The Lt. Columbo Forum

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Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

To me, the flaws of the 90s Columbos come down to three specific flaws.

1-Falk is by this point playing Columbo too much like a caricature with none of the nuance and shading that made the earlier years of his performance so compelling. There is almost no difference between how Falk is playing the character in these episodes with how he'd be playing it in a variety show sketch.

2-The episodes are simply not well-plotted. The strength of the scripts in the 70s is that they were carefully nuanced in terms of developing clues that made Columbo's slow unraveling compelling and above all "playing fair" with the viewer. But one thing I've noticed is that in the 90s, the murder often will take place as much as a half hour into the episode and what this means is we get a lot of backstory build-up and a lot less "investigating" afterwards showing the slow step of mini-clues that point Columbo to the killer followed by a satisfying pay-off clue that clinches things. Also, there is an overuse on more than one occasion of "Columbo sees something on a security tape" as a key clue that gets very tiresome after a bit.

3-A lot of these ABC 90s shows seem photographed and staged in a style more reminiscent of film noir than drawing room mystery. This is totally wrong for Columbo. The "film noir" style makes you think some weary, no-BS cop is going to show up. Columbo stories filmed in the bright sunshine of 70s LA without any traces of "grittiness" allowed Columbo to take his place in the Christie-Holmes-Chesterton view of great detectives. In the 90s, it's a jarring clash of styles that doesn't work IMO.

Not that all episodes are bad, but this collectively sums up why the overall tone and execution of the 90s Columbos just don't measure up to the originals for me.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

The gun being fired at a suspect happens in Murder of a Rock Star. Columbo and a female officer go to question the drummer/suspect who was framed. When he hears the police he jumps through a window, shattering both the glass and my suspension of disbelief. The female officer busts the door down and fires as the man jumps through the window and down to a pool or trampoline or alligator pit or something. The details get fuzzy.

Ironically, when Columbo finally catches this man he says: “I don’t have a gun or cuffs. Am I going to need them?” Of course the drummer peacefully surrenders.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

Chipping in my two cents, I agree with a lot of what has already been written here. To add to it however, I would also say that when later Columbo is good, it's every bit as good as 70's Columbo though admittedly these occasions are fewer.

When later Columbo is bad though its excruciatingly bad. Almost all of the most toe curling scenes in the series take place in the later episodes. The funeral scenes in Grand Deceptions, the "Cat being the only witness to this terrible crime" in Trace of Murder and Columbo allowing a drunk driver to drive home in Murder with too many notes to name a few.

The plotting is very straight forward and in many cases it lacks the warmth of the 70's episodes. On the whole the killers are far less engaging and rounded or dare I say it, likeable.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

I also agree with pretty much all of these comments but for me the two factors that stand out hands down are

1) The music!!!!! I cringe listening to it. The 70’s episodes had music that in some cases such as Lovely But Lethal give me chills each time I watch it.

2). The acting!! Some of Columbo’s interactions are so overdone and ridiculous, it’s painful to think that was the same character as in an episode like Death Lends a Hand.

I’m not even taking in to account No Time To Die. I don’t even consider that a Columbo episode being that it was just so bad and not even close to being the true Columbo format - Undercover is a close second as far as missing the Columbo format in my opinion.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

But Findlay Crawford actually drives BETTER after a few cocktails! It relaxes him!

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

But Findlay Crawford actually drives BETTER after a few cocktails! It relaxes him!
but still would have gotten a DWI if stopped.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

Excellent question.

I would submit several reasons:

(1) Filming Locations: the early Columbos were predominantly filmed on locations, really cool locations. Ken's lake cabin in "Murder By the Book", Vivica Fox's farm in "Lovely But Lethal", the house and beach scene with Robert Conrad in "Exercise in Fatality" and on and on. (The Hollywood Bowl scenes in "Etude in Black" are another great example). Some of the scenes were obviously filmed on a Hollywood stage, but the majority were on location. The later Columbos, while including some on-site filming locations (Pepperdine University for a lot of "Columbo Goes to College", for example) seemed to be filmed quite a bit on sets and stages. You can almost here the director yelling "Cut" half a dozen times while they try to get it right. Filming at a real house or beach gives the episode a realistic movie feel and not some cheap made-for-TV straight to DVD piece of garbage. There's no real "authentic" atmosphere in many of the latter episodes due to this. They're dull because of where they were filmed. It feels like they took the cheapest way out in order to get them made, while in the original episodes, they spared no expense to get the right touch or "feel" for an episode.

(2) The use of music. In early Columbo episodes, Patrick Williams came up with some quite inventive scores. "Try and Catch Me", "How to Dial a Murder" and "The Conspirators" are wonderfully accented by the score. Each note adds suspense and mood to their respective episodes. The later episodes lack that musical spark and inspiration. Rather than use original scores, the producers resort to pre-recorded songs by artists ("Columbo Goes to College", "Columbo Cries Wolf" and "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" are three examples I can come up with off the top of my head. Although, I like each of these episodes, the music lacks originality.)

(3) Quality of guest stars. Going back to three episodes I mentioned earlier: "Try and Catch Me", "How to Dial a Murder" and "The Conspirators" look at the guests: Ruth Gordon, Nicol Williamson and Clive Revill. These are three extremely talented artists, who each give a memorable performance to their respective episodes. For comparison sake, let's look at three of the last episodes of the latter Columbo: "Strange Bedfellows", "Murder With too Many Notes" and "Columbo Likes the Nightlife". Of the three, I find only Matthew Rhys' performance worthy or stylistic. George Wendt is pathetic and Billy Connolly was hardly stellar. Other than Wendt starring in "Cheers" and Rhys showing some acting chops, the guest stars pale in acting comparison with their series predecessors.

(4) Columbo Caricature: As others have mentioned, he becomes a caricature of himself, lacking the sleuthing abilities which made him so enjoyable and interesting to watch in earlier episodes. The ridiculous scene at the auto dealer "A Bird in the Hand", where he scrapes the floor and yuks it up with the wooden salesman and the crowd cheers him on. It's almost like he knows he's performing as Columbo and is looking for a reaction. It's uninspired and painful to watch. Going to the dealer and using a car in a secluded area, scrambling under the car, (adding some interesting music) and having Columbo get up and start walking away before he notices the scrapes would have been a better way of filming it in order to "fit" the character. His clues are nuanced (the feather in "Troubled Waters", the flint in "A Deadly State of Mind" to name two), not ham handed.

Re: Why do The Later Episodes Take a Beating

FILMING locations is one I never thought of.
The original did do their share of backlog work- Susan Clark's house is often seen on UI shows.

But, LA COLOSSEUM ( GAME).....Ca coast (PORT) The Citadel ( DAWN) Santa Monica Pier ( IDENTITY)....the construction site ( BLUEPRINT) Skid Row ( NEGATIVE)
are all interesting locations-