Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Guy Who Hated Columbo

That's not me, the guy who hates the series Columbo.  Far from it.  I watched the series as a kid and through the Seventies especially and enjoy turning it on now from time to time.  It's a comfort food series at this point,  But when I was younger, about 14, I had a friend, a few years older than me, who hated the show.  He's one of the few people I've ever met who disliked it so much.  I remember having a discussion with him about this, one day in warm weather at an outdoor gathering with our parents and several other people there, at a state park by a lake near where I lived, probably in the summer.  I don't recall how the subject of the show came up, but I remember expressing my affection for it, and for Peter Falk, and my friend said he didn't like it because of how right from the start of every episode, without fail, as soon as he shows up at the crime scene, Columbo recognizes who the killer is. "He's never wrong," my friend said, or something to that effect.  He understood that the show is an inverted mystery, a howcatchem, though neither he nor I would have called it that, its structure one where the viewer knows who the killer is at once and then watches Columbo solve the crime, and did not mind that aspect, but he objected to the apparent infallibility of Columbo, his ability to show up at the crime scene and sniff out the culprit, as he does, so fast. He doesn't immediately reveal his suspicions to the guest star murderer, of course, but the audience can see the wheels turning in Columbo's head as soon as or soon after he meets that person. 

This attitude struck me as odd, almost willfully resistant to what the show and its appeal are, but as the saying goes, there's no accounting for taste. In this genre anyway, my friend strongly preferred what he would have considered crime shows (or films) with more verisimilitude than what you get in Columbo, which includes, I suppose, detectives who are more fallible than Peter Falk's character, investigators who go off on wrong tangents sometimes and make their share of errors.  My arguments to make him change his mind about the show went nowhere, and I laugh about this talk now, still shaking my head. To be so adamantly opposed to a show as winning as Columbo!  But I'm thinking of this whole conversation again, wondering what my friend, a childhood friend who I've fallen out of touch with in an odd way (but that's another story), would think of the new Peacock show Poker Face. If he hated Columbo, how much would he dislike Poker Face, with its detective, Charlie Cale, who has an inborn ability to detect when another person speaking to her is lying? It's not quite a superpower, but it's something decidedly unnatural, an ability that means she will rarely, if ever, unless the show comes up with a way someone can trick her, screw up in an investigation. 

Are we in the land of fictional realism? No, again, we are not.  But that is clearly beside the point, and you're not watching Poker Face for that any more than you were when watching its main inspiration, Columbo.  Charlie Cale's ability, really, is just a literalization of the capacity Falk's Columbo has, the very thing my friend criticized. No one could lie to Columbo without him sniffing out the untruth. He'd show up on the scene and hone in on the killer fast. Charlie's similar, except that her truth detector component is now spoken of outright as a kind of condition, not a negative one, that she lives with.

I don't know whether my friend, wherever he is, has Peacock or has watched any of Poker Face.  If he does and hasn't changed in his tastes, I'm sure he'll hate it. I could see us meeting again after all these years and, if he had watched an episode or two, he and I discussing it. We'd be having the same argument we had decades ago about Columbo, him against, me in favor.  Oh well.  It's a conversation I'll have to content myself with imagining.  Meanwhile, I've watched two episodes of Poker Face so far and I'm looking forward to the rest of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment