Nero Wolfe [1979]

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

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