Nero Wolfe - The Complete First Season
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Maury Chaykin, Timothy Hutton. Finally, a fully realized adaptation of Rex Stout's classic detective novels! Nero Wolfe is a reclusive crime-solving Manhattanite who teams up with Archie Goodwin, the street-smart legman who gathers the clues for Wolfe to put together. Join the unlikely crime-fighting pair as they tackle mysteries straight from the pages of The Doorbell Rang," Champagne for One," The Christmas Party," Over My Dead Body," Door to Death" and more. 13 episodes on 3 DVDs. 2001/color/12 hrs/NR/fullscreen.
Nero Wolfe brought Rex Stout's eccentric private investigator and his dapper legman, Archie Goodwin, into a jaunty and irreverent detective series for cable channel A&E in the spring of 2001 (following the broadcast of a pilot episode in 2000). The Complete First Season includes all the pleasures and surprises of the show's first mysteries, above all the tempestuous, symbiotic, and highly entertaining relationship between Wolfe (Maury Chaykin), a corpulent recluse who grows orchids and analyzes clues from a distance, and the acerbic knight-errant, Goodwin (Timothy Hutton, also an executive producer on the series), Wolfe's underpaid eyes and ears on the world. Set (more or less) in the late 1940s/early 1950s, Nero Wolfe finds these antithetic partners cracking tough cases and refusing to bow to authority, power, or wealth.
The set begins with the complex, two-part "The Doorbell Rang" (directed by Hutton). A demanding heiress (Debra Monk) offers an enormous retainer to Wolfe, a high-living epicurean always in need of money, to prove her dubious claim that the FBI is harassing her. Once Wolfe takes the job, a murder is committed, and Archie hits the streets in search of answers. Hutton also directs the two-part "Champagne for One" with a snap and verve reminiscent of old Howard Hawks comedies, but it is on "Prisoner's Base" that all of the series' best elements are firing at once: Chaykin's performance as a prideful, narcissistic boy-man genius, Hutton's sleek heroics, and a tone largely more optimistic than the grave determinism of much detective fiction. The excellent "Eeny Meeny Murder Moe" finds the thin-skinned Wolfe apoplectic when a client is murdered in the sleuth's own brownstone, and worlds tumble when Archie discovers Wolfe might have a long-lost adopted daughter in "Over My Dead Body." All in all, Nero Wolfe refreshes the television detective genre. --Tom Keogh
- Eight episodes on three discs
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Since that time I have devoured all of the Wolfe novels and re-read many of them several times.
I haven't always been, however, a big fan of the television and film adaptations of Stout's novels and short stories. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but they just seemed to be lacking something. That changed recently when I discovered the Arts & Entertainment series starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin as Archie Goodwin and Wolfe. Hutton has managed to capture Goodwin's irreverent attitude and Chaykin does a fine job portraying Wolfe, the enormous, orchid-loving, genius detective who needs specially designed furniture to accommodate his considerable bulk. Unusual for a television series, this first season features a stable cast with various actors and actresses (including the wonderful Kari Matchett) playing different roles from episode to episode. Matchett, for example, plays a Montenegrin refugee in one adventure; Goodwin's on-again, off-again love interest Lily Rowan in another; and the daughter of a millionaire in yet another. Author George Plimpton also appears in different roles in the series. This core cast of actors gives the series the feel of a theatrical company and adds, I think, to its charm.
The cinematography is excellent and the attention to detail, giving the sets the look and feel of New York City in the late 1940s and early 1950s, is remarkable. The costumes, cars, and even the make-up the female characters wear is spot on.
The scripts are smoothly written and though they take some liberties with Stout's novels that's not troubling to me. The plots are interesting as are the characters and the direction is seamless. The narrative in each episode flows along without a hitch making this an enjoyable series that I have no trouble recommending to fans of smartly written and well-acted detective shows.
Still, the two men play off one another well enough, with Bill Smitrovich snarling on cue as the frustrated Inspector Cramer. The delights of seeing some of my favorite mysteries come to TV life, complete with stylish 1940's clothes and witty dialogue, makes this one of my most prized DVDs.
Timothy Hutton stepped into Archie's shoes I had mixed reservations. I love Hutton, son of the brilliant Jim Hutton. While you see a lot of his daddy in him, he is definitely his own man, and cuts a smart style when fleshing out his roles.
So I thought, okay, he would make a good Archie. Then I wondered what about Wolfe? They cast Maury Chaykin. Brilliant! Wow, someone actually loved the books enough to follow them.
A&E is to be commended in letting Hutton run with the series for two seasons. They are to be CONDEMNED for canceling it because they deemed it too expensive to make. Shame on them! The series was a class act all the way. A delightful ensemble cast who changed roles episode to episode gave it a theatre feel.
The costuming is great, the acting divine and the stories - well, I actually KNEW what book they were based on! It was HEAVEN.
So A&E I thank you for putting out these wonderful episodes so we Archie Addicts can enjoy them again. And go take a flying leap for canceling what is nirvana in detective land.