YMMV / Columbo

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: There are two competing alternate theories about Columbo (other than Obfuscating Stupidity). One is that he's a Genius Ditz. The other is that he isn't smart at all, just an average cop. He himself claims in one episode that the main reason he's successful is that he's a professional with years of experience in hunting murderers, while most of the murderers he captures are amateurs who are doing it for the first time and thus making rookie mistakes.
    • There's also the theory that Columbo is a proletarian version of the classic Police Procedural Almost all the villains are rich, powerful, wealthy people who look down on the disheveled and dogged Columbo, yet he proves time and time again that he is intellectually superior to them, despite his act.
    • Either that, or (as he freely admits) Mrs. Columbo solves all the crimes when they talk about it over dinner (which he probably cooks, given that he's shown quite a proficiency and interest in cooking on a number of occasions).
    • Is Columbo a Manipulative Bastard? He's overly nice to people in a bloodhound sort of way; he convinces people that he's just a country bumpkin more interested in whatever 'hat' the villain wears than solving the crime, only to reveal in the end a cold detachment and clinical mind that the bumpkin persona allowed free reign. He plays with the feelings of the criminals, making them like him (more often than not) or at least pity him and drop their guard, or he pushes them subtly and continuously to the point where they break. The answers to some of these questions depend on what you consider canon. Core canon is the NBC series, natch. But if you accept the ABC Columbo movies as canon, then Obfuscating Stupidity and Manipulative Bastard are both canon (since we get to see glimpses of them).
      • Peter Falk gives his take in his memoirs "Just One More Thing". In it he says Columbo is absent minded, but that's because he's concentrating all his thoughts on cases he hasn't solved.
      • Sometimes, he looks like a troll — plainly trying to annoy and distract the suspects so they may be provoked into blurting things he would never get via normal investigation.
    • There are some clear hints that, while he might not exactly be a literal genius and might be genuinely absent-minded and eccentric, at least some of it is for show or played up in order to throw the killer off guard. For example, in "Death Lends A Hand", when Columbo is only around the victim's husband — who he does not suspect is the killer — he acts in a professional and reasonably intelligent fashion. It's only when the actual killer (a private investigator hired by the husband) shows up, and Columbo gets a reason to suspect him (the ring the killer wears, which matches a cut on the victim's face from when he struck her) that he starts to act the clumsy oaf.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The broadcast control room scene from "Make Me A Perfect Murder", as outlined below in Padding. Needless to say, the scene itself is not only lengthy and adds nothing, but it's also just bizarre.
  • Broken Base: Even to this day some people heavily debate the ABC seasons. Some fans don't consider them to be canon- despite the fact Falk made them. Some consider Columbo's behavior to be sillier- even though he had plenty of oddball moments in the classic episodes. Others consider the tone to be too different, in part because they were set in the 80s and 90s when the times had changed. Other fans however don't see any issue with them and accept the entire series as a whole.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Throughout the series, Columbo expresses a severe dislike of dentists, and the few times he has to go it ends up being a total nightmare for him. It's believed that a bad reaction to drugs during a dental visit is what led to the onset of Peter Falk's dementia, the illness that killed him.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • In "Mind Over Mayhem" the boy genius remarks that he's "too smart" to become a police officer. At the time this was written off as him being too much of a genius to work in anything other than a scientific field. HOWEVER, 30 years later, we find out that they actually do refuse to hire police applicants if their IQ is too high.
    • Two actors who played murder victims later became victims of actual murder- Barbara Colby ("Murder By The Book") and Sal Mineo ("A Case of Immunity")
    • In "Forgotten Lady" Dr. Willis mentions the Shah of Iran- for modern viewers unfamiliar, the Shah was the last free leader of Iran before the Islamic Revolution only a few years after the episode was filmed.
    • Again in reference to "Forgotten Lady", Peter Falk himself died of practically the same condition that Grace Wheeler was suffering from.
    • A rather nasty one courtesy of "The Conspirators"- modern day terrorist groups may very well be doing the exact same thing to supply their own organizations.
  • He Really Can Act: William Shatner's chillingly persuasive and ambiguous portrayal of an actor who may or may not have split personality disorder comes as a bit of a shock to those familiar with his usual hamtastic style.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • "Etude In Black" is the same episode in which Columbo gets Dog. Trying to think of a name and hearing that the victim named her bird Chopin, he considers naming his dog Beethoven.
    • 20 years before "The Professional" existed, a subplot of "Make Me A Perfect Murder" revolves around a TV studio producing a film by the same title, also about a professional hitman.
    • Patrick McGoohan's "old man" Steinmetz makeup from "Identity Crisis" isn't too far off from the way he'd look some 25 years later in the ABC episodes.
    • Leonard Nimoy, most famous for playing the Vulcan Spock on Star Trek played one of the killers in season 2. Some 25 years later, Lt. Tuvok, another Vulcan character, would make use of the "one more thing" Columbo line a few times on Star Trek Voyager(and that's not getting into that series starring Kate Mulgrew, who played the title role in Mrs. Columbo....)
  • Magnificent Bastard: Columbo himself, as well many of the killers (notably the ones portrayed by McGoohan and Cassidy).
  • Memetic Mutation: "An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this... LIQUID FILTH!
  • Narm: Even forgoing that Rudy Strasse is insane and plans to commit rape and murder, a lot of what he does falls into this, especially when he tries on lipstick.
    • Not that Columbo himself isn't full of this...
  • Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize: Zig-zagged. The "narrowed it down" bit is missing due to the show's format, but very often memorable actors like Johnny Cash or Leonard Nimoy would be in episodes as the killer (the killer often takes up the most screentime in an episode, even more than Columbo himself). Other episodes would have big-name actors in minor roles. The episode "Lovely But Lethal" features both Vincent Price and Martin Sheen, who are the killer's professional rival and the murder victim respectively.
  • Padding: Many of the two-hour episodes suffer noticeably from this; since the Lieutenant didn't have a personal life by conceptual mandate, the writers were forced to stuff in scenes like him taking the dog to the vet or asking a suspect where he'd bought his shoes.
    • Probably worst in "Make Me A Perfect Murder" where he plays with the control console in a TV broadcast studio, making various 2D shapes "dance" with simple animations on the screens while music plays(this being the mid-70s, so don't expect anything too fancy out of these simple vector images), as he has a cheerful expression on his face. This goes on for about five minutes or longer and has zero bearing on the plot or character development whatsoever, and it makes it clear that a lot of Columbo's behavior throughout the series may not be that much of an act, because no one is even around to" watch him!
    • "Last Salute to the Commodore" has many detractors on the IMDB, due to Pacing Problems with the plot. Much of the film has Columbo learning nautical vocabulary, while Columbo's usual chemistry with interviewing the murderer is absent, due to the episode being a Who Dun It.
    • The opening of "Murder, A Self Portrait" has Columbo at a Basset Hound contest with other Basset owners, except that the dog does not play any real role in the murder plot where Mr. Barsini murders his ex-wife.
  • The Problem with Licensed Games: In a rare example predating video games, there was a Columbo board game. The problem was, it really had little to do with the character and the only image of Columbo was a simple drawing showing him from the back, one can assume because they didn't have permission to use Peter Falk's likeness.
  • The Scrappy: Detective Sergent Fredric Wilson, the outcome of a long and bitter attempt to foist an eager young sidekick on Falk.
  • So Bad, It's Good: Some episodes are a let down, depending on who you ask, and/or some can be enjoyed for their badness.
    • "Last Salute to the Commodore" feels like the script was written while doing drugs. Columbo invades personal space a couple times, the cast acts like they're on tranquilizers, and the pacing feels like nobody even cares about finding the killer. The film opens with a ferry called "TITANIC" carrying a rather happy group of people who seem to magically teleport onto the boat. A YouTube review highlights the episode.
    • "Butterfly in Shades of Gray" features an over-acting William Shatner playing Fielding Chase. It's like he was having a laugh playing the role, and he was given permission to fool around and act over dramatic.
  • Special Effect Failure:
    • At the end of "Columbo Cries Wolf", Columbo finds the location of the body by dialing the number of the victim's wrist pager and punching in a message, the resulting beeping revealing where the body is hidden inside a wall. However, as these bracelets are more than a decade ahead of real technology(this being the late 80s), the message is a small slip of paper glued to the bracelet- and it's not even cut straight, which really makes it obvious(the clarity of modern DVD copies also makes the grain of the paper stand out even worse).
    • "Mind Over Mayhem" features a robot programmed by a boy genius which is used by the killer to operate the war room computer to establish an alibi for the time of the murder. However, the robot's claws are so large that it presses several keys at once when it types.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo" involved Vivian Dimitri, the ex-wife of Pete Garibaldi, a man Columbo had arrested years before, plotting to kill Columbo's wife because her husband died in prison of a heart attack, for which she blames Columbo, as well as her husband's partner Charlie Chambers. It's too bad that the case in question was never one that had been filmed as an episode. In a strange way though, much of the given backstory sounds similar to the plot of "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case"
    • "Lovely But Lethal" casts Vera Miles(Lila Crane from Psycho) and horror icon Vincent Price as major characters. The plot is about rival cosmetics companies. There was so much potential here to have Vincent Price as a killer in a plot worthy of him alongside another actor from a prominent horror film, rather than an episode about makeup.
  • Values Dissonance: The ending of "Prescription: Murder" originally had Columbo saying lines to the effect that he believed that Miss Hudson was a weak-willed woman who would eventually run her mouth about the crime no matter what. The dialog was eventually cut and all modern releases of the episodes lack the lines in question.
  • The Woobie: Numerous murderers are pushed around by Asshole Victims, such as Beth from "Lady in Waiting" who is held down by her dominating brother and mother for her whole life. Once her brother is dead her life turns around and she's suddenly more assertive and in control of her life for once. She later takes it to the point of becoming a Jerkass Woobie, or just a plain Jerkass, however.
    • Paul Galesko of "Negative Reaction" starts out as this, until he frames and kills an innocent man to cover up his crime. The fact he didn't merely leave his nagging wife and instead opts to kill her and an innocent party pushes him into Jerkass territory.
  • You Look Familiar:
    • In addition to the stars who appeared as killers more than once, Character Actor Vitto Scotti appeared in a number of supporting roles, Bruce Kirby appeared nine times (usually as Sergeant Kramer), William Shatner and George Hamilton appeared as murderers on both NBC and ABC episodes (Shatner was Ward Fowler and Fielding Chase, Hamilton was both Dr. Mark Collier and Wade Anders), and Leslie Nielsen appeared twice — once as a murder victim and once as the boyfriend of the episode's murderess. This is also especially true of Shera Danese, Falk's real-life wife, who was in several of the films and had major roles in some of them. She appears in six episodes. In fact, Shera Danese and Peter Falk first met while filming "Fade in to Murder". She only has one small scene in that episode but quickly got bigger roles in later episodes of the series.
    • In the original '70s MAD parody "Clodumbo", the Big Bad is drawn to resemble frequent Columbo villain Robert Culp.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/Columbo