April 11, 2011

An Air of Mystery: Ellery Queen on DVD

It was, ironically, the best birthday gift I received this year, and I bought it for myself.

It was an Amazon "Gold Box" deal, and although yes, I am an affiliate, I don't get anything back if I order from myself. This was one of my favorite series when I was a kid - when the occasional episode turned up on A & E (and later, MeTV here in Chicago), I would watch ceaselessly.

And of course, the gem I'm talking about is the Ellery Queen Mysteries DVD collection - six discs chock full of television that does what many fans think current television does - respect the viewer's intelligence.

Now admittedly, a mid-1970s series that takes place in the late 1940s is going to seem somewhat dated. But coming from the production team of Levinson & Link, Ellery Queen is an adaptation of the classic "play fair" mystery character, and the series is a top-notch, well-written adaptation. (I'm sure, if fanboy culture existed back then, there would be flame wars about how the show "betrayed" the character. It's been awhile since I've read any Queen novels, so please view this statement in context). It's a good middle ground between Columbo and Murder, She Wrote....and even though Ellery Queen lasted one season, each episode is a well-polished gem.

What  makes the shows work is, quite frankly, the two well-cast leads. Jim Hutton portrays Queen as, well, a slightly absent minded guy (and his handling of the "challenge to the viewer" segments at the end - rather than coming across as arrogant, they're almost conspiratory in tone), and who seems to stumble towards the solution. Of course, David Wayne plays Inspector Richard Queen, his father, and the two have a very strong chemistry.

(One note - only two of the stories are straightforwarded adaptations of Queen works, and one - "The Adventure of the Mad, Mad Tea Party" - seems almost in-jokey in retrospect when you consider one of Wayne's best-known roles).

In short, this is definitely one of the better mystery series - a well-crafted throwback to older times when detecting didn't mean rapidly edited science (I'm looking at you, CSI franchise) or a guy being a jerk for 45 minutes (that means you, The Mentalist).

Because, ultimately, all television mysteries live in the shadow of Levinson & Link.

Definitely worth checking out.

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