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Eight-part Italian mystery series ‘Nero Wolfe’ is now streaming only on MHz Choice!

My fellow citizens of MHz Nation, we live among those who know nothing of life’s seedier side. Content to traverse the world in innocence, crowding museums and posing in front of fountains, those walking fannypacks out there are missing out the good stuff: the sinister backstreets of Florence, the stark outskirts of Malmö, the bitter cold of a Rostock cobblestone. Not us. We know what evil lurks in the heart of man – and it’s awesome! Settle in for a bumpy ride as we spin the Wheel of Murder.

Francesco Pannofino stars in Nero Wolfe

THE SHOW: Nero Wolfe is an eight-part Italian mystery series, set in Rome, based on the classic detective stories of Rex Stout. It premiers Nov. 14 and trust that I already hear what you’re saying: “But, Al, isn’t Nero Wolfe kind of an American classic?” Well… “And, didn’t he insist on hunkering in his luxurious brownstone pretty much all the time, never diverging from his orderly life?” OK, yes, but stay with me! As iconic as this New York detective truly is, he was, in fact, born in Montenegro – a mere hop, skip and a jump across the Adriatic from Italy — and spent his young adulthood traveling Europe. The guy who hates to get around has, actually, gotten around plenty. It’s not unthinkable, even, that he would speak fluent Italian when he decamps to avoid his jealous rivals at the FBI. Now, considering the historical period we’re dealing with, Italian/Montenegrin relations might not have been at their best, but… wait. You know what? We don’t need a reason for Nero Wolfe and his dapper boy wonder, Archie Goodwin, to be in Italy speaking Italian! Yes, their association with the Empire State is deep but, as they say: when in Rome!

THE FORMULA: Stout broke the mold with his nearly 400-pound detective, setting Wolfe apart from his contemporaries with meticulous habits (obsessive orchid cultivation) and punctilious appetites (a 200-word plain omelet recipe), while still imbuing the stories with the qualities mystery lovers… well, love. Curmudgeonly genius? Check. Loaded down with quirks? See above. Efficient and appealing in-house staff without whom our detective could not function? You bet. Pannofino’s Wolfe does not disappoint. Slimmer than the literary hero, Pannofino still has got plenty of gravitas going on, and his two-way needling relationship with Pietro Sermonti’s Archie Goodwin is perfectly prickly (but rooted in love).

[LOCATION] WAS LIKE ANOTHER CHARACTER: It’s hard to beat Rome as a backdrop for anything, really. The breathtaking architecture being, as it were, breathtaking and all. Death looks particularly good under those arches. What really makes this thing zing, however, is the Italian cast. They managed to lift a quintessentially American set of archetypes and give them Italian counterparts that feel both authentic to the original and to the new location. I approached with skepticism and finished by slow-clapping the success of this whole enterprise.

BLANKET STATEMENT: Some Wheel of Murder devotees might prefer their murders to be, ah, slightly less murder-y, employing that universal trick of eschewing televisual blood and guts: “watching” the tense moments from beneath a blanket. Nero Wolfe, I’m glad to say, will not disturb your snugness in the least. In fact, the period clothing, cars and other details – right down to Pietro Sermonti’s perfectly floppy Archie Goodwin haircut – are nothing short of delightful.

Pietro Sermonti (LEFT) & Francesco Pannofino (RIGHT)

HEY, THERE: Hat-tip to Sermonti bringing the subtle smolder as serial ladykiller, Archie G. Check this Saturday Evening Post illustration of ya boy and ask yourself: “Who’s the real wolf(e) here?” Especially in his dealings with Rosa Petrini (the very winning Giulia Bevilacqua) who has his number from the jump, Goodwin can’t hide his bedroom eyes.

MAKE A NIGHT OF IT: You have to hand it to Casanova Multimedia for allowing Nero Wolfe his single low-brow indulgence: his daily beer. They gave him the perfect in-house Italian chef, the adorable Nanni (Andy Luotto) to fulfill his every gastronomic desire and, here in the mother country for the world’s greatest wines, is Wolfe with his “Remmers.” That’s how dedicated they are to getting this interpretation just right. You can almost see Pannofino steeling himself as he contemplates chugging a brew on top of one of Nanni’s delicious fish sauces, but he does it. The man’s a pro. Still, if we’re planning the perfect menu for a night of Wolfe-watching, must we also fall in line with this flagrant foul? While I suppose it would be okay to throw down a pizza and toss back a cold one, these things are 90-minutes long and full of meaty mysteries and savory details. Make it autentico and curl up with the perfect carbonara with the regional wine of your choice.


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About the author:
Allison Lowe Huff is a freelance writer and editor with an overly concentrated interest in mystery stories from anywhere and everywhere. Follow her on Twitter @lowehuff.