Created by Michael Jaffe, based on the character created by Rex Stout
Starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton
- “The Making of Nero Wolfe” behind-the-scenes featurette
- Bonus TV movie: The Golden Spiders
- “The Silent Speaker”–both parts in letterboxed format
Released by: A&E Home Video.
Anamorphic: N/A; main content appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Rent it or catch it on TV if you’re a diehard fan.
[ad#longpost]Nero Wolfe (Chaykin) is a brilliant (if eccentric) private investigator who solves the most puzzling crimes without even leaving his Manhattan brownstone. Less charming than Sherlock Holmes and much less daring than Dick Tracy, Wolfe is nevertheless loveable in his own way. Opposite him is his right hand man Archie Goodwin (Hutton), who dons a stylish hat and goes out to investigate while Wolfe tends to his beloved orchid collection or lectures his skilled Swiss chef on food preparation. Together, they make an unforgettable (and very successful) team.
This series is quite charming despite its flaws. Adapted from the best-selling novels from Rex Stout, the storylines are interesting and at times suspenseful. I thought that the show’s biggest problem was that it tried to pack too much story into too small a space. Considering that in some cases you’re adapting an entire novel for an episode, I guess things are naturally going to feel a bit compacted.
The DVD includes the A&E movie, The Golden Spiders, which kicked off the series, as well as some double episodes, all of which seem much more comfortably paced because of their length. Despite having to work within squished episodes, the actors themselves are talented and give good performances. Apart from the few main characters, the remainder of the cast plays in repertoire (i.e, they take on different roles in each episode). I admire any show willing to do this, because it keeps the actors on their toes and allows the audience to see their range. Some performers (Matthew Perry comes to mind) play one character wonderfully, but cannot seem to do any other type. The main characters play their roles excellent also: Chaykin and Hutton masterfully create an at-odds relationship reminiscent of an odd sort of marriage while still holding strong in their respective roles. All of the acting is stylized, so don’t look for any really deep emotional moments.
The color palette is beautiful. I started out watching the DVDs on my computer, and once I switched to TV, I couldn’t believe how vibrant the tones were. Even with beautiful coloring, though, the costumes are wacky…the stories are supposedly set in the early 50s, but at times it looks like it’s a decade later judging from clothes and hairstyles. This was surprising to me, as the people who spoke on the making-of featurette seem to be very dedicated to excellence…maybe they were having a few off days in there. Or maybe there was some method to all the madness that they didn’t let on about.
The making-of bit is the only real feature to speak of (there are biography/filmography fillers, but those are…well, just that: filler) apart from the bonus movie and the added thrill of seeing an episode in letterboxed format. The only drawback about watching one episode in letterbox is it begs the question of why the entire series wasn’t released in that format. Anyway, back to the making of: it was a very good featurette and gave valuable insight into the making of the series; lots of my questions were answered after watching it. The only thing wrong with it is that it made me wish that there had been commentary on some of the episodes: the people who work on the series are all very talented and very smart, and I would have liked to hear from them (especially Hutton, who not only stars in the show but also was executive producer and at times director). Alas, it was not to be.
If you like mystery novels and/or films and enjoy watching unique television, either rent it or catch it now on the Biography Channel.