Yet Another TV Review Podcast

I write an occasional TV Review blog (Click Here) as time permits,
You can follow me on twitter (Click Here) and/or Facebook (Click Here).
And I've collected some of my old reviews into a book (

Columbo season one episode reviews

Columbo, starring Peter Falk

Episode 2. "Ransom For A Dead Man" Most of the best elements of the best Columbo episodes are on display here: a clever killer, an elaborate scheme, and people who underestimate our hero. Several of the scenes between Columbo and the killer are tense and layered with double meaning. It's great fun. The only possible weakness is the ending, where Columbo contrives to push the criminal into doing something stupid. Of course, it works. But it makes for an ending liable to be debated. Namely: why would such a clever killer make such a stupid mistake? (Spoiler: She uses marked money to pay off the victim's daughter).

Episode 3. "Murder By The Book" Our hero goes up against an egotistic writer for the first episode that aired as part of the regular series. Columbo faces many kinds of foes, but my favourites are the arrogant ones. The ones that underestimate Columbo and try to bombard him with misleading information. Jack Cassidy gives a flawless performance as this type of foe, particularly in the jaw-dropping (when you first see it) final seconds. This is widely-regarded as the best-ever Columbo episode. I don't think it is. It's certainly not my favourite, but it is as flawless an episode of Columbo as you are ever likely to see, and serves as a perfect introduction to the character/formula.

Episode 4. "Death Lends A Hand" Some of the killers on Columbo are cold-blooded planners who set out to trap their prey, and some are victims of circumstance, who elicit sympathy from the viewer. The killer in this story is a curious mix. A private investigator who occasionally resorts to blackmail. This time, however, it goes wrong and he kills a woman in a fit of bad temper. At times you do feel sorry for him, but as the story advances (and he gets more smug) that empathy evaporates. Columbo is always the one you root for, anyway. And he is in top form here. His clever use of palm-reading early on, to figure out who the killer is is particularly cheer-worthy. And, in general, there is a strong sense of the underdog going up against the big shot. And it's always a pleasure to see the little guy winning.

The dialogue at the very end (where Columbo explains how to use a potato to stall a car) is one of my favourite pieces of dialogue from the show. Ever. I've had it on audio tape for almost thirty years. I could say it backwards!

Episode 5. "Dead Weight" It has one of the worst endings ever in a Columbo episode, but it also has some of the best characters. It's also a complete departure from the usual formula. Eddie Albert shoots someone and the murder is seen by (the lovely) Suzanne Pleshette. Columbo investigates but finds nothing. However the witness is so sure of herself that he keeps looking around, then the murderer starts dating the witness and she starts to doubt her story. It's a great story. And the characters are terrific. I grew up watching Albert in Switch and I just love to see him in anything. He's great here. As a super-confident, very clever cold-blooded killer. He is arrogant to Columbo and charming to the woman he seeks to silence. Pleshette is amazing in her role. Her character arc is a bit daft, but she makes it work. Thanks to her you really care about the character.

Columbo is sidelined in a lot of ways. It's really the story of the two other characters doing their dance of trust and mis-trust. There are some wonderful contrasts between the shabby policeman and the super-smooth bad-guy (who shows up at the woman's home in a tuxedo). The woman's mother has no time at all for Columbo but simply adores the rich, charming other man in her daughter's life. And this observation on social ranking is very much a part of the Columbo appeal.

Unfortunately, the daft make-it-up at the last minute ending is not part of what makes Columbo great. The conclusion makes no sense no matter how you look at it. Yes, the killer is arrogant but why should suppose that his famous war pistol couldn't be stolen while he was lying in hospital recovering from war wounds? And why would the man lie about it being stolen? And why would Columbo be able to figure all this out AND know that it was the murder weapon AND know where it was hidden.

Nonsense. But the ride that got us there was great fun.

Episode 6. "Suitable For Framing" From the weakest Columbo ending to the very best. None of the Columbo endings were ever as abrupt or satisfying as this. And, unlike any other episode that I can remember, this one has two rapid twists in the final seconds just before the credits roll. It helps that the bad guy in this one (Ross Martin) is one of the least likable characters ever to grace the show. Who am I kidding? He's a jackass! And a cold-blooded killer, too. And it's so sweet when Columbo brings him down.

This is one of those Columbo episodes were there is no great "moment of clarity" for the great detective and no great tell-tale mistake from the killer, either. It's one of those nice simple cases where - logic dictates - there really is only one suspect from the start. And Columbo just hones in on the guy from the moment he meets him. It's also one of those episodes that - while showing everything that happens on the night of the murder - doesn't let the audience know until near the very end what the killer's full plan is. And it's a great plan. Very clever. And, on first viewing, it really does appear like he's going to get away with it.

Even now, years later, watching it again and having a vivid memory of how it all came together (and that glorious final shot) I was at pains to remember how the pieces of the jigsaw actually fell into place. That's great television. Great storytelling. And it reminds me that Columbo episodes can be watched over and over and always satisfy.

The episode is also noteworthy for a great guest shot from Mary Wickes who plays a woman who annoys Columbo in exactly the same way he annoys his suspects. She has a photo of the killer (Columbo hopes) in a place where he said he never was, but on her way to getting that particular photo she keeps stopping to tell Columbo about all the other photos in her album. Bombarding him with pointless trivia about her life. Brilliant.

Episode 7. "Lady In Waiting" There are many things to admire in this series. First, there is the quality of the guest stars. Not just the murderers who go head-to-head with Peter Falk in every story, but also the victims and peripheral characters who appear. For instance, this episode features Richard Anderson and Leslie Nielsen in strong supporting roles. Nielsen is particularly good.

Second, there is the music. Columbo episodes have no opening theme, and use a different closing theme for each story. Back in 1980 I assembled about 35 of these themes on an audio cassette and listened to it many, many times in the years that followed. So much so that these Columbo themes are as familiar to me now as the themes to Hawaii Five-0, Magnum, PI or Law And Order. The scores for each episode tend to use the closing theme (and variations of it) in a lot of scenes and the music is usually beautiful and evocative.

Next, there are many Columbo episodes with a unique visual gimmick at some stage. Some scenes enlist split-screen, freeze-frame or blurred images to help tell the story. Sometimes the visuals incorporate sun-glasses or chess pieces in inventive fashion. In other episodes, the producers play around with the audio. On all fronts the show is creative.

Finally, I always admire the amount of variety the producers/writers work into a very rigid formula. This episode, for instance, features Susan Clark as the killer and we witness her elaborate plan acted out in a long fantasy sequence. We are shown how all the pieces will (hopefully) fall into place and she will get away with her crime. Then, when she actually puts her plan into action, we see how things go wrong for her (in one respect) and she has to scramble like crazy to keep it all on track. It makes for a very exciting first half-hour.

This is one of the best Columbo stories. The criminal is sympathetic. She has been protected by her brother to such an extreme extent that she has basically been bullied into submission and it is fascinating for us to see the transformation that comes over her when he is out of her life. Fascinating for us and (unfortunately for her) very revealing for Lt. Columbo.

Episode 8. "Short Fuse" is one of my least favourite episodes. Roddy McDowall is mis-cast as a killer. At least on this show. He's too likable. He's also much too over the top in his acting style to go head to head with Peter Falk the way all the other guest stars do. I also dislike the ending. Yes, it is clever. One of the cleverest that the show ever did, but Columbo is so out of character. The appeal of the character is that he is meek and annoying. And he quietly lures the killer's into his subtle traps. No so here. For some odd reason the writers have him running around shouting orders to get the bad guy into the trap. Which is frustrating because there was no need. There were many other (more subtle ways) to get the characters into the same situation. Disappointing execution of a clever idea.

Episode 9. "Blueprint For Murder" A great script, but not one of the great episodes. Though it is very clever and satisfying it lacks the tension of the really great Columbo episodes. Patrick O'Neal makes a great foe in many respects, but the game of cat-and-mouse is never as engaging as it is in many other stories. I never believed that there was a contest between them, I suppose, so the ending felt like less of a "win" for the rumpled detective.

No comments:

Ignoring Friday Night Lights renders the Emmy's meaningless.

The podcast's URL is View RSS XML Simply enter this url in your podcasting software of choice. Thanks!

A Briefing With Michael

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Yet Another Film Review Blog

    Yet Another TV Review Podcast

    Yet Another TV Wallpaper Blog