Columbo: The Complete First Season

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

A few years ago, this viewer that is presently writing this was hurt on the job. It took a few weeks to recover and days went slower than usual but there was a special show that got me through that time. During the daytime, a series of shows were showcased on cable that were part of a big rotating show in the early 1970’s. It was known as the NBC Mystery Movie. Some went on to be big shows in their own right (McMillan and Wife, McCloud) and some went off as interesting ideas that died a quick single season death (Madigan, Cool Million). Out of this curious revolving door came one show that revealed who did it in the opening minutes and had the entire remains of the time to show how a police lieutenant with a rumpled look, a cigar and a raincoat (the signature look of this character) would get the culprit before the show was over. Although there had been few clues to his first name, he was always identified by his last name. He is Lieutenant Columbo.

Through the course of two pilots and ten episodes, Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) had come across a wide range of characters ranging from a doctor, a female lawyer, a mystery writing team, a private detective, a chemical expert, a case of sibling rivalry, an art critic, a decorated soldier. As the crime looks so perfect in execution, there are always a few holes and despite the look of Columbo, there’s a little more to him than meets the eye as he’s a sucker for the details and the absence of them bothers him resulting in him getting closer to catching the killer. He’s a sociable guy with a family tree that links to a lot of the crimes he’s investigating, but out of it all, he’s the forever underdog that succeeds with a fear of blood and a dedication to investigation.

This was one of a few television shows that my father always had locked on and the reason why the show was such a success was a great deal of solid writers (Steven Bochco being one of them) a great showcase for a few up-in-coming directors (Steven Spielberg being one of them) and the rogues gallery of killers played by fairly familiar faces along with a few others giving solid support. As Columbo, Peter Falk had the look of a simpleton and a mind as sharp as a razor and when it came to the details, no matter how resistant the culprit will go to dodge the good lieutenant or underestimate him, Columbo would always find another clue that unknownst to them got deeper and deeper into catching the killer. Most of the episodes were a little short of ninety minutes (future seasons went little short of two hours) and it’s interesting to see this character lose it in the two pilots, which was a bit uncharacteristic of him. However, in that length of time, there are clever clues, a great structure and one of the best detective shows on television that is still a pleasure to watch today.

Video: How does it look?

The first season of Columbo is shown in it’s proper full frame and the results of the picture quality are good but not great. There looks to be some matte flashes in a few of the episodes and the pilots have an intriguing color palette much more widespread than in the episodes of the set. The picture is clear but there is much evidence of debris, specks and an occasional scratch every now and then. Of course, this is television not a feature film but even one of the best shows should get better treatment than this.

Audio: How does it sound?

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track gives an acceptable track being the limitations of a television show on DVD is more geared towards the center channels and a bit of score every now and then mildly spreading to the others but not much else. Nothing is going to demonstrate your home theater system to it’s capacity on this set but the dialogue and score come out clear enough without too much muted limitation of seventies sound. This disc also has English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Aside from the pilot having the Universal Television logo along with the episodes retaining so without any updated globes, there are no extras on this set. A retrospective documentary, a commentary by Falk and or writers/directors would have been welcomed as well as the original beginning of the NBC Mystery Movie (which answers the question on the episodes of how does Henry Mancini during the end credtis get the “theme” credit when there is none) showcasing Columbo and it’s others in the rotation.

It’s a pleasure to see one of my favorite shows get the DVD Season treatment, but there is much room for improvement when it comes to future seasons on DVD and it would be a tremendous help but this will do for the meantime.

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