Just One More Thing...
November 8, 2020 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Joe Dator’s short, sweet comic on Columbo’s renewed popularity and what made the show so special (The New Yorker)
posted by adrianhon (47 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I love how at times Peter Falk seems to be piecing together the clues for the benefit of the other characters, while signalling to the viewer that he’s known the answer all along.
Well, Peter Falk has read the script. Sheesh.

It occurs to me that if there were a school of thought that held that Columbo’s 100% accuracy rate and weirdly sketched biographical details might be because it’s a show about Peter Falk pretending to be a guy called Columbo, then this show is even more meta than I thought.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:26 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love Columbo and there are fanatical devotees all over social media and the web, like Daniel Lavery, who has written a number of blog posts about him. He's special in many ways, in his doggedness, his treatment of ordinary working class people, and his compassion (sometimes for the murderers themselves, like Adrian Carsini and Abigail Mitchell). He's disheveled and loveable and has the greatest dog companion ever and has been a great comfort to me the past 4 years.
posted by ceejaytee at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2020 [11 favorites]

Loved Columbo since forever. It still airs OTA in my area Sunday evenings, as it should.
posted by achrise at 9:58 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Columbo is definitely having a moment. Sarah Silverman mentioned watching it on her new podcast. It’s shown regularly on MeTV (which is all old TV shows), and I find myself sinking into it fairly often though I never saw it once when it first aired. The guest stars are amazing (for the era), including four appearances by Patrick McGoohan, who enjoyed himself so much he directed a bunch of other episodes.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:02 AM on November 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

My grandmother loved this show. There used to be a Tumblr (remember that?) called "Columboldies" that featured screen caps from the series, showcasing the set and costume design, props and such. It was awesome, but it looks like it's tears in rain by now.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2020

Interesting to think about the show's historical moment, in re: the linked comic.
"After two pilot episodes in 1968 and 1971, the show originally aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978 as one of the rotating programs of The NBC Mystery Movie." (Wikipedia)

That's the last decade of the mid-century period when income inequalities were unusually low, according to Saez, Piketty, et al. Now that we're living in a very different time, when economic inequalities have shot upwards for a generation - that's very interesting. There's a class war thread in the old show.
posted by doctornemo at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2020

I remember being forced to read Crime and Punishment (uck) and the one thing I liked about it was going, "COLUMBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:38 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love these posts that remind me of a show that was great that I should revisit. I'm in the USA, and there, you can stream the entire series on the new Peacock streaming service. Also available on the IMDB channel streaming add-on with Amazon Prime. It would be great if people in other regions chime in on how to watch it in their locations.
posted by seasparrow at 10:45 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was watching an episode of QI recently in which Columbo fans were discussing whether of not Columbo had one eye - Peter Falk had one eye, yes but did Columbo?
posted by mbo at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Columbo is definitely having a moment.
I wonder if it's related to the last panel or 2 in the comic.
posted by MtDewd at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2020

We've been binging on "cozy" mysteries over the last couple of years, mostly for these reasons and surely because of the cloud over our heads the last four.

There are plenty of shows like this if you're all binged out on Columbo.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I too have been enjoying Columbo on MeTV Sunday nights. The originals are generally better than the later revival -- not that the later ones are bad.

I often wonder if the perp's constant "but surely the obvious explanation is correct" arguments are what rouse his suspicions in the first place. :)

For anyone unaware, the character was reputedly inspired by the detective in Diabolique (1955) which I highly recommend (be sure to get the original, not the 1996 remake). The detective's role is not so prominent, but the movie is sooooo good! It must have blown people's minds when it came out.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:59 AM on November 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Part of it is just how great of an actor Peter Falk was. His work with John Cassavetes in the same period is extremely strong - my favorite is Mikey and Nicky - and Falk was so great at inhabiting a character, it’s just a pleasure to see him work. Columbo is just a pleasure because Falk riffs off the other actors as such an odd duck.
posted by graymouser at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

Well isn't that just a wonderful comic.
posted by milkb0at at 2:15 PM on November 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

mbo, there is one episode (A Trace of Murder) where the killer suggests he tag along with Columbo to look at the crime scene and Columbo says something like "all right, three eyes are better than one." So I take it Columbo also has one eye.
posted by Epixonti at 2:47 PM on November 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

In my entire life, I have never watched an episode of Columbo. I'm pretty certain I've never watched 5 minutes of Colombo.

But somehow, thanks to stand-up comics, impressionists, and just the way cultural touchstones permeate your consciousness, Columbo is instantly recognizable when it is mentioned.
posted by madajb at 3:39 PM on November 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I went hunting about whether Columbo had only one eye, and although I know everybody can google here's a link that echoes Epixonti but goes just a touch further. In digging I also found this interesting tidbit (see #11) about his first name:
Falk's trademark character is known simply as "Columbo" for the approximately 20-year period during which episodes were being produced. However, in the 1971 episode "Dead Weight," the detective flashes his badge and a closeup reveals that the gumshoe's first name is in fact Frank. The badge makes another appearance in the 1976 episode "A Matter of Honor."

Raise your hand if you remember Cheerleaders Can't Eat Thirteen Pizzas? maybe it was 15?
posted by achrise at 4:28 PM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Girls Can’t Eat 15 Pizzas
posted by Monochrome at 4:42 PM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm so glad later generations have discovered Columbo! Or is it just Olds with basic cable?

I know it's something that died with broadcast networks, but I miss the wheel format.

I have come to a place of resignation that every media property will eventually be remade / rebooted. My deal with this is that it's fine, as long as the remake gender- or race-swaps the original.

So I'll add mine to the chorus of voices calling for Natasha Lyonne to be the next Columbo.
(Now to get to work on Delroy Lindo? Terrence Howard? as Banacek. And I'll need some input on casting both female roles for McMillan and Wife.)
posted by bartleby at 4:45 PM on November 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

the gumshoe's first name is in fact Frank.

Colombo’s first name played a pivotal role in a gotcha moment that played out very differently to the usual episode denouement. The creator of The Trivia Encyclopedia laid a copyright trap by including a false entry claiming the detective’s first name was Philip. The makers of Trivial Pursuit took the bait, but then won the ensuing court case, since facts, even incorrect ones, aren’t copyrightable.
posted by zamboni at 4:50 PM on November 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

I came to Columbo quite late in life and have come to really enjoy it. The showis mostly fun for me -and for most folks- as a cozy mystery that flash back to a basically sanitized vision of the seventies. (See also Murder, She Wrote and the eighties). However, I really like the note by Danny Lavery in his memoir that Columbo is really very much not a cop. He doesn’t have a gun, he’s all fumbly, he’s completely lacking in any competence. At some level, he’s just enabling these murderers to catch themselves, kind of like the hound of heaven chasing down a guilty conscience. The class conflict that Dator talks about is definitely a big part of the show, but I think that that hounding of guilt is more fundamental.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:27 PM on November 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

The first non-pilot episode of Columbo was directed by a bright kid right out of film school. Peter Falk wasn't so sure about having such a young director but was told this kid looked really promising. He did some innovative film shots that no one had heard of before, such as filming a scene where Columbo is talking with someone while walking down the street. It was filmed with a hidden camera. No one except the two actors knew that a television scene was being filmed.
The young director was Steven Spielberg.
posted by eye of newt at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

I think there's one other part of the formula that the comic strip misses: there's always some clue that Columbo notices in the very first scene with him that gives it all away to him. Sometimes that clue leads to him asking the suspect a question, and the suspect's answer tells Columbo who did it. His job is now how to get enough evidence to make a convincing case for everyone else (which the comic strip does mention). Usually this involved spending lots of time annoying the self-important wealthy/famous above-it-all suspect.

This clue is the one thing they don't make obvious to the audience, and sometimes is only briefly mentioned, since it isn't a critical clue--it is just the clue that triggers Columbo's interest in the case.

Watch some shows and see if my theory is correct.
posted by eye of newt at 6:09 PM on November 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

There is something so satisfying about watching Columbo. Most people gag when I tell them the episodes are 90 minutes, but I love the length, and how much time is spent on little details. Also, another part of it I find enjoyable (related to the clue thing, perhaps, eye of newt) is it’s not always clear if Columbo knows early on and is trapping a suspect with his bumbling persona, or if he’s kind of genuinely “bumbling” (for a little while anyway) into discovering what happened. Some episodes are much more of a clear cat and mouse between him and the killer, whereas in others he can take longer to reach conclusions. I think that’s part of what makes Peter Falk so good in it-he’s somehow both guileless and saavy at the same time, and it really works. He comes across as someone who uses both an unteachable natural people sense as well as a strong intellect to solve the crimes. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion but I think that’s why I like him so much and don’t really like Sherlock Holmes, who in every iteration just seems like he’s showing off his smarty pants deduction.
posted by Kemma80 at 8:00 PM on November 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Wait... Columbo's first name isn't Lou?!?
posted by fairmettle at 10:01 PM on November 8, 2020

You're maybe thinking of Bud Ferrigno?
posted by bartleby at 11:12 PM on November 8, 2020

Have loved Columbo for a long time, got the complete box set pretty cheap when it was on special offer a while back. What I love most is the cleverness of the plots, the sheer unexpected ingenuity of some of the solutions. Plus the retro charm and Peter Falk himself obviously.

There are a few episodes which break the formula. In "No Time To Die" (yes, same name as the new Bond film) Columbo does carry a gun in one scene and also there's no murder. It's adapted from an Ed McBain novel. And "Last Salute to the Commodore" does turn into a whodunit when a murder happens but the viewer is not shown the killer. It's a long, very boring episode directed byPatrick McGoohan. They thought it would be the last ever episode and got very indulgent and a bit surreal. Totally doesn't work.
posted by mokey at 11:44 PM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Though probably it will be reappraised at some point as a proto-Lynchian masterpiece.
posted by mokey at 11:51 PM on November 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember mostly enjoying the McGoohan episode, but surreal self indulgence is a defining feature of the McGoohaniverse, so I gave it a pass - plus he is the perfect amount of smug and supercilious for Columbo.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:10 AM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love Columbo. My favorite episode is the "Abigail Mitchell" one mentioned above that has Ruth Gordon as a sympathetic grandmother and murderer.

I have to give a shout-out to the recent Canadian show "Motive" (2013-2016). It has a bit of a Columbo feel. Each episode starts with some people you haven't seen before interacting with each other, revealing something about the characters, and then the words "The Killer" and "The Victim" appear above their respective heads. The detectives show up afterward and figure it out, with flashbacks doing a lot of the storytelling.
posted by mmoncur at 4:38 AM on November 9, 2020

I feel like there's a certain percentage of my enjoyment of Knives Out due to how much it reminded me of Columbo.

Also as a Falk fan, might I recommend the Rat Pak film "Robin and the Seven Hoods" in which he is a 20's gangster version of Guy of Gisborne. And he sings. It's a delight.
posted by librarianamy at 5:43 AM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’ve watched them all. If (as I do), you love Peter Falk, here he is in Wings of Desire, talking to an angel.

I’ve been bingeing on a lot of old shows lately. They’re generally problematic about race, gender, etc., but (big but) within that context they seem to try to be about goodness, and they have been cosy. It’s simultaneously a feeling of “better world” and “right, that world wasn’t better at all, I was just raised blind.”
posted by anshuman at 6:01 AM on November 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Columbo had me at him driving a beat-up French car in the United States.

I'm a sucker for anyone with that level of aesthetic discernment.
posted by sonascope at 6:27 AM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember mostly enjoying the McGoohan episode, but surreal self indulgence is a defining feature of the McGoohaniverse, so I gave it a pass - plus he is the perfect amount of smug and supercilious for Columbo.

I like the ones he's in, but he's not in Last Salute to the Commodore, he just directed it.
posted by mokey at 7:26 AM on November 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

within that context they seem to try to be about goodness, and they have been cosy. It’s simultaneously a feeling of “better world” and “right, that world wasn’t better at all, I was just raised blind.”

They can be real without being grim-dark, or superficial or involve a vast conspiracy where it turns out Colombo's direct report was a serial killer setting up all suspects in his cases. It panders to the infallible police narrative of course but I'm not really sure you could sell a mystery series where the protagonist has a 30% clearance rate.

The 70s is enough of another country for me that even the various isms that were just the way things were done then don't ruin the story for me the way they would in a more modern series would (EG: Mad Men which is straight up unwatchable).
posted by Mitheral at 5:49 PM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think one of the more interesting roles of Peter Falk's career was himself in Wings of Desire. Great movie. When Peter Falk showed up in it, it blew my mind.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:28 PM on November 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

He doesn’t have a gun, he’s all fumbly, he’s completely lacking in any competence.

A friend pointed out that in my earlier comment I said that Columbo was incompetent. I wanted to return and say that that was a very overheated comment and I should have read my comment in preview before posting. Columbo is NOT incompetent at all (or arguably fumbly), and I’m sorry for maligning him. He’s disheveled, he’s rumpled, he’s workman-like in his approach, he’s extremely mild, but he’s absolutely a fine detective who gets the killer and rarely makes big missteps in episodes. Sorry, Columbo, I shouldn’t have spoken badly of you.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:26 PM on November 9, 2020

Well shit, now I have to cancel the hit I put out on Going To Maine.
posted by axiom at 12:38 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

It would be great if people in other regions chime in on how to watch it in their locations.

Running this software and knowing the 160-bit number 53f0c0a1e277072cead1fa28a6654070d355cda6 seems to be working for me.
posted by flabdablet at 3:33 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's on French Amazon Prime, I've never seen it but had already decided to watch an episode so thanks for this post too!
posted by ellieBOA at 4:34 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Columbo often figures in my 70s childhood nostalgia, as I noted in this thread: "I'd give anything to be sitting on the shag carpet in the den watching Columbo with my parents and getting up to answer the dial telephone when it rings."
posted by JanetLand at 5:53 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

The New Yorker won't let me read this until, I guess, I completely remove the ad blocker from my browser? Turning it off doesn't seem to do it for them.

So, uh, great comic I guess.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:38 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

A hard refresh fixed that for me.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:52 AM on November 10, 2020

I can never keep this and Ironsides straight
posted by thelonius at 11:40 AM on November 10, 2020

I just want to mention a very special Peter Falk role for me: the grandfather in The Princess Bride. Others could have played that role. I can see Robert Loggia pulling it off. But Peter brought an X factor to it, that twinkle in his eye, that made all his roles, Columbo included, jump off the screen, especially when he delivered the movie's final line.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:06 AM on November 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Belatedly, I wanted to link two great Twitter threads inspired by this comic, by MeFi's own garius:
This gets to why Columbo is one of my screen heroes.

He's smart, kind, humble. A poor kid done good.

And he quietly but persistently refuses to accept that privilege and power put you above the law.

And when you DO see flashes of anger, it's about that.

He also, in a very 70s/80s way, is the absolute opposite of the definition of masculinity at the time.

He's a quiet, scruffy but deeply caring man who uses his brain and words, not his fists.

As a kid who wasn't into sports I was FASCINATED by that being 'allowed' of a man. [...]
Whole thread on Twitter; ThreadReader

And a shorter follow-up thread on fantasy casting for a Columbo reboot:
If I was showrunner on a new Columbo these days, I'd be setting up my tent outside Donald Glover's house and refusing to leave until he at least agreed to do a pilot. [...]
Twitter; ThreadReader
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:44 PM on November 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had a lot of difficulty reading this comic. The page wouldn't load on my (admittedly a few years old) smartphone and I had trouble on my Linux computer. I finally got it to load and transcribed the text in case it helps someone else.

Panel 1
Text: Lately, I've found myself doing a deep dive into old episodes of "Columbo." And I've noticed that I'm not alone.

Lots of people I know are watching, too, and I've been thinking about why.

Panel 2
Text: The pleasures of "Columbo" are many. Each episode more or less follows a formula:
(1) An esteemed but contemptible V.I.P. commits a murder and then creates an elaborate plan to cover it up.
(2) Lieutenant Columbo, of the L.A.P.D., shows up to investigate. He is often mistaken for a befuddled bystander.
(3) Columbo persistently but affably questions his suspect, who grows more and more agitated as the detective pokes holes in their alibi.
(4) Finally, Columbo reveals everything he knows, which usually leads to the killer's resigned confession.

Panel 3
Text: Because the murders always happen onscreen, there's no whodunnit, just the fun of watching Columbo solve the puzzle.

One of my favorite features is that you don't see Columbo until about fifteen minutes into the episode. Sometimes, I get so involved with the murder plot that I'm surprised when he shows up.

Panel 4
Text: There are none of the clichés of seventies cop-show-action. Columbo never leaps onto the hood of a moving car or chases a perp through a seedy back alley. He never fires, or carries, a gun.

You'll never see him beat up a mugger or shake down a junkie.

Panel 5
Text: His targets are affluent, respected, often high-society types, who live in lavish mansions in Beverly Hills and Bel Air.

They are frequently seen pouring whiskey from a crystal decanter. A disproportionate number of them wear ascots.

Panel 6
Text: Columbo's unkempt appearance is his secret weapon. His suspects regularly make the fatal error of shrugging him off as nothing to worry about.

I love how, at times, Peter Falk seems to be piecing together the clues only for the benefit of the other characters, while signalling to the viewer that he's known the answer all along.

Panel 7
Text: If there is any mystery on the show, it's Columbo himself. We learn very little about him.

We don't see where he lives. He often refers to his wife, but we never see her or learn her name. He has a dog named "Dog."

In one episode, he reveals that he's from New York, and grew up on the border between Little Italy and Chinatown.

Panel 8
Text: Despite his incredible powers of perception, Columbo isn't portrayed as some kind of genius, like Sherlock Holmes. He attributes his success to his own persistence and hard work.

Columbo is a merit-based hero, besting the privileged and the spoiled.

Panel 9
Text: But why are people in 2020 discovering and rediscovering Lieutenant (no first name given) Columbo?

Let's just say that there's a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they're above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.

Panel 10
Text: Oh, if only.
posted by Monochrome at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older remember you can have what you ask for, ask for...   |   And hold you in the palm of His hand Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments