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Wolfe the Bounty Hunter

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Younger members of the Nerd Lunch audience may not remember when the A&E in the TV network’s name actually stood for arts and entertainment. Before it was the home of Dog the Bounty Hunter or Kirstie Alley’s Big Fat Ass, A&E offered Murder She Wrote reruns mixed high brow faire like Jane Austen mini-series, the ballet, and episodes of Biography. I did discover NewsRadio during its syndicated run on A&E, but other than that I remember thinking to myself “who watches this channel?” Apparently, the answer was me from the future.

Nero Wolfe DVDA Nero Wolfe Mystery ran on the pre-transformation A&E during 2001-2002. Mystery, period piece, dialogue driven, and slightly erudite, it was right in the network’s wheelhouse. That didn’t place it at the top of my watch list, but luckily my wife was able to convince me to take a flyer on the show while we sorted out our TV on DVD follow-up to Deep Space Nine.

The show is based on the Nero Wolfe novels and short stories by Rex Stout. Wolfe is an eccentric and neurotic master detective based in New York City and is assisted by archetype gumshoe Archie Goodwin. Though breaking from detective story tradition, they are more equals than say Holmes and Watson. Goodwin is the common man character that the audience is probably supposed to identify with, but I actually found Wolfe more even appealing. Some of his prominent character traits include:

How could a nerd not like the guy?

A couple of the screenplays fall flat, but the vast majority of the stories offer a great stage for the cast to strut their stuff. The acting is top notch and the entire cast seems to be having fun. Beyond the core characters, the cast is filed out playhouse style from a troupe of actors. At first it is jarring to see the murderer in one episode show up as the victim in the next, but it ends up working.

The whole show has a polish that makes it feel like a throwback to a different era. If networks like A&E and SyFy are any indication, I guess eight years ago was a different era. While it’s possible a network like AMC could still make something like Nero Wolfe today, it seems unlikely. The material just doesn’t have the intensity that is the hallmark of the modern crop of acclaimed cable shows. Fortunately for pulp fans, 

Nero Wolfe made it to air just before the landscape changed and the DVDs are out there to enjoy.

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