A love for literary detectives must run in Timothy Hutton's family. In the mid-'70s, his father, the late Jim Hutton, starred as the mystery writer and supersleuth in NBC's Ellery Queen.
Following up on last year's successful original movie The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery,
the younger Hutton now serves as executive producer and occasional director of A&E Network's second weekly drama series, Nero Wolfe, based on the novels by Rex Stout.
Hutton portrays Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's dapper younger partner. He provides the footwork and muscle for the rotund, agoraphobic and caustic Wolfe, played by veteran character actor Maury Chaykin.
The two-hour series premiere, adapted from the novel The Doorbell Rang, finds Wolfe and company facing off against J. Edgar Hoover's FBI after Wolfe agrees to take the case of a beautiful woman who is convinced she is being followed.
Directed by Hutton, this period piece contains many elements that made the Spiders
film successful: faithful dialogue, convincing period costumes and a real chemistry between Archie and Wolfe.
Chaykin may not carry his literary doppelganger's one-seventh of a ton of girth, but he does embody Wolfe's caustic manner and convincingly bears the sleuth's obsession for good food and orchids. His interchanges with his personal chef Fritz, played by Colin Fox, are bizarre and hilarious.
The real gem here is Hutton's portrayal of aide-de-camp Goodwin. The Oscar winner (Ordinary People) is both smarmy and charming, if not quite the ladies' man Stout imagined him to be. As director, Hutton deftly balances the screen time between his character and Chaykin's. Hutton's delivery may be grating on the ears, but it is wholly appropriate for Wolfe's alter ego.
Fans of the novels will appreciate the attention to detail regarding Wolfe's notorious Manhattan brownstone. Due to his fear of the outdoors, Wolfe's life revolves around his various rooms. That's where he maintains his office, grows his precious orchids and entertains some of New York's most influential people. The producers did not neglect this detail and built the sets to convey a very convincing illusion of a midcentury urban mansion.
Saul Rubinek, who memorably played Daphne's fiancée in Frasier
and originated the Saul Panzer role in The Golden Spiders, returns as Lon Cohen. Apparently Rubinek had schedule conflicts, so Conrad Dunn plays Panzer here. Bill Smitrovich returns as Inspector Cramer.
debuts April 29 on A&E.