'Columbo' Is Perfect Comfort Viewing
I’ve found myself watching a fair bit of Columbo lately. Yep, that Columbo, rumpled Peter Falk shuffling around solving murders. It’s perfect comfort viewing—you always know he’s going to get the bad guy, the fun is just in watching him do it. And I used to watch Columbo when I was a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so toss nostalgia on top and it’s pretty hard to beat.
Starting back at the beginning, in 1971, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by something. I expected to enjoy watching Columbo give those arrogant criminals their comeuppance, but what I didn’t expect was to be delighted by a bunch of truly weirdo filmmaking. I don’t know if this continues, but back in season one, it really seems like the show was kind of a playground for each episode’s director, where they could just try whatever and see if they could make it work. There are bizarre closeups, unnecessary dolly shots that last for three seconds and then never happen again, unsettling cuts to faces of dolls, and toying with the structure while maintaining that reassuring plotline. My favorite sequence so far is when a way, way too long flashback takes place entirely in the lenses of the killer’s sunglasses.
When you look at who did those very early episodes, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. The first one was famously directed by a 25-year-old Steven Spielberg, who of course would go on to be one of cinema’s greatest visual storytellers. A number of the others were by veteran directors of television—Bernard Kowalski, Hy Averback, Jack Smight, and Normal Lloyd had all been working since the 1950s, some of them also having made movies you’ve heard of, and some of them already indulging their stranger sides on The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. All of this adds up to give us just another layer of entertainment to one of the most consistently satisfying shows ever to come across the airwaves.
Oh, just one more thing—every season of Columbo is streaming for free through NBC’s Peacock app.