TV Review: A Nero Wolfe Mystery: Christmas Party

Posted: November 27, 2009 in Holiday, Reviews
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Slightly unusual, because this is a Christmas episode for a cable TV show that would be shown in reruns for like… ever. As a result, this episode would almost never get played at a seasonable time of year unless A&E keeps it in the vault until December and that would require sense on their part. As they canceled the show after two seasons and this episode premiered on July 1st, I can’t think that they are sensible.

One of the things I’ve always been interested about in this show on the whole is how much of it is shot during the winter. I always like seeing signs of weather in TV shows and movies, it gives the place life. Snow, rain, anything really that shows that everything of interest doesn’t just take place in California and during immaculate weather conditions. Since they shot the show in Toronto, Canada during the winter, they could get some free set dressing that way.

Since first getting this, I’ve read the stories and I can tell you that the reason the opener and closer don’t ring true is that they aren’t. One of the things they did to make the show more marketable was tying stories together to make two hour movies if needed. Some of the stories just naturally came in as two parters, but the ones that didn’t were stitched together to form a whole if someone wanted to show them like that. As a result this episode would be the part two of one of those pairings. Archie is dancing with Lily Rowan at the Flamingo Club and like the last episode he’s interrupted by someone. Last time it was a call from Wolfe, this time it’s another woman. Lily gets annoyed and walks off telling Archie that after two strikes, he’s out. This is the bit that rings false as the relationship with Archie and Lily didn’t work like that in the books. The scene is not present in the short story at all. Small point but it seems to matter. For the most part though, the episodes match the books and stories just fine. The stories are abridged, and the only additions are little pieces of fluff, usually between Wolfe and Fritz, to show things that are often talked about but never really shown in the books. I’ve always hit them at about 93.1% accurate, which is better than 91.3% of all adaptations.

This particular episode we discover something new about Nero Wolfe, he’s a Scrooge. He dislikes that the holiday is “merely an excuse for wretched excess” and refuses to even let Fritz wear a Santa hat while serving dinner. That scene is pretty funny too as Fritz comes in with the hat and Wolfe lays the smack down on him, telling him to remove the hat. Fritz takes the hat off, but manages to give his boss the finger while doing it, lowering his head so Wolfe can see him whip the hat off before stuffing it under his arm. The only decorations that seem to be allowed are a small tree and Santa figure on Archie’s desk.

The episode’s true fun only really involves the first half of the show. Archie announces that he’s getting married and this causes Wolfe great annoyance. Beyond the risk of loosing Archie, he also has to go to an appointment without Archie driving. If you’ve watched the series or read the books, then you probably should know by now that Wolfe hates being driven in anything but his Heron sedan and hates to be driven by anyone but Archie. Actually, he hates leaving his house for any reason whatever, period. With Archie announcing that not only is he getting married but that he’s going to a party to announce it and can’t drive Wolfe, things get desperate. Still Wolfe manages to get out of the house at 12:30 precisely without any help from anyone and Archie goes to the party.

At the party we learn that the whole marriage thing was just a gag so the girl in question could get another guy to propose through jealousy. Perfectly sensible if you ask me and no problems whatsoever. After all this isn’t this how ALL stable relationships start, through duplicity and mind games? It doesn’t matter though, because the object of her affection isn’t long for this world anyway. It’s actually when said object dies that the fun mystery starts. See there was a guy dressed as Santa tending bar and he vanishes once the victim dies. Well of course they want to find the man who played St. Nick, because someone leaving the scene of a crime is suspicious. Also the guy was tending bar, and the guy was poisoned with a drink.

This leads to a search for the guy who played Santa, and for the fake marriage license Archie got. It seems that the victim was the only one who knew who the person playing Santa was. The Santa also wore gloves, which did a nice job of not leaving any prints. The gloves will actually become an important part of solving the Santa mystery, which isn’t much of a mystery but is amusing. It delivers some of the joy of this episode, but you’d have to be a little more familiar with the series for it to have it’s full impact.

See Wolfe tells Archie that there is a book in his room and asks him to bring it. Under the book, there are a couple of white kid gloves. Yup, you guessed it long ago, Wolfe was the Santa. It seems that the thought of loosing Archie so distressed him that he got himself installed at the party as the bartender. The thought of being discovered was too much for him so he ran. He let Archie know about it and explained how it was done. The problem is, the fun more or less drains away at this point. The rest of the episode is good, but it’s not balanced very well. Little Nero never gets a visit and learns the real meaning or anything like that.

The rest of the episode is pretty basic for a Nero Wolfe Mystery. They figure out who done it, how they done it, and all that. I won’t go too far into the actual mystery, because I’d hate to spoil the actual mystery. In many respects the Christmas part of the story ends there anyway. It’s an amusing but fairly throw away bit of Christmas fun, not something I would put up as required viewing, but good if you like Nero Wolfe stories. The story is part of the book And Four to Go, which you can buy for about $8. It’s the only story in that book to be adapted, but the other three are good too. If you want to watch the episode, buy the show. It’d be cheaper just to buy the whole series set at this point. The two season sets cost as much as the complete set does.

Official Score:
45 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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