The redoubtable Peter Falk brought the world of television detectives to new heights as the raincoat clad, scruffy cigar chewing gumshoe Columbo in a series that spanned across four decades. The uniqueness of the show was that it stood the typical cop murder show format on its head, with a typical episode showing not only the murder but also the perpetrator.
Relieving the structure of any kind of “who-dunnit” means that all that is left is the characters and their typical guilt induced descent into the final act revelation. Columbo himself first appeared in an anthology series called The Chevy Mystery Show in the early 1960’s. Bizarrely a stage play was next and the pilot starring Falk followed in 1968 with the (presumably) final episode being aired in 2003.
With this ninth season, the expectation would be of a large slice of Columbo spread across many episodes. In reality there are only 6 (with Series 10 and 11 contributing only three episodes each to the 69 we’ve had in total). There is patchiness to these episodes with the sense that everyone should really think past pocketing another paycheck and maybe looking towards retirement, though on occasions either circumstances or guest stars lift the proceedings out of its tired rut. Highlights in this mini-season include ‘Agenda For Murder’, which features one of Patrick McGoohan’s last performances as a political aspirant (McGoohan also directs, as he did on a record four other occasions for the show).
The variety of directors featured across the years have included Steven Spielberg and Jonathan Demme, with actors Ben Gazzara helming two and Falk himself directing the last episode of the first season. Whilst Falk’s health seems to dictate that Columbo is over in his current incarnation, there will surely be scope in the future to bring the raincoat back.
Released on DVD on Monday 30th March 2009 by Universal Pictures.