Columbo: The Complete Series
Recently this seems to have been a lot of studios releasing DVD or Blu-ray box sets representing a franchise in its entirety. This is manifested in collections of all the movies in a particular series such as gathering all the ‘Halloween’ or ‘Exorcist’ neatly surrounded outer cardboard shell. Some studios go all out with added bells and whistles such as the recent collection of the ‘Harry Potter’ films even the container is worth keeping as a collector’s item. On the television side the marketing department is not to be outdone as they gather every episode of the run of a popular TV show. Some include content not available by other means such as the four series set of ’WKRP in Cincinnati’, or the remarkably elaborate collector set of the enigmatic series ‘Lost’. What these containers are nice did you take up a lot of real estate on the bookshelf and for most people it’s the content that really matters. After all you would want to buy a car that looks like a vintage Mustang only to find it has a Hugo engine. One of my favorite television shows of all time as recently been gathered together as a complete collection, ‘Colombo’. For as long as television has been sitting in our living rooms, they have been detective series dominating the programming schedule for the networks. I feel quite confident to state that in the last 60 years that hasn’t been a single TV season that did not contain at least one new detective show. For a series to distinguish itself in such a prolific genre it would have to be quite special. Colombo undoubtedly meets and in many ways surpasses the necessary criteria. The only principle character of the series is the titular Lieutenant Colombo of the Los Angeles police department’s homicide division. A brief look online confirm that there were several actors in contention for this role but it ultimately was given to Peter Falk. His always been a fine, character actor and solid journeyman performer but this was the role that made his career. The fit between Falk and Colombo was so perfect that it is impossible to separate one from the other.
This year we started out back in 1971 as a novel programming idea on NBC. Under the umbrella title of ‘The NBC Mystery Movie’ the network rotated several series in the same timeslot. Originally Colombo shared spot on the programming lineup ‘McCloud’ and ‘McMillan and Wife’. The format proved to be so popular that it was also broadcast unrelated the in the week with a different lineup of shows. Leveraging the parent corporation, Universal Studios the network was able to take advantage of the greater time between each individual episode and prepare was basically a made for television movie each week. As it turned out Colombo outlived by considerable margin any of the other shows that shared rotation with. Not having to fit a story into the 45 minutes allotted to an hour-long episode, each case Colombo encountered was given sufficient time to be fully developed immediately differentiating it from most of its competition. By being produced in a well-established movie studio, every episode of Colombo had a cinematic feel to it. The quality of writing and direction greatly supported this statement. Of course, it all comes down to the personality series one. Lieutenant Colombo was as far from the usual TV detective as possible. He was not ruggedly handsome or particularly elegant. He was usually dressed in his rumpled raincoat covering a nondescript student time in his ever present cigar butt in hand. He drove a beat up 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible although it is doubtful the roof was able to go down. A running gag was office is on the scene wanting to have the car towed thinking it was abandoned wreck. The closest he came to a costar was for several episodes he was accompanied by his pet beagle named ‘Dog’. It was Colombo style that led to his phenomenal success. Writing in a little notebook with pencil nub, Colombo would constantly make note of observations or statements made during his investigation. He was considered by most, especially those under suspicion, as being a pleasant but very annoying man. Just when you thought he was done with his questioning, just as he was turning to leave, the suspect which here; "Just one more thing". This may seem like Colombo was forgetful and the question was a second thought but that was where the man’s genius manifested. This tactic always caught the suspect of guard typically eliciting a highly incriminating fact. Actually, his entire technique of investigation is a clever ruse to be underestimated by the criminal mastermind is after. You may come across as a bumbling dolt but beneath that disheveled appearance is a brilliantly deductive mind that can remember and correlate the tiniest fact the matter how irrelevant it might appear. The criminals are almost inevitably greatly surprised that this rumpled nuisance of the detective was able to bring their brilliant plan of murder to ruin.
One episode had Colombo going up against a murderer who belonged to a Mensa like organization. The suspect was a man with an exceptional IQ who carefully plotted every detail of his elaborate scheme to kill a fellow member that stood in his way. After Colombo had deduced every aspect of how the crime was executed the genius was flabbergasted. Certain that Colombo was of subpar intelligence he demanded the detective tell him as IQ as it was being taken away by the offices. There was one case where Colombo was unable to capture his man because of diplomatic immunity. As it turned out the murderer was a member of the diplomatic mission from a Middle Eastern country and therefore diplomatic immunity was in effect. By ingratiating himself to the young potentate of the country the criminal was faced with a conundrum. If he hid behind his immunity, the leader would demand he be brought back home and tried for murder there. As conviction was certain in a sentence of an especially painful execution was guaranteed, the murderer correctly waived his immunity and demanded to be taken to custody in the United States. The matter what Colombo always outsmarts the criminal.
Every once in a while Colombo true intelligence and that the refinement managed to peek through the grungy façade. When it was on the trail of the killer among some of the city’s greatest chefs, Colombo surprised several of these culinary masters at his understanding and appreciation of fine cuisine. The perpetrators so respected his palette that even after being caught respectfully prepared a fine dinner for the detective. There’s a similar outcome when the crime was committed in the vineyard of an old and very distinguished family winery. The suspect tried his best to impress Colombo with his understanding of the seven nuances of wine only to find that Colombo was more than able to hold his own in appreciation and expression concerning several remarkably rare vintages. Once again, the uncovered murderer and victorious detective shared a very cordial to drink together. During the investigation Colombo is undoubtedly annoying, by design. The thing is he is also a likable person and an incredible polymath that once the ball some detail of hiding the crime is behind them the criminal often respect his captor pregame role-play. When Colombo took on Grand Master chess over his murder of his opponent, fans of the series see quite plainly that every case for Colombo is it game of chess. Most of the criminals of course upset over being caught but there’s an undeniable sense of respect for the man that thwarted their plan. In some ways this is the hubris of the criminal emerging. They were so certain that they have come up with the perfect murder that only one with exceptional skills matching their own could’ve possibly brought them to justice.
One of the difficulties in putting together a complete set of Colombo episodes is that the series did spend two networks. After NBC the show moved on to its competitor, ABC. This is usually a legal nightmare concerning the rights and ownership the distribution. Thankfully, that all must of been worked out in advance. Not only does this set contain all the expanded episodes from both networks but includes all the made for television movies and after the show was formally canceled. The result is a massive 34 disc set convincing almost 100 hours of our favorite raggedy detective. This works out to all 69 regular episodes that composed the seven regular seasons of the series, as well as all 24 of the movies.