|Columbo in the seventies, played by Peter Falk|
Now here's is the first thing that is surprising about Columbo. You've just read the plot of almost every episode. This is how it always goes down. By rights you should not be surprised by anything that happens. And yet it's always a little different, because of the way that Peter Falk plays him. In fact, I understand that there was a lot of on camera improvisation on the show, because it kept the guest stars on their toes. And after all Falk had plenty of experience in that from his John Cassevetes movies.
And in fact the more you see Columbo the more of an enigma he becomes. Did you notice that they never say his first name on the show? Can you state with complete certainty that there even IS a Mrs. Colombo? (Yes I know they made a spinoff series about her, but you never saw Mr. Columbo in that. I think she was just a woman named Columbo. OR she was Columbo's beard. Maybe they were each other's beards.) And Columbo is always polite, but he obviously has a driven and ruthless nature. Dude's some kinda sociopath.
But this is all nothing to the crazy premise of the show. IT'S A MURDER MYSTERY WHERE YOU SAW THE MURDER COMMITTED AND KNOW EVERY DETAIL ABOUT HOW IT DONE.
|In later years, the part was taken by the guy who played the Grandpa in The Princess Bride|
The writers of Columbo deny themselves that catharsis. How can the ending of a Columbo episode be satisfying?
The catharsis comes not from learning the truth, it comes from watching a guest star who has lied for ninety minutes (or more) ADMIT the truth. Every episode ends when the antagonist admits to Columbo, at last, that they did it. Sometimes they are grateful that they don't have to lie any more. Sure there's usually also a level of class class warfare from the common-slob detective bringing down the rich and powerful, but what really sells it is the confession. I guess if you are always looking for the truth, making someone admit they have been lying to you is plenty satisfying.
Anyway, I don't think there was a more satisfying but formulaic murder mystery show until House came along.