Banana Oil (bless him) reports that the first season of A&E’s now-cancelled Nero Wolfe, very closely based on Rex Stout’s much-loved detective stories, is now available on DVD. I wrote about the series in National Review shortly before it got the axe:
In addition to co-producing the series and directing several episodes, Timothy Hutton plays Archie Goodwin, and I can’t see how anyone could do a better job. Not only does he catch Archie’s snap-brim Thirties tone with sharp-eared precision, but he also bears an uncanny physical resemblance to the dapper detective-narrator I’ve been envisioning all these years. No sooner did Hutton make his first entrance in The Golden Spiders than he melded completely with the Archie of my mind’s eye. I can no longer read a Stout novel without seeing him, or hearing his voice.
Still, Archie could have wandered out of any number of screwball comedies, whereas Nero Wolfe is a far more complicated proposition. Weighing in at a seventh of a ton, he is a tireless talker endowed with a touch of Johnsonian genius. (It is no small tribute to Stout’s own brainpower that he was capable of making that characterization plausible.) At the same time, he is chronically lazy and neurotic to the highest degree, so much so that he refuses to leave his home on business, preferring to sit at his desk or tend his orchids. Like Sherlock Holmes, the predecessor on whom he was obviously modeled, Wolfe is a misogynist who will have nothing to do with women socially–food, not sex, is his sensual outlet–though every once in a while he gives off a faint but perceptible flicker of interest in one of the pretty ladies who pass through his office.
Maury Chaykin has doubtless immersed himself in the Wolfe novels, for he brings to his interpretation of the part both a detailed knowledge of what Stout wrote and an unexpectedly personal touch of insight. He plays Wolfe as a fearful genius, an aesthete turned hermit who has withdrawn from the world (and from the opposite sex) in order to shield himself against…what? Stout never answers that question, giving Chaykin plenty of room to maneuver, which he uses with enviable skill. His Nero Wolfe is gluttonous, blustery, petulant, even a bit dandyish–but he peers out at his clients through the haunted eyes of a man who knows too much.