Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

5 thoughts on “Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

  1. You probably won’t be at all surprised to hear that re-runs of Columbo are also playing chez Jilly–Mr. Wood is a big fan. He’s also enjoying Midsomer Murders and Lewis, which I believe is a spin-off from Inspector Morse.

    I’m self-medicating with fantasy and romance novels–plenty of comfort and wish fulfillment to be found there, too 🙂

    • I am so trending with you guys! I’m also watching Midsomer Murders and Lewis (yes, indeed, a spin-off from Inspector Morse), and self-medicating with romance novels and even fantasy. Right now, as a promise to myself that I can still exercise a brain muscle or two, I’m reading Bill Bryson’s “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” which I’m finding fascinating, although I manage it only in small doses and even though he’s an engaging writer. And “short” it is not, at 633 pages. So I’ll be reading that well into 2024. Hello, Columbo!

      • I too am trending with you all, plus I have Bill Bryson’s book in my reading queue, so we’re definitely in sync. I remember watching Columbo as a kid, along with McMillan and Wife and Ellery Queen. Good always triumphed over evil and there were no car chases or high-tech special effects.

        • Columbo and Ellery Queen were created (and/or) written by the same people, so it’s not at all surprising that they have the same gestalt, which we like. The guy who had the lead in Ellery Queen was a good college friend of a friend of mine. 🙂

  2. I’ve exhausted all the Midsomer Murders and Vera’s and Father Brown’s.

    I also find NCIS soothing due to the clockwork predictability of the turning points but I’m caught up on that, too.

    It may be time to check out Columbo.

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