‘When is “Columbo” not Columbo?'(2014)

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In any fiction series, isn’t it disconcerting when the central character suddenly starts behaving in a way he never did before? But they did that in one of our all-time favorite TV series, Columbo.

When is ‘Columbo’ Not ‘Columbo’?

I have no idea whether this post will go up or not. The guy is supposed to come tomorrow to install the new modem. The old one we could install ourselves. The new one, forget about it.

7 comments on “‘When is “Columbo” not Columbo?'(2014)

  1. There’s a movie called “Her Alibi”, where Tom Selleck plays a writer whose books have brought him great success. He provides an alibi for a Romanian woman accused of murder and the movie is a charming romantic comedy.

    As a sub-theme, Selleck fights a battle with predictability in his writing. Several people tell him his work is predictable and he winces every time he hears it. Finally, his literary agent, unaware of Selleck’s struggle with predictability, tells Selleck that what he likes the most about Selleck’s work, is that it’s predictable, ending with the statement; “readers find that very reassuring”. So predictable was not such a bad thing, after all.

    Columbo was predictable. I remember one episode where Roddy McDowell plays an irresponsible, immature person, the scion of a family that owns a successful chemical business. From McDowell’s first scene, you know that Columbo is going to slice, dice, and make Julianne Fries out of this hedonistic little twerp. And he does. The viewer knows what will happen, but not how it will come about. The on-screen cat and mouse game pales in comparison with the cat and mouse game between the viewer and the writers of the episode, as they disguise how the inevitable will happen for as long as possible.

    Was Columbo groundbreaking drama? Not at all. But it was on very solid dramatic ground. There’s very little in modern drama which varies schematically from Ancient Greek theater. People have always liked the same thing. We liked that John Wayne was a straight shooter that always won in the end, while not so honest characters around him seemed to prevail for a while, but always either lost in the end, or changed their ways because of Wayne’s example. He was an Everyman protagonist, built up to larger than life status, and it didn’t hurt a bit that he was tall, and in his younger days, an exceptional physical specimen. The emotional payoff was that John Wayne was just like us, or just like what we would have liked to been.

    In Hellfighters, he portrays Red Adair, whom fought oil-well fires and made a bundle of money. There’s an impetuous twerp of a news reporter whom causes Adair to be injured, near the beginning of the movie. He questions Wayne’s (Adair’s) sincerity and provides an opportunity for Wayne to explain to the audience how all of this works. Adair enjoys great success in his business, and Wayne portrays him as a man, unspoiled by success, whose core values have not changed.

    Columbo was, in a sense, an inversion of Wayne’s larger than life character. Most of us don’t drive a new Mercedes, but we don’t drive a trashed Peugeot convertible, either. Most of us don’t have great fashion sense, but we don’t run around LA in a raincoat, even on sunny days, either. Falk, in most of his characters, played a down-to-earth guy that should the solid core of Everyman. Viewers find that very reassuring.

    1. That’s why those few “standard cop show” episodes shocked me–they completely broke the pattern.
      I don’t think anybody wants to bother with a fantasy in which the bad guys win. What kind of fantasy would that be? And who would write it? Michael Moore? Chief Justice Roberts? We already live with the bad guys winning way more than is good for us.

    2. Entertainment isn’t supposed to be real. “Real”, is not usually all that much fun. In many cases, “real” is a drag.

    3. And now they are trying to culture cancel John Wayne for some unknown reason to me by renaming the Orange County airport that currently bares his name.

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