6.26.2011

Columbo: The Best TV Detective. Ever.


The passing of Peter Falk this past week wasn't only an unfortunate loss, it was a reminder of a bar set so very high. Personally, I don't think that Columbo has never been matched in terms of TV mysteries. It had everything: a great character, great acting and writing, great cases, great humor, and great endings. It has influenced a long line of TV mystery shows. It attracted countless famous guest stars, was part of Steven Speilberg's early TV stomping grounds as a director, and introduced us to Columbo: perhaps the all-time great TV character.

I always loved Columbo. I would watch the reruns of the series (which spans back to 1971) as a young kid in the 80's and 90's, and every Columbo special that aired as I grew older. I dressed up as Columbo for four consecutive Halloweens as a young kid -- which probably says more about myself than how great the TV show was, as it was an odd costume for a kid and I always had to explain that I wasn't a private detective, I was Columbo.

Most people know the show's unique touches: the murder was witnessed in the opening scenes; the joy came in watching how Columbo solved the case and foiled the killer's clever cover-up; Columbo played stupid and was always underestimated; he always held cigar and hand to his head in a perplexed pose and wore the same old trench coat (which Falk bought himself in a shop in NYC and wore through the entire run of the series); and Columbo had a fun, oblique and fumbling style of interrogation that usually drove his suspects nuts, with him always leaving, and then returning with a dangerous "Just one more thing..."

But I've always loved that Columbo had a sense of humor, never took himself too seriously, and was extremely confident despite the fact that everyone assumed he was an idiot and he played along. Comparing him to the landscape of sleuths of various shades over the last few decades on TV, Columbo is still a unique achievement. He had no team of crackpot scientists, no quirky special ability, no super computer -- he was just a great detective and a great character. He was a reminder that great people (and great writing) are sometimes just as simple as that.

Despite many of the dated qualities of the show's production, it's still incredibly watchable and fun. Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter Falk's creation does more than stand the test of time. It still towers over its genre.

If you haven't watched Columbo, or haven't seen much, or even if you've seen it all, here are some examples of the show's unique touches:


A general overview of the show's style and tone:




A good example of Columbo's interrogation style:




It's also worth noting Columbo's frequent style of ending episodes, which was almost more in line with the fantastic line of 70's American film than TV of the time period:





ps. Just one more thing... an example of the show's humor:

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