Good Lieutenant

It's sale season in France and I seized the occasion to finally acquire the complete Columbo series at a bargain price. The series was one of my first introductions to the mystery genre and remains a personal favorite despite, or thanks to, multiple viewings. What fascinates me most is how the show stayed fresh for most of its course while essentially telling the same story over and over again; only L&O in its prime managed the same feat. Formulaic it was, but intelligently so: modern executives take notice!

Also it was and remains quite an achievement to make an iconic figure out of a character about whom so little is actually known. His first name remains shrouded into mystery. He is the only source for information on his personal and family background and we can never be 100% sure whether what he says is true. For instance he incessantly talks about his wife but she never appears on screen, and it's unclear whether they have kids; the only member of his family we ever meet is... his dog.

The most puzzling thing about Lieutenant Columbo, however, is his forever "underdog" status. How can a detective who tackles - and solves! - only high-profile cases remain such an obscure figure? In the course of his career Columbo sent senators, country singers, film stars, secret agents and the likes to jail and yet no one seems ever to have heard about his exploits - suspects keep taking him for a bumbling fool despite abundant past evidence that he isn't. Rather implausible, but then implausibility often makes for great fiction as any mystery fan knows - and Columbo brilliantly testifies to that.

3 commentaires:

Jon Jermey a dit…

Perhaps Colombo reversed the usual trope and allowed some private detective to take all the credit for solving his cases.

Monte Herridge a dit…

A personal favorite of mine also. Did the complete series also include the later TV movies Falk made after the series ended? There were some excellent Columbo movies made when Falk was quite a bit older.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) a dit…

Great choice Xavier - My favourite American cop show, bar none, probably because it isn't really a cop show at all in the usual sense.

Yes, the procedural element is there and clues are paramount as there is always a murder to be solved, but this is such a richly created universe that its artificiality only becomes apparent in retrospect.

The main character is wonderfully real, but the plots are at best complex constructs from the Golden Age, all about ingenuity first and only interested in credibility second. And really it's the character anthology aspect that makes it stand out, every week we get to spend 90 minutes rummaging around in the life of the hero and his interactions with just one more person to a level of detail that just isn't attempted in any other US detective show.

The nearest equivalent for me was INSPECTOR MORSE in the UK, which also gave the hero a distinctive car and lots of character quirks but didn't reveal the character's first name (well, not until the very end anyway).

Apparently the who series of COLUMBO is now available on Blu-ray, but only in Japan at an incredible price ... time to start saving up those yen!


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