Arkady has a soft spot for kids in distress. Especially when they mirror his own situation.
- Geeky Turn On: Jia Jyang the Chinese cryptologist in Gorillas in Our Midst. Sam can't resist.
- Gratuitous Russian
- Hikikomori: Balagan after his fiancee's death, although his hotel room is a luxury suite and he has no problem roaming anywhere else, as long as it's within the hotel.
- Hidden Depths: Arkady is capable of mixing drinks, tending a bar, and use a espresso machine. Though a bit of Fridge Brilliance since he's big on fine coffee and alcohol so it makes sense that he might study these things and become familiar with them.
- Hyperawareness: Another one of Arkady's traits. He's often able to gather a lot of information for his Imagine Spots from a handful of pictures. In one episode, he's able to notice and remember a number of significant details from something that passes by in a fraction of a second... while drunk!
- Identity Amnesia: Balagan takes the case of a man (Michael Shanks) who has forgotten who he is, as the result of suffering a stroke.
- Imagine Spot: How Arkady works out the clues in his mind. Sometimes he imagines the suspects as pieces on his chessboard.
- Intrepid Reporter: Pippa - journalist, blogger, documentary filmmaker.
- Keep the Reward: Subverted. Unlike other protagonists, the only reason Arkady does any of the cases is because he wants something, generally money or some other means of prolonging his stay in the hotel. Unless he's doing it as a favor for a friend.
- The Lost Lenore: Rosemary, Stuffed in The Fridge before the series begins
- Let's Get Dangerous: Occasionally Hugo shows the rest of the characters exactly why he used to be a homicide detective.
- One-Hour Work Week : Sam, sorta. His free time is justified in that he's a grad student but anyone who's been in a graduate program knows that you probably don't have a lot of spare time if you plan on graduating in a reasonable amount of time.
- Phone-in Detective
- Police Are Useless: This is Arkady Balagan's general attitude toward the police department. Given that he grew up in Soviet Russia, it is somewhat understandable that he came to believe that all cops are either corrupt, or incompetent. It doesn't help that the Vancouver police seem to have completely bungled the investigation of his fiancee's murder. Or that some people within the department may be involved in it, at least in the cover up.
- Serious Business: Quick, how may chess grandmasters can you name? Well, everyone who meets Balagan seems to know his career, and details of his matches.
- Another grandmaster who visits the Huxley arrives with an entourage, including a bouncer.
- Also, they bring up that Arkady wasn't a World Champion but THE World Champion as if there were no others of note.
- The intro to the show has a short clip of Arkady standing up after what one assumes to be a World Championship match to what looks and sounds to be a stadium audience.
- Sam even calls a match between Arkady and another grandmaster, the greatest sports match up in the world. To be fair, Sam is a chess fan but that's still pretty big hyperbole to toss around.
- Sherlock Scan: One of Balagan's talents.
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Hugo, the head of security for the Huxley.
- Smart People Play Chess: But of course.
- Surprise Incest: When the son of the Huxley Hotel's owner goes missing, it turns out that he's gone on a bender because he discovered that the girl he was planning to marry was really his half sister, because his father had had an affair with her mother. but then it also turns out that his mother had been having an affair too, so his father wasn't really his father, and they were unrelated after all.
- Team Mom: Alcina has her own kids but is also something of this for Arkady. She's the only one he doesn't give any snarking to, she's the only one he freely gives his money & time to, she's the only one he regularly voices his respect towards, and she's the only one that can get him to not be a jerkass to on a regular basis. And while she has a job and he 'tips' her for her help, it's clear that she does it out of wanting to help and thinks Arkady is a nice man and he does it because he likes her insight. For instance, in one episode, when the two are talking about a case while Alcina is cleaning, she expectantly holds out a trash bag. When Arkady doesn't immediately hold the bag for her, she chides him and all Arkady does is offer an apology before taking the bag. Compare this to his confrontation with the kiosk clerk where he has to be bribed with information to get a forced half-apology. Likewise, when it's revealed that Alcina was present for Rosemary's death, Arkady quietly and respectfully thanks her as opposed to his more typical denial or angry response. And later, she shows him pictures of her children including the one he brought a present for and invites him to the child's birthday party. An unconditional closeness that none of the other characters demonstrate - not even Pippa, his sister-in-law.
- Trademark Favourite Food: Pickles. But only because Arkady can't pay for an actual salad and so Danni gives him pickles from the bar.
- Vodka Drunkenski: Arkady Balagan at least once every episode, but it sometimes makes him a Drunken Master, so that's alright. Heck, he even manages to drink in some of his Imagine Spots.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Samuel, to the amusement of everyone else.
- "Can we cryogenically freeze him so he stays like this forever?"