There was a time around the 1970's when a new American detective character seemed to pop-up on out TV screens every week. McLeod was one, a cowboy transplanted into the big city. Cannon was another: a fat, course toughie, almost a classic gumshoe. And of course there was Kojak: tough as nails but with a sensitive touch. I seem to remember a comic song in the charts eulogising them all. They're gone now, and largely forgotten. But not Columbo.
Some 40 years on from his creation, the shabby and irrepressible detective is still being shown in repeats. Each plot is pretty much the same as every other. He and we know who-done-it in the first quarter of the program. After that, by a mixture of psychological warfare, dogged persistence and Holmesian deduction; we see the over-confident culprit brought down. The similarities of the plots don't make them any less fun to watch, because really, the entertainment is Peter Falk's wonderfully wacky character.
The unpromising motorcar, the crumpled ever-present mac, the constant now-politically-incorrect cigar all add up to a character who has only one ambition and fascination in life - solving crime. The frequently mentioned, but never seen wife is little more than a conversational foil, like Rumpole's 'she who must be obeyed'.
Although out of date in many ways, Falk's detective is still a great entertainment to watch. The much more recent and graphic CSI series have little more to offer.
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