Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton directs several episodes of this sparkling series, as well as taking on the character of jaunty gamecock Archie Goodwin, Private Detective and prime mover of the brilliant (but sometimes disinclined to take on new cases) Nero Wolfe, played by Maury Chaykin.
This first season is salted with murder, two of them occurring in Nero Wolfe's own office. One potential client is strangled with the portly genius's own yellow-silk, barbecue-sauce-stained tie--Archie gets a lot of mileage out of this blunder by his usually meticulous boss. There is very little violence except when Archie is asked to eject a particularly obstreperous client. In fact if I were to pick an overriding emotion that governs these episodes, it is high good humor. Archie's wry voice-overs, Wolfe's eccentric winter get-up in "Door to Death," Fritz's icy but voiceless critique of another butler's champagne-pouring technique in "Champagne for One" are all priceless in-jokes for us Nero Wolfe fanatics. Affection rather than parody governs the characters, even in the minor roles. Occasionally Wolfe and Cramer go over the top with their blustering bad humor, but Archie usually supplies an acerbic course-correction.
The sets and costumes are fashioned with artful, low-key perfection--except for Archie's two-tone shoes. They aren't particularly low-key. But we fans get to see all of the décor that made the books so--well, like comfort food for the brain: the outsized globe and chair in the study; Wolfe's tarpaulin-sized yellow-striped pajamas; Archie's snap-brim fedoras; the soothing presence of Fritz in his kitchen.
If I had a Fritz in my kitchen all would be well with my world.
Apart from major characters, certain actors and actresses show up in multiple episodes. Two of my favorites: Kari Machett plays a series of ditzy, seductive, sometimes unscrupulous, sometimes murdered femme fatales that Archie usually ends up falling for. She brings out his chivalrous best, unless she happens to be the murderess. Boyd Banks is a great well-heeled social parasite or weak-chinned younger son, although he also shows up as an FBI agent in "The Doorbell Rang." He absolutely should have qualified for an Emmy for his sniveling, groveling, but absurdly cheerful Dinky Byne in "Champagne for One."
Nero Wolfe fans if you don't watch these A&E DVDs then pfui on you. Go ahead and relax into the world's most famous brownstone, where you can practically smell Fritz's Bacalhau (Portuguese Salt Cod) cooking in the kitchen.